Parsha Chayei Sarah Genesis 23:1-25:18

This week’s portion begins with the words “Sarah lived one hundred and twenty-seven years; these were the years of the life of Sarah. So Sarah died in Kirjath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.” Why does this portion immediately begin with the death of Sarah? The Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, 1040-1105) explains in his commentary concerning these verses, “The narrative of the death of Sarah follows immediately on that of the Binding of Isaac, because through the announcement of the Binding…she received a great shock (literally, her soul flew from her) and she died.” According to Rashi, Sarah heard that Abraham her husband was going to sacrifice their son on the mountain of Moriah and the news instantly took her soul from within her; she died on the spot. Of course, the heart of a mother is intrinsically, intricately bound to that of her children. The bond between mother and child is one of the strongest bonds in the world. After the battle of Normandy (WWII, D-Day, June 6, 1944) it has been said, “People walking through the carnage at Normandy heard grown men calling out ‘Mommy’…Calling not for their girlfriends or wives, but for their mothers.” D-Day Veteran Frank Devito recalled in a 2014 interview, “…there’s a fallacy people think that when a man is dying. They don’t ask for God. The last word they say before they die is ‘Momma.’” In this observation I want to explore the power of parents as well as the importance of the marriage relationship. The story of the Akeidah (The Binding of Isaac) as recorded in Midrash Tanchuma (Vayera 23) tells us that Isaac said to Abraham his father, “Father, do not tell my mother about this while she is standing at the edge of a pit or a roof lest she hurl herself down and die.” Even in the face of death Isaac had concern for his mother. So too, in the gospel of John we read that our Master, Yeshua, even in his excruciating agony on the cross, looked down and “saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.”  Yeshua, from the cross, ensured that his mother would be taken care of. Yeshua’s concern for his mother was evident even in the worst of circumstances. This proves that even if a man’s last words do not concern his mother; his thoughts definitely go back and remember the care of a nurturing parent. The power of parents, especially a godly, praying mother is proven throughout the Bible.
Sarah, Abraham, and Isaac – illustration by Sweet Media
The “Shnei Luchot—2 Tablets” that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai contained 10 “recommendations.” (I write, “recommendations” rather than commandments because, God doesn’t demand our obedience; He invites us to follow His instruction-manual for mankind, but does not demand obedience to His “advice.”) The first of the tablets contained recommendations pertaining to God, while the second tablet contained advice regarding treatment of others. But wait, the last of the “suggestions” on the first of the tablets seemingly has nothing to do with God at all. What is the 5th commandment of the 10 commandments? It says, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Why is this so important a command? For one thing, the command to honor is only given in regard to parents. The Bible tells us to love God, our neighbor, and the stranger; it never tells us to honor them.
Why is this the case? Dennis Prager in one of his articles, wrote, “Sigmund Freud, the father of psychiatry and an atheist, theorized that one’s attitude toward one’s father largely shaped one’s attitude toward God.” Meaning, the relationship one has with one’s own parents will be reflected in the way one approaches God = The way a person relates to their parents is a great factor in determining how they relate to higher authority, whether that higher authority be God, or someone/something else. Each character we read of in the Bible had parents. Every individual character, whether in the Bible, or today in modern times, is molded into their specific person starting from birth. Isaac became who he was because of Abraham and Sarah, Yeshua, because of Joseph and Miriam, Jacob, because of Isaac and Rebekah. Parents create children, not just “physical children,” they create children into “Imago Dei—The image of God” (Genesis 1:27) or into “Iconos Phthartou Anthropou—The image of corruptible man.” (Romans 1:23) That is the power of a parent. It was Sarah who realized the importance of Isaac being raised alone as the seed through which God’s promises would become realized. (Genesis 21:9-10) Though the story we read may seem harsh, Sarah foresaw the potential for future problems if Ishmael was not sent away. Parent’s create children and prepare the opportunity for “fate or fortune.” Responsible Parents are responsible to create opportunity and give guidance to the next generation.
All this leads me to a question. When are a father and mother equal to God? Weird question? Yes…But God can’t just “make babies.” It takes a father, a mother & God in unison to bring life into the world. In this way, each member, with different roles, play an equal part in the birthing process. After birth, Mothers are more than half accountable for guaranteeing the success of their progeny. This is why in Judaism; Jewish ancestry through blood, is only Halachically (A law/tradition…derived from Torah and/or from rabbinic literature) recognized from the mother’s side. If your father was Jewish but your mother was not, then Rabbinically/Halachically, you are not Jewish. Why is this the case? Because woman are naturally recognized as more connected to spirituality. A mother is the one to instill spiritual cognizance in her offspring. If a mother is not Jewish, then she will instill foreign spiritual concepts in her children, which will bring confusion not just to her children, but also to the collective Jewish community. The Sages of past generations recognized the power of a mother who was connected to God or not. A mother’s influence in the spiritual growth of her children is a key factor in deciding the “fate or fortune” of the coming generation. This portion recognizes Sarah as playing an important role in the growth and maturity of her seed, the promised son through whom the promises of God would be fulfilled, Isaac.
This portion goes straight from the death of Sarah to finding a wife for Isaac. Telling us that the women in a man’s life are what make a man become all he was created to be.
Genesis 24 is the longest chapter in the book of Genesis. What is the chapter about? Finding a wife for Isaac. God spends 67 verses of Torah describing the process to find Isaac a wife; He spends 56 verses telling us how the world was created. What is more important to God, Creationship or Relationship? The first broken relationship in the Garden of Eden was not between God and man; it was between man and his wife. The reason marriage is so important is the fact that it is rectifying the first broken relationship in the Garden. Man and woman coming together in unity, brings the world closer to the days when the first couple strolled harmoniously through Paradise. Marriage brings redemption! Remember God’s curse on the crafty serpent in the Garden? What did God say? “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This is a prophecy regarding the downfall of the serpent. How is the serpent crushed? Through the seed of the woman, and what is the seed? God, man and woman coming together to create a new life! The redemption comes through a husband and wife’s love for God and for one another!
Abraham and Sarah saw a glimpse of the Messiah through their son Isaac. Every couple should see a glimpse of the Messiah in their children, because every couple should be preparing their children for the arrival of the Messiah. As I have written before, “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet done with man.” (Quote by Rabindranath Tagore.) Real-ationships are what matter to God most. He created the world to be a place where humanity can relate to Him and to each other. We must ask ourselves, are we working to bring the Messiah through our relationships?  
As a single person, I could look through everything I’ve just written and think, well, I guess there’s nothing for me in this observation/Torah portion. There is an interesting verse in chapter 24. It says, “Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming.” What does it mean, Isaac was “out meditating in the field?” According to Sforno’s commentary, he writes, “[Isaac] had detoured from his regular path to the field in order to pour out his heart to G’d in prayer.” Isaac was in prayer, more specifically, the afternoon “mincha” prayer.
It says in Job 11, “If you would prepare your heart, and stretch out your hands toward Him…your life would be brighter than noonday. Though you were dark, you would be like the morning.” Isaac was stretching out his hands and opening his heart for whatever God had for him. And while he was in prayer, while he was in communion with God, God brought his “bashert—soul mate” to him. “Bashert” is a Yiddish term that has come to refer to a person’s soul mate, however, the term literally means “destiny.” Isaac’s “destiny” came to him while he was steadfastly seeking God in prayer. Isaac had offered himself up as a willing, living sacrifice on the Temple Mount/Mount Moriah. This is what God seeks, a heart that is totally devoted and given over to His will; a heart that is seeking Him. God’s destiny for each of us may or may not include marriage in this life, but marriage, as we understand today it is just a small picture of the greatest marriage of all, the Wedding Supper of the Lamb! This is our destiny, it is the place to where we have been invited and it where we should be inviting others to as well! A man and his bride bring a microcosmic redemption to a world that will one day experience the greatest wedding story of all time; that breathtaking day when Son of Man and His glorious bride unite to bring complete redemption to the entire world!

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Vayera Genesis 18:1-22:24

As I read through this week’s portion I couldn’t help but follow a seemingly common thread tying last week’s and this week’s portions together. The name of this week’s portion is “Vayera” which is generally translated as “And [He] Appeared.” The Hebrew root form of the word “Vayera” is the term “Ra’ah” and has to do with “sight, seeing and/or vision.” Reading through this Torah portion, I was continually struck by the amount of times the word “Ra’ah” was used and decided there must be some reason for this frequent usage. Now, to set the stage, I need to go back to last week’s portion in order for us to learn more about 2 (out of 3) different individuals, who could be viewed, for the sake of this observation, as our main actors.
The first character I want to introduce is a man by the name of Lot. Lot was the nephew of Abraham. He (Lot) traveled with Abraham all the way to the Land of Canaan. It was at this point that Lot and Abraham had to separate because their shepherds were quarreling over grazing rights (which is a common dispute between Cowboys/ Ranchers/and Herdsman in certain parts of the world, even to this day). Abraham tells Lot to choose for himself a part of the land, and this is where we begin our story. Abram said to Lot: “Please let there be no strife between you and me…Is not the whole land before you? Please separate from me. If you take the left, then I will go to the right; or, if you go to the right, then I will go to the left.” After this we read, “V’yisa Lot et-Einav Va’yar—And Lot lifted his eyes and saw…” What did Lot see? “…All the plain of Jordan…like the garden of the Lord…Lot chose for himself all the plain of Jordan…” Here is the first reference concerning “seeing” that I want to point out.  Lot saw the well watered plain and decided, rather than staying with Abraham on the mountaintops, he would try his fortune in the land that was “K’Gan Hashem—Like the garden of the Lord.”
The next individual I want to bring in is a woman by the name of Hagar. We are first introduced to her in Genesis 16 as Sarah’s maidservant. Sarah, wife of Abraham (who is barren), recognizes the importance of being proactive in God’s plan of redemption. She tells her husband to take Hagar, her maidservant, as a “Surrogate Mother” of sorts, in order to perhaps have a son through Hagar through which God’s promises can be fulfilled.
Hagar and Ishmael by Simeon Solomon
However, once Hagar becomes pregnant, she looks down on Sarai, as Sarai says in the text, “Shifchati…Terre Ki Harata Va’ekal Be’eineha…My maidservant… when she saw that she had conceived then I became despised in her eyes.” Sarai makes life difficult for Hagar until finally Hagar flees into the wilderness. While in the wilderness we read that the “Angel of the Lord” meets Hagar and instructs her to return to Sarai, her mistress. The Angel also promises her that her son will become an exceedingly large nation. After this encounter Hagar says of God, “Atah El Roi—You are the God who sees me.”  She also states, “Halom Ra’iti Acharei Roi—Here I saw Him who looks after me.” This is the second reference about “seeing” which I wanted to mention before getting to this week’s portion.  
The last person to complete our cast would be none other than our super-hero, “Honest Abe” himself! He is found at the beginning of this week’s portion (as tradition tells us) still recovering from his circumcision and it says Vayera Elav Hashem—And to him the Lord appeared…” This is the last reference I wanted to bring up before getting into what all this means for us. You see, each of these characters, Lot, Hagar and Abraham appear in this portion, and once more, each of them is somehow connected to the word “Sight.” The first character was Lot. His “seeing” was in no way connected to spirituality; he “saw” the best of “Ha’aretz Canaan—The Land of Canaan,” and chose it for himself. He willingly put himself and his family into one of the most wicked cultures the world has ever known, and went after the “treasures on earth.” He lost everything. In this week’s parsha we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the cities in which Lot was living. A Hebrew term connected to the word “Ra’ah—Sight” is found in this story when Lot’s wife, who was instructed to not look back at the city (by the angels who came to save them) did so anyway and turned into a pillar of salt. The Hebrew word used in this verse is the word “Navat—Gaze” which is obviously a different Hebrew word than “Ra’ah—Sight,” but it conveys the same idea, to “look” at something.
In this portion, Hagar is sent from Abraham’s house because Ishmael (her son) was mocking Isaac (son of Sarah). Abraham sends them out into the wilderness with bread and water. However the water runs out and Hagar leaves her son, the “young lad,” saying “Let me not see the death of the boy.” Suddenly God appears to Hagar repeating the same promise He had made to her some 17 years earlier, “I will make him (Ishmael) a great nation.” Next it says, “V’Yif’kach Elokim Et-Eineha VaTerre Baer Mayim…And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.” God opens Hagar’s eyes and she sees a well of water, confirming something she had spoken 17 years earlier, “Atah El Roi—You are the God who sees me.”
Lastly, we read three times that Abraham “lifted his eyes.” Genesis 18:2 says, “So he lifted his eyes and looked…” Genesis 22:4 says, “…Abraham lifted his eyes and saw…” and Genesis 22:13 says, “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked…” Abraham had the habit of lifting his eyes!
Now that we have read all three accounts from our different characters we must ask the question, what distinguishes these “various, versions of visions?”
Lot, when we look at his life, seems to be attempting to attain the unattainable = the world and all it has to offer. It would have been well for him to have known the words of Yeshua, our Master, who said,“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Lot lifted his eyes and saw the wealth of the world. Not only did he see it and desire it, his wife could not keep her gaze away from it, causing her to be turned her into a pillar of salt. The life of Lot is comparable to many today who are living the life of the world; all they see is the world before them and so they pursue the passing pleasures because it all they know. The world has been caught up into the state of Lot’s wife = the state of “Navat—Gaze.” A fixed focus on things that really don’t matter, things that will in the end, burn up and pass away. This is the Lot version of “Sight and Vision.”
Hagar knew God from a distance. She knew Him as “Atah El Roi—You are the God who sees me.”  I believe this is the next rung of “seeing” in our reality. Most religious people have some idea of a God that interacts with His creation. These people would relate to God with titles such as “Top Gun,” “Big Chief,” “Macho-Man,” “The Man Upstairs,” and perhaps “The Big Cheese.” God is the one who runs the universe according to His design and He relates to us as His underlings. He’s there for us and provides for us. But relationship with Him is impossible unless He wants it and only when He wants it. This is the Hagar version of “Sight and Vision.”
As for Abraham, his reality was one that broke all the norms of his time period. When Abraham “lifted his eyes” it was never done in order to see what he could gain, and it was never done with the view that God was some mystical being to whom the world cannot relate. Whenever, Abraham looked up it was to accomplish and bring God’s will into the world. Abraham looked up and saw his descendants as numerous as the stars, he looked up and took care of 3 strangers who were really angels, he looked up and saw the mountain of God from afar, and he looked up and saw an acceptable sacrifice to offer to God. I believe if we would learn to look up we could change the world!
The world and its ways have turned us into myopic, busy, blind hamsters running the rat race of life. The world is obviously running, but has anyone ever stopped to ask the question, “Where are we running to?” or “Why are we running?” Abraham was quick when preparing food for his unexpected guests, he was swift in saddling his donkey and heading to the mountain of God, and several times we read that Abrahamrose early in the morning.”
But Abraham was a man with a commission on a mission for God. Truly, where is the world headed so fast?
The relationship Abraham had with God is the relationship we should all desire and strive for. Abraham’s “Sight and Vision” is revealed in Genesis 22 after the binding of Isaac. It says Abraham offered the ram in place of his son and declared in that place “In the Mount of the LORD it shall be provided.” However, where is the connection to the word “sight” in this verse? In Hebrew this phrase is, “B’Har Hashem Yeraeh.” This saying can literally be translated as “In the Mountain, the Lord will be seen.” When Abraham finished the last and hardest of his tests he declared, “The Lord will be seen.” You see, the difference between Abraham and the nations was Abraham didn’t just approach God as the “God who sees,” Abraham desired to be one who had seen God.
He recognized God, not as some outside “force” who is sometimes involved and other times not. Rather, Abraham knew that God desires relationship with humanity; he not only realized this truth, he shared this truth and pursued a relationship with God that was as close to “face to face” as is humanly possible. As it says in Psalm 34, “They looked to [God] and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed.” This is my encouragement to us all. Look up! Help the stranger, work toward the mountain of God, offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and shoot for the stars, knowing that the God beyond the stars is the one “who has begun a good work in you [and] will complete it until the day of Yeshua Messiah.”

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Lech Lecha Genesis 12:1-17:27

This week’s Torah Portion begins with God’s call to Abram (Avram—Later to become Abraham/Avraham). God said to Abram “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” Now, up to this point in history, we could read the Biblical narrative and come to view God as a lighting-bolt throwing, flood sending, angry, controlling, world Dictator. He sent Adam and Chava (Eve) out of the Garden, He sent a worldwide flood, and He confused the languages at Babel; the entire backdrop to the story of Abram seems to imply that human-God relations are impossible. Until we arrive at this Parsha/Portion. From this portion we come to understand, God is not only involved in this realm, He is genuinely, specifically interested and deeply invested into each character of His world as well!
When reading this portion, the first question that comes to mind is “Why was Abram chosen?” The answer is, “we don’t know.” In contrast, Genesis 6 tells us, “Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” God chose Noah because he was a righteous individual. However, in the plain text of the Biblical account we find no specifics regarding God’s choice of Abram. Of course, there are many traditional reasons as to why Abram was chosen by God, but nothing is clearly stated in the Biblical account. Why is this the case? I believe the reason for this clearly non-clear calling is clear; Abram is the Blueprint for all of us on our journey of faith. Abram represents each of us as we voyage through life seeking God. There was no starting point for Abram and neither is there for us. There is no pre-condition necessary in order to follow the calling of God in one’s own life; the only needed attribute is the willingness to set out when God says, “Lech Lecha—Get out…” (The Hebrew word “Lech” can be translated as “Come” or “Go” depending upon its usage and context; this implies that when God says “go” we should “come” to Him) This calling from God to Abram is a spiritual calling, how do we know? Because the words “Lech Lecha” literally translate as “Go to yourself.”
What does the phrase “Go to yourself” actually mean? I believe this idea is encapsulated by something I shared in last week’s observation by Rabbi Zusya. In shortened form, Rabbi Zusya once said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not like Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not the Zusya you were created you to be?’” God’s calling to Abram have been His words to every person throughout the generations, “Go to yourself.”  Look inside and find the true person God created you to be; once you do and pursue this, it will allow you to “go beyond yourself” into the unknown reality God has designed specifically for you! Abram’s calling began with the words “Lech Lecha—Go to yourself,” (Genesis 12:1) and Abram’s final test began with the words “Lech Lecha—Go to yourself,” (Genesis 22:2) From the beginning of Abram’s journey until his final test, his “job” was the same; he was to continue his pursuit of God by looking inside and finding the places which needed fixing and/or tweaking. When God called Abraham out of Haran, He said, “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” I want you to notice the wording of this verse. Does the order God gives Abram make sense? “Leave your land, leave your family, and then leave your father’s house?” If Abram were to literally fulfill these words, wouldn’t it have made more sense he first leave his father’s house, next leave his family and only then leave his land? What is the idea behind the order of God’s words? I believe this verse is referring to a spiritual journey much more than it is referring to a physical journey, though they coincided with each other. It is much the same as the nation of Israel’s journey through the wilderness. As the quote goes, “It took 1 day to get the Israelites out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites.” Abram’s journey was much like that of his descendants. Abram had to leave everything behind, not just the physical connections, but the ideas, memories and emotional attachments as well. Abram’s journey was a complete transformation from caterpillar to butterfly (metaphorically speaking); he went from being surrounded by a culture of idolatry to creating a culture surrounding God!
Abram heeded the call of God, and because of his act, it has affected the entirety of human history. I was going to write “because of his simple act,” but I truly believe it was not an easy choice for Abram to “simply” follow God; his generation was probably much like today’s culture, which is hostile towards those living for God. But because of the faith of Abram amidst an antagonistic culture, his decision has affected every generation after him. Abram recognized, in the words of Psychologist Jordan Peterson that, “People who don’t have their own houses in order should be very careful before they go about reorganizing the world.” Because Abram’s journey brought such change to him personally, it allowed him to bring great change to the rest of the world as well. I believe the lesson of Abram is summed up well by Rabbi Israel Salanter zt”l who once said, “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. But I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my country. When I found I couldn’t change my country, I began to focus on my town. However, I discovered that I couldn’t change the town, and so as I grew older, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realize the only thing I can change is myself, but I’ve come to recognize that if long ago I had started with myself, then I could have made an impact on my family. And, my family and I could have made an impact on our town. And that, in turn, could have changed the country and we could all indeed have changed the world.” This is the story of Abraham Avinu—Abraham our Father. He recognized, as I heard a Rabbi put it, the truth that “We’re not supposed to be perfect, we are here to perfect…” Through our journey of life we bring perfection to the world around us, you cannot have one without the other. Through “self-rectification” which we are enabled to accomplish through the blood of Yeshua, perfection on a world scale level is achieved. Many people say they are concerned with global issues such as “Tikkun Olam—World Restoration,” but to reference back to Jordan Peterson again, he was once asked by an event Moderator, “Do you think that collective responsibility overrides individual responsibility in a huge issue …?” Peterson responded by saying, “No…I think generally people have things that are more within their personal purview that are more difficult to deal with and that they’re avoiding and that generally the way they avoid them is by adopting, uh, pseudo moralistic stances on large scale social-issues so that they look good to their friends and their neighbors…” Are we involving ourselves in, as King David says, “great matters…[And] things too profound for me?” (Psalm 131) Do we involve ourselves in great matters as an excuse to not have to deal with our own personal issues? In my own words, “I wanted to fix the world so I started with myself.” These are the characteristics of the children of Abraham.
As I begin to come to a conclusion here, I find it interesting that we as a body of believers call ourselves the “Children of Abraham.” He’s not Abraham the Patriarch, nor is he “Abe the Old Guy,” instead; to us, he is Avraham Avinu—Abraham our Father. Why? Why not the “Children of Noah?” Wouldn’t this statement be more in line with the truth than the phrase “Children of Abraham?” I believe the reason we are called “Children of Abraham” is because our life should be one which reflects the character of Abraham rather than the character of Noah. Yes, thanks to Noah we all made it here physically, but without Abraham our spiritual forefather, where would the world be today? Abraham showed the world that a relationship with the Creator of the Universe is not only possible but that it is the true purpose for existence! The power of the life of Abraham still affects us today. As God said, “…in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Looking back at the life of Abram (Abraham) we rightly see him as a great Spiritual giant of the faith, but I think sometimes we forget his humanity. The entire land of Israel, children numerous as the stars, a Savior for the human race from his family tree; all these were promises he never saw in his lifetime. Yet, Yeshua, our Master said to those questioning Him, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Abraham lived life looking to the future rather than viewing life through his current lens of reality. Hebrews 11, the “Hall of Faith” chapter of the Bible says that, “These (Biblical Heroes—Abraham) were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” The work of the forefathers is “perfected” when we build upon what they began, namely, a world prepared to receive the King of the Universe. How many times did Abraham personally hear from God according to our Biblical records? It would have been 7 times total in the time span of approximately 62 years. This comes to an average of hearing from God about every 8.86 years. Do we trust God enough to know that He is leading us even if we never hear from Him? This is what a true “Child of Abraham” does. It is not blind faith, it is hoping in what we do not see, while perceiving His handiwork in the rearview, and knowing His invisible guiding-hand when it comes to direct us. This is what God means when He tells Moses, “…you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” In other words, “You see me once I have passed by because the trail I leave behind is obvious.” The work of God is evident today just as it was in the time of Abram. In fact, perhaps it is even more obvious, for while Abram waited on the promises of God, we are living in a time when God’s promises are being fulfilled. Here is the difference between being a “Child of Noah” and a “Child of Abraham.” In Genesis Rabbah 30:10 it says, “…A king had two sons, one grown up, the other a child. To the child, he said: Walk with me. But to the adult son he said: Walk before me. So it was to Abraham, God said: ‘…walk before Me’ (17:1). But of Noah, the Torah says that he ‘walked with God.’ (6:9)” God’s invitation to us today is the same as it was to Abraham so many years ago, “walk before Me.” What does it mean to walk before God? It means to know the heart of God, and then show the heart of God. May the promise and blessing of Abraham be experienced throughout the entire globe because we follow in the footsteps of Abraham our spiritual father!

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Noah Genesis 6:9-11:32

In last week’s portion we read the words of Lamech when he named his son “Noach—Noah.” Lamech said, “This one will comfort us (y’nachamenu) concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” The name Noah comes from the Hebrew word “Nacham” which can be translated as comfort/mercy. However, why did Lamech say Noah’s birth would bring comfort to humanity? Before we get into the details of understanding this verse I want to set the scene surrounding the birth of Noah. It says in this week’s portion “…the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.” Noah was born into one of the most troubled eras in all of human history. Therefore, why did Lamech say his son would be the comforter during those troubled times? In the Midrash Tanchuma, Bereshit 11 (An old commentary containing anecdotes, rulings, and teaching) we read “…prior to Noah’s birth, men performed all their labor by hand…but after Noah was born, plows, scythes, axes, and other implements were introduced.” What does this mean? Traditionally, this text is understood to mean that Noah was an inventor of farm implements. Noah’s inventions “broke,” in a sense, the “curse of the ground” that God had pronounced into effect after the sin of Adam. (Genesis 3:17) Suddenly the backbreaking, difficult, sweaty task of bringing forth bread from the earth wasn’t so difficult anymore. In my mind, Noah was the very first mechanical engineer. Think about it; Noah builds a boat without even knowing what a flood is, he creates a system within that boat to store food, keep animals, and provide drinkable water, and it seems, he has a hard time with relationships (i.e. he only brought his own family with him onto the ark) That in my mind is the perfect description of an engineer! Noah brought comfort into the world by making the toil of man easier, as Lamech said of his son, “This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands because of the ground which the Lord has cursed.” Noah brought new technology into the world, which in turn caused man to be comforted from the hard labor of agriculture.
I have heard it said that new technology is the problem in today’s world. Some would say that technology has stopped man from relying on God. But when God created humanity, He didn’t create us to be completely reliant on Him. He created us to be co-laborer’s alongside Him, within His creation. As it says, God put man into the world “L’avada Ul’Shamara—To work and protect it.” (Genesis 2:15) New technology is not the problem in today’s world, nor was it the problem in Noah’s time. In fact, Noah, the inventor of this “evil” = new technology, of him it was said, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
The problem with Noah’s inventions weren’t that they went beyond God’s creation neither were they a problem because they made man’s work easier. I believe the problem with Noah’s inventions was this; rather than bringing comfort to mankind, they made mankind comfortable. The “curse of the ground” was given by God to remind Adam and his descendants of a time in bygone days—the time in the Garden of Eden, when man and God walked together. In “Gan Eden—the Garden of Eden” there was no  “curse of the ground,” there were no “thorns and thistles,” and working for food came without breaking a sweat. The “curse of the ground” was actually a blessing because it reminded Adam and his descendants of the garden, a place they all should have desired to return to. But when Noah’s inventions came onto the scene, rather than using this new technology to spur the redemption process along, rather than bringing “Tikkun Olam—World Rectification,” rather than being comforted and excited that Noah’s technology could bring them back to the Garden from which humanity had been exiled, instead, Noah’s inventions allowed humanity to become comfortable in the exile. Mankind used Noah’s technology to become comfy away from God rather than using Noah’s technology as a way to return to God. When humanity becomes comfortable away from God, God will not force Himself into an area where He is not remembered nor desired. At the same time God will not abandon His creation to mankind’s “default mode to destruction.” God is willing to destroy creation in order to bring about a future redemption; man is willing to destroy creation without the thought of a future redemption. God’s future redemption is what we all should be yearning and longing for! We should be using the technology of this world to spur us onward toward the “Y’mei HaMashiach—Days of the Messiah.” Yeshua, our Master warned us in Matthew 24, “…As the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and [they] did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.” I hear the phrase “Days of Noah” used in reference to the terrible atrocities, corruption and debauchery happening in our world. In one sense, yes, the “Days of Noah” were wicked times. However, when Yeshua speaks of the “Days of Noah,” He doesn’t point out the wickedness and corruption of Noah’s day, rather, He says, “in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…” Are eating, drinking, and marriage, sin? Do you know what this verse sounds like to me? It sounds like a people who are comfortable in the place they are at. The worst part about the “Days of Noah” was the fact that mankind had become comfortable living in their sin. And when humanity becomes comfortable in their sin they cease to seek redemption. Madame de Pompadour, mistress to King Louis XV (18th century French King), she is attributed with the phrase “Après nous, le déluge—After us, the flood.” In other words, “We do what we want and hope the flood comes after we’re gone.” This is the view of many people, even believers in today’s society. People think life is about being comfortable, experiencing the American Dream, and living “Your best life now.” We’ve become comfortable in our exile from God. “Might as well make the best of it…YOLO!” we say as we pull the covers over face and bury our head in the sand. We look at this sin-infested world and ask, “Where is God?” In the meantime God sits in the heavens and asks, “Where are my children?” This question reminds me of a song by Matthew West called “Do something.” One of the lines in the song goes “I shook my fist at Heaven, I said, ‘God, why don’t You do something?’ He said, ‘I did.’ Yeah. ‘I created you.’” God has put us into this realm, and so long as there are people who aren’t comfortable with the status quo, and so long as there are people who seek their comfort in God rather than the passing pleasures of sin, there is still hope in the world. Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali Philosopher, Writer, Poet, Artist and Political figure once said, “Every child comes with the message that God is not yet finished with man.” Every day God entrusts us with time, a precious commodity we can never regain. He gives it to us to bring change and life into the world. As the saying goes “Time changes things. But you have to change them yourself.” Or, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We must realize that the redemption is on our shoulders and as Noah invented the plow in his time, Yeshua, our Master tells us in the book of Luke, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Technology is good if it is used to bring us closer to the Kingdom of God. The problem is when technology allows us to become comfortable, separate from our Creator.
R’ Shlomo Carlebach once said, “…when I stay in a hotel, my feet are there, my hands are there and my head is there, but something is missing. My heart is not in the hotel. My soul is not in the hotel. My house is the place in which I am completely there.” Are we passing through life as we do a hotel? Is dwelling with God a passion? Where is our heart? And where are we storing up our treasure? (Matthew 6:19-21) As King David said in Psalm 27, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life…” Is this our pursuit? And not just for us, but for the entire world? Never become comfortable in this exile away from God! Rather, fulfill the calling God has on you specifically and encourage others to fulfill their role in God’s Grand-Master-Plan. Rabbi Zusya (1718-1800) once stood before his congregation and said, When I die and have to present myself before God, He will not ask me, ‘Zusya why were you not like Moses?’ for I would say ‘Moses was a prophet and I am not.’ He would not say ‘Zusya, why were you not like Jeremiah?’ for I would say ‘Jeremiah was a writer, and I am not.’ And He will not say ‘Why were you not like Rabbi Akiva?’  For I would tell Him, ‘Rabbi Akiva was a great teacher and scholar and I am not.’ But then He will say ‘Zusya why were you not the Zusya I created you to be?’ and to this I will have no answer. This is the question I fear most!” When we answer before the heavenly court, will we be able to say that we lived to the fullest of our potential? Will we be able to say, “Yes, I became the person I was created to be?”
Noah’s Ark
In conclusion I wanted to return to Noah, our character who, for the sake of this observation is currently in the ark waiting to be let out. Noah was a man who was obedient to everything God told him. However, if we go back to the Midrash Tanchuma (An old commentary containing anecdotes, rulings, and teaching) we find a very sharp, pointed text concerning Noah waiting to leave the ark. It says, “Once the waters had abated, Noah should have left the ark. However, Noah said to himself, ‘I entered with God’s permission, as it says, ‘Go into the ark’ (7:1). Shall I now leave without permission?’ The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, ‘Is it permission, then, that you are seeking? Very well, then, here is permission,’ as it is said [Then God said to Noah,] ‘Come out of the ark’ (8:17). Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilai said: If I had been there I would have broken down the ark and taken myself out.”Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “The Midrash is unmistakable in its note of exasperation. When it comes to rebuilding a shattered world, you do not wait for permission. I find this last sentence a compelling finish. Our commission is clear, we do not wait on God, we know His heart and that is what we bring to the world! In the words of Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie, which follows in line with what many Rabbis have said before him, “We may not know precisely [who] God is, but our tradition clearly tells us what God does: God heals the sick, clothes the naked, houses the homeless and pursues peace. We cannot be God; we are weak and imperfect human beings. But we can, within the limitations of the human condition, emulate God’s behavior, and, in this way, bring God into our lives [and to the entire world!]”

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Bereshit “In the Beginning”

“In the beginning God created…” The renowned portion that has been recounted through numerous generations and many centuries of time is once again upon us. As we read through this portion, I have heard people in the past speculate about what was before the universe’s beginning. It is definitely an interesting topic, one that generally leads to unproductive blasphemous speculation, which benefits no one, except maybe humor the Creator. Theories concerning creation, whether an evolutionary process or a literal 6-day cycle, whether a big bang or God’s divine light revealed/concealed, all of these are topics that, though precisely unknowable, can be beneficial to our understanding of the nature of God. But as soon as we think prior to the creation of this realm, we are gazing into a sphere beyond time and space. A time which humanity cannot comprehend, a time of no beginnings or ends, this topic is beyond mankind’s highest of imaginations. The reason I write this is to say that we must “keep our heads below the clouds…” The creation story tells us that God put us into this realm; therefore, our exploration should be this realm and the Creator of this realm. “Why did God put us here?” is the question we should be asking of ourselves. Not, “What was before God put us here?” For even if we were able to comprehend what came before creation, what good would we have done in fulfilling our purpose in the world? Rabbi Ari Kahn writes, “Proper fear of God will dissuade the inquiring mind from delving into unfathomable issues. Human wisdom can only flourish when it realizes its own boundaries.”God made man and put him into the world “L’avada Ul’Shamara —To work and protect it.”(Genesis 2:15)
We must be about our “Father’s Business.” (Luke 2:49) When Yeshua our Master walked this earth, He didn’t go into great detail concerning pre-creation philosophy. He showed us what mankind was created for. He said “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preachabout the things before this realm, past the scope of understanding?”  No, that’s not what He said. Isaiah 61, the passage Yeshua speaks from is all about bringing healing and wholeness to this world; and if this was Yeshua’s focus, shouldn’t it be our focus as well? Paul warns Timothy in his letter of 1 Timothy to not “give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes…” Let us focus on the important things of life and not become distracted by the many theories, disputes and arguments for naught. Even as the children of Israel proclaimed, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever…” May God reveal His purpose and plans for each of us as we continue in our journey toward Him. 
When God created mankind it says in Genesis 2:7, “V’yitzer Hashem Elokim Et-HaAdam Afar Min Ha’Adamah—and the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground…” Then it says, “V’Yipach B’Apav Nishmat Chaim—And breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” What is humanity made from? Well, it’s not like the nursery rhyme “Snips and snails and puppy-dogs’ tails…” or “Sugar and spice and everything nice…” Rather, Dust of the earth + Breath of God = Mankind. Why did God take from the most base and most precious of all ingredients to create man?  It had to do with mankind’s ability to truly experience freewill. The Nobleman and Philosopher, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, from the time of the Italian Renaissance, was an interesting character of his time. He wrote a public discourse titled “Oration on the Dignity of Man” in which he imagines God’s first discourse with the first man, Adam. In his (Mirandola’s) vision, God spoke to man and said, “It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.” He is saying that mankind has the ability and choice to descend to the level of dust or to ascend to the level of the divine. This is the choice of freewill. God made humanity the last act of His creation. For this reason Chazal (the sages may their memory be blessed) write, “Why was man created last? In order to say, if he is worthy, all creation was made for you; but if he is unworthy, he is told, even a gnat preceded you.” As humanity, we have the choice to view ourselves as the pinnacle of God’s creation and recognize His breath within us, or, descend to the bottom of the pedestal beneath even the gnat, thinking that we are worth nothing but dirt. We can act as God’s treasured creation, or act like dirt…this is the choice that faces us all. The breath of God wants to return to God and the dust of the earth wants to return to the earth. Our job is to align our earthly bodies with the breath of God that is within us. We must train our earthly body to be submitted to our spiritual being. As it says in Galatians, “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.” Now that we understand the makeup of our being, I want to pose the question, what exactly was this “Nishmat Chaim—Breath of Life” that was breathed into the first man’s nostrils? In Genesis 1:2 it says “V’Ruach Elokim Merachefet Al-Pnei HaMayim —And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Why was the Spirit of God hovering…and, why does something hover? It has no place to rest. The Spirit of God had no place to rest. In Genesis Rabbah, a Midrash (biblical exegesis by ancient Rabbinic authorities) on the book of Genesis, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish says, “V’Ruach Elokim Merachefet, Ze Rucho Shel Melech HaMashiach—And the Spirit of God hovered, This is the Spirit of King Messiah.” The Spirit of God hovering at the moment of creation was the Spirit of King Messiah waiting to find a worthy resting place. Where to does the Spirit of God/King Messiah find an acceptable resting place? In mankind, God created man with the ability to be a resting place for God’s Spirit. God breathes into man’s nostrils the breath of life = the Spirit of God/King Messiah. How can we prove this idea? In Lamentations 4:20 it says,Ruach Apenu Mashiach Hashem—The breath of our nostrils, [is] the Messiah of the Lord…”The Messiah of God is the breath of our nostrils. The Messiah is our very life’s breath. Every breath we have means that He has not given up on humanity. Every time we awake means that He trusts us with another day. Chaim Kramer, in his book, “Mashiach” writes, “…just as breathing sustains each person, whether one is conscious of it or not, so too, Mashiach, the world’s ultimate rectification, has sustained the world from its inception, whether we are conscious of it or not.” The Messiah sustains creation as it says in the Psalms By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.”
Why is it so specific in Genesis that God breathed through “man’s nostrils” the breath of life? In today’s world, numerous medical studies show that breathing through the nose is healthier and more beneficial for the body than breathing through one’s mouth. Obviously, the nose was created for breathing more so than the mouth, but what is it about the nose that sets it apart from the rest of our senses? In Genesis 3, when the serpent in the garden tempts the woman, she listens (ears) to the serpent, she sees (eyes) that the fruit is good, she takes (hands) of the fruit, and she eats (mouth/taste). The only sense that the woman did not use in the whole garden scenario was her nose. You can’t really sin with your nose. The nose just tells you if where you are going reeks of death and destruction or beauty and life. Is the direction of our life leading us to a place where the sweet aroma of God is evident? The Chief Rabbi of Safed, a community up in the Galilee, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, has said that we are living in a time that “the fragrance of Messiah is in the air.” So now, what is our calling? I believe my writing here is finished. I will allow Rav Shaul/the Apostle Paul to finish out this email with his words from 2 Corinthians 2, [T]hanks be to God, who in Messiah always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Messiah to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing…”
 We are the Aroma of Messiah!
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Beshalach Exodus 13:17-17:16

This week we read about Pharaoh’s final last-ditch attempt to stop the Israelites from making their ultimate escape. Pharaoh asks his servants, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” After everything that had transpired in Egypt, Pharaoh is still not willing to admit defeat. Pharaoh doesn’t tell his servants to prepare for war with the Israelites; instead, he asks, “why have we let them go from serving us?” Pharaoh was so obsessed with controlling a people that weren’t his that he willingly sacrificed his own people on behalf of his failing mission. Pharaoh’s goal was to take the Israelites back to Egypt as slaves. Yet, doesn’t Pharaoh understand that Egypt is tottering on the brink of complete destruction? The plagues (that brought each of Egypt’s gods to their knees) affected the entirety of Egypt, yet Pharaoh remained hard-hearted. “How could Pharaoh possibly think that after all the miracles the Almighty did for the Israelites to save them…now when they were finally liberated He would forsake them? …Anyone with any level of intelligence whatsoever should realize that it would be impossible for the Egyptians to harm the Israelites.” (From Book “Growth through Torah” pg 171)
Pharaoh’s intellect had become blinded by his own will and desires. God tells Moses in Exodus 14, “turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’ Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them…” In Hebrew, the word used in this verse for “turn,” as in “turn and camp” is the root word “Shuv” meaning “to return.” God is making it seem to Pharaoh as if the Israelites have become lost in the desert, trapped “between a rock and a hard place = the sea.” They are a seemingly easy target and a most tempting prize.

Pharaoh hears that the Israelites are encamped opposite “Baal Zephon” a title that means “the god of the North.” The one Egyptian god that has remained untouched by the plagues gives Pharaoh hope. Pharaoh thinks that perhaps this god will be the answer to his problems. In Hebrew, the word “Zephon” comes from the root word “Tsaphan” which is translated as “hidden, treasured.” The final god Pharaoh puts his hope in is “Baal Zephon—the Hidden/Treasured god.” The gods of Egypt are not vanquished until even the hidden ones; the ones most precious to Pharaoh are utterly demolished. Pharaoh rides out of his palace in full regalia. 600 choice “elite” chariots together with all the chariots of Egypt, with “officers—shalishim” on each of them ride out to attack the Israelites. The term “officers—shalishim” comes from the Hebrew root word “shalosh—three.” This term could be understood to mean that there were 3 men in each chariot. Under normal circumstances there would have been a 2 man-team in each chariot, a warrior and a driver. However, because Pharaoh “took his people with him” (Ex. 14:6) he appointed an officer over each chariot that left Egypt.
As you read through this section (Ex. 14:6-10) there is something interesting, which must be noted. Twice in these verses it says something along the lines of Egypt pursued after them (the Israelites).” It wasn’t just “Pharaoh’s army” or just the “military of Egypt.” No, instead it was all of “Egypt;” meaning the Spirit, army, people and horses of Egypt all left in pursuit of the Israelite nation. In the Artscroll Chumash commentary we read, “The Jews saw not only a huge and strong force pursuing them, but a united and well-organized one, as implied by verse 10 that describes the Egyptian army in the singular [nosea—going] rather than the plural [nos’im—going].” Ibn Ezra makes a similar observation concerning the horses of Egypt in verse 9. In Hebrew it uses the singular word “sus—horse” when describing “all the horses [] of Pharaoh.” Ibn Ezra says that this implies that all the horses of Egypt had been massed into one giant, united force. Pharaoh had created a united entity, an “army of the people” with which he hoped to capture and re-enslave the Israelite nation. Pharaoh, at this point in time thinks he has several things going for him.Israel is a nation of slaves. Egypt (in this time period) has the most powerful military.Israel has no prior battle experience. Pharaoh and his generals are military veterans.Israel seems lost in the wilderness in a strange land. Pharaoh knows the strategic lay of the land. The Israelites are in Pharaoh’s territory.Israel seems stranded by their God. Pharaoh still has “Baal Zephon—the Hidden god” at his disposal.Pharaoh doesn’t realize that he is being setting up so that “[God] will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that [God is] the Lord.” Pharaoh and his generals think that they can outmaneuver the L-rd, the One who is described in this portion as “A Man Of War.” Pharaoh and his generals know that one of the most important rules of an ambush is to have a solid egress planWellin their eyes, they’ve got Israel cornered like a cat plays a mouse and are set for a sudden surprise attack. What they don’t know is that God has set them up for ambush and He does have a solid egress plan. His plan includes a solid wall of water through the very heart of a sea, with solid ground under the Israelites feet. At the end of everything, the words of King David ring loud and clear, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.”As we read through the entire Exodus story, we must realize that everything we read about deals with the physical birth of a nation. The crossing of the Red Sea was just the final act, which brought life and freedom to the nation of Israel. Think of the Hebrews/ Israelites as an embryo in the womb at the beginning of the book of Exodus. I find it interesting how a baby in the womb’s development is counted. It takes 10 sets of 4 weeks to bring a child into the world. It took 10 different plagues to bring the Israelites into freedom. The development of the Israelites, which was preparation for their time in the desert, all happened during the 10 plagues leading up to their “birth” into freedom.The Israelites weren’t ready for freedom when Moses first arrived on the scene. They needed to be developed and prepared to enter into their new life and calling. The Israelites, like a baby in its mother’s womb, were asking the question, “Is there life on the other side?” All the Israelites had known was Egyptian slavery. How does one function after having the routine drudgery of life taken away? After the Parting of the Red Sea, just like a baby passing through the birth canal, Israel passed through the waters. Even though this was their new birth, as parents know, this is just the beginning. Now God’s task, through Moses, involves parenting His nation into spiritual birth and full maturity.When the Israelites came out on the other side of the sea, we read “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord.” The joyous cries of children who’ve been given life are songs to God. The scream of a newborn is music to God’s ears. In Leviticus 10, when Aaron the Priest’s two sons die it says that Aaron “kept his peace.” However, in Hebrew it says, “Aharon V’yidom—Aaron was silent.” Death brings silence; as the Psalmist writes, “The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence.” (Psalm 115:17) King Hezekiah (after he was spared from death) also declared in Isaiah 38, “For Sheol cannot thank You, Death cannot praise You; Those who go down to the pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. It is the living who give thanks to You, as I do today; A father tells his sons about Your faithfulness. The LORD is certain to save me; So we will play my songs on stringed instruments All the days of our life at the house of the LORD.” Death brings silence, but as King Hezekiah said, “the living [] give thanks to You.” Rabbi Weinberger, in his book “Sparks from the Fire” writes, “When the power of speech is free, it can be expressed on a number of different levels. The highest of these is song, the mouth’s highest mode of expression. Song is the greatest expression of man’s essence as a living being. When a person is filled with vitality, he cannot be satisfied with speaking alone. He must sing.” The Israelites realized they were free! They had to sing! It specifically states, “the Lord saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” Weren’t the Israelites already saved from the Egyptians? Why was this day recognized as the day that God truly saved his people? Because the Israelites “saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” As long as the Egyptians were still alive, Pharaoh still had a grip on the hearts and minds of the Israelites. Once the entire Egyptian army was defeated, there was no more fear, worry or terror. The grip of Pharaoh over the minds of the Israelites was gone. He was dead and they were alive singing! What a tremendous sound that must have been! Over 2 million people singing praises for God’s miraculous deliverance!
In Exodus 15 it says “Az Yashir Moshe Uvnei Yisrael Et-HaShirah HaZot L’Hashem— Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to the Lord.” The words “Az Yashir” are an interesting combination of words. The word “Az” which means “Then” is a past tense word, while the word “Yashir” meaning “will sing” is in the future tense. Why are these two words phrased like this? The Berditchover Rav writes the explanation behind these words is, Az is in the past tense, referring to the moments even before the sea had split; Yashir is in the future tense – Klal Yisrael (All of Israel) was already certain they would sing. Even before their salvation had arrived; B’nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) already knew they would sing upon being rescued…salvation [for them] was a complete certainty…Stuck in what appeared to be the most hopeless and desperate situation, Klal Yisrael (All of Israel) had already begun singing.” I think this is great advice for us in our time. If we believe God is in control, then even when we face the worst of situations, we should sing because we will sing on the other side of our trials. Just as life is opposite of death, singing is opposite to silence. Rashi writes that the phrase “Az Yashir” points to a time in the future when “God will bring the dead back to life in Messianic times – and then they (those resurrected) will sing God’s praises once again.”Rabbi Weinberger writes that, “When the Jewish People were in Egypt, they were compared to ‘a fetus in its mother’s womb.’ The redemption from Egypt and the Song at the Sea represented the birth of the Jewish People…Chazal (The Sages) say that the song [the Jewish People] sang that day is reminiscent of the ultimate resurrection of the dead.” Just as the Israelite nation was born on the day of the crossing of the Reed Sea, so too the Ultimate redemption will be very similar in that the enemies of Israel will be vanquished and the redeemed ones will sing a new song to the God of the Greater Exodus! May that day soon come! And until then, remember that silence is death, so keep singing! As it says in Psalm 126, “When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing.” Keep singing!

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

Parsha Ki Tetze Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19

This week’s portion begins with the words “When you go out to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hand…” From reading this verse it seems to imply that God will always give Israel victory over their enemies, right? So, why then in Numbers 10 do we read “When you go to war in your land against the enemy who oppresses you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, and you will be remembered before the Lord your God, and you will be saved from your enemies.” The verse here speaks about enemies within the Promised Land, oppressing the people of Israel. How can there be enemies oppressing the nation of Israel in their own land if victory over their enemies seems to be guaranteed by God?
In Deuteronomy 28 we read about the blessing and cursing that comes from either following God’s Torah or not. Here’s what it says, “…if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God… The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.” The blessing for walking according to God’s commandments is victory over all of Israel’s enemies that rise up against them. However, if we continue reading in Deuteronomy 28 it tells us of the curses that come for disobedience. It says, “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you shall go out one way against them and flee seven ways before them…” Israel’s victory against her enemies has never been based on having the most modern military equipment or the best battlefield strategies and tactics. Though all of these are important in warfare, Israel’s first and primary pre-battle concern should have always been “Is ‘Hashem Tzevaot – the Lord of Hosts/Angel Armies’ with us?” As it says in Psalm 20, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.”
“Crossing of the Red Sea” by Hans III Jordaens (1595-1643)
Notice, King David says in this Psalm, some trust in this and some in that, but we will trust…No! He doesn’t say trust; rather he uses the Hebrew word “nazkir” which comes from the root word “zachar.” This word means, “to remember.” You see, when Israel was facing enemies all-around they didn’t just need to trust God, they needed to remember God. When enemies came up against Israel it meant that Israel had forgotten to remember God. The Israelites needed to remember that they could trust God, they needed to remember the past victories, and they needed to remember His Promises, Steadfast Love and the Covenant which He had sworn to their forefathers.
From reading these verses we find that victory over Israel’s enemies is dependent upon Israel’s obedience to God’s Torah. But there is something else I want you to notice about these verses. The verse in Deuteronomy has a very positive outlook. Israel goes out to fight against her enemies and God guarantees victory. The verse in Numbers has a much more bleak outlook. Israel’s enemies are already in the land and are oppressing the nation. What is the difference between these two verses? The answer is “indifference.”
Indifference is the difference that sets these verses apart from one another. The verse in Deuteronomy shows Israel on the offensive, defeating her enemies, while Numbers describes Israel complacently allowing enemies into the Land, putting the Israelites on the defensive. The distinction is the attitude of the Israelites in these two given situations. It is the idea of being Proactive versus Reactive. Most people react to life and swim with the cultural currents and tumultuous worldly tides instead of going counter-culture and swimming upstream, because it’s definitely easier to go for a ride on the lazy river!
King David says in Psalm 57:8 as well as Psalm 108:2, “A’irah Shachar–I will awaken the dawn.” Most people go through life waiting for a nudge from heaven, waiting for the dawn to awaken them. Everyone wants to wake up one day to a fixed world with the sun shining through the window, birds singing, and the sound of peace ‘round the world. But no one wants to do the works it takes to get to that point. It reminds me of a story I was told during my childhood called “The Little Red Hen.” If you don’t know the story then I would encourage you to click on the link to read the full tale, but basically the moral of this parable is “you reap what you sow” and “if you don’t work, you don’t eat.” You see, in the story, none of the animals wanted to do any work except for one industrious hen, but everyone wanted to reap the benefits of the hen’s labor. In correlation to our verse, no one wants to do the hard work of awakening the dawn, but everyone wants the dawn to be awakened. And what dawn are we speaking of? The dawn of the Messiah, as it is written, “But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings…”  We must take the first step, showing heaven that we desire to see the dawn even as we work to awaken it! As it says in the book of Malachi, “Shuvu Elai V’Ashuvah Aleichem–Return to me and I will return to you.” Rav Mordechai of Lechovitch taught on this verse by using a parable. He said “There once was a prince who was captured by a band of cutthroat thieves, and they took him so far away from his father the king that if he tried to walk home, it would take him ages to arrive. The king sent messengers to tell his son the prince that he was awaiting his return. ‘If you do not begin your journey,’ he wrote, ‘then the king can’t draw close to you either.’ The prince had to take the first step and set out on the journey, even though his steps might have seemed small and insignificant, and it might have seemed that he was not getting anywhere. But if he would start out, then the king would come toward him, taking long powerful strides, and then surely they would be reunited very soon.” The band of cutthroat thieves in this story can be compared to our Yetzer Hara, or, our Evil Inclination, which leads us into sin. But Rav Mordachai continued by saying, “This what the verse means: ‘Return to Me,’ even if it means taking small steps, ‘and I will return to you’ – and I (God) will return with abundant mercy.”
Last week I wrote that we had just entered into the Hebrew month of Elul. A month of “Teshuvah—Repentance” before we come up to the Festivals of “Rosh HaShannah—The Hebrew New Year,” as well as, “Yom Kippur—The Day of Atonement.” In Hebrew, these days also go by another name, “Yimei HaRatzon—The days of desire.” They are called this because it is during this time that God desires to be close to us, and we should desire to be close to Him. In Psalm 149 it says, “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people.” However, in Hebrew it says,  “Ki Rotze Hashem B’Amo,” which we can literally translate as “For the Lord’s desire/want is in His people.” Everything God wants is found in His people. Do we desire Him as He desires us? Is our desire found in Him as His desire is found in us?   
In this portion we read a verse in Deuteronomy 23 that says, “Motza S’fatecha Tishmor V’Asita…—That which exits your lips you shall guard and do…” This means that whatever we say we should also do. As our Rabbi, Yeshua Himself says in Matthew 5, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” We must be (or become) a people of our words. Because of this verse in the Torah, “that which exits your lips you shall guard and do…” The Shulchan Aruch (The Code of Jewish Law. By Yosef Caro. 1564.) states that a person should, immediately upon waking recite the “Modeh Ani” prayer. The full prayer goes as such, “Modeh Ani L’fanecha, Melech Chai v’Kayam Shehechezarta Bi Nishmati B’chemlah Rabbah Emunatecha—I gratefully thank You, O living and eternal King, for You have returned my soul within me with compassion — abundant is Your faithfulness.”
Why start out the day by saying these words? Because it says in the Torah “that which exits your lips you shall guard and do…” Immediately, your first conscious thoughts and words recognize God, His Kingship, and His compassionate faithfulness. Now, for the rest of the day you are obliged to guard and do what you said at the beginning of the day. But don’t we often say things without meaning them? Do our words reflect our hearts? It’s not wrong to say these prayers even if they maybe don’t completely reflect our feelings, but our hope should be that by saying these words they eventually become our true heart towards God. It’s just like prophecy; we believe it even though we don’t often see it. Why do we think God changes once it comes to our personal lives? Just because we don’t see God working doesn’t mean He isn’t. During WWII, in a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Catholics had kept some Jews in hiding, American soldiers found this poem written on the wall, “I believe in the sun—even when it is not shining. I believe in God—even when He is silent. I believe in love—even when it is not apparent.”
Even when God is silent…I believe. He is our only hope. And, He’s never silent, we’re just often “God-deaf.” When a sound is continuous we learn to block it from our minds; have we done this to God’s ever-constant voice? Maybe so…so we must ask, each of us personally; if I never heard, saw, or felt God near again, would I still believe? 
I must say I believe one of the saddest and convicting questions of our Rabbi, Rabbi Yeshua, is found in Luke 18. He says, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” We are living in the times spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2. The times of the “strong delusion” are upon us. Can you feel it? Matthew 24 tells us that “…because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” Has your love grown cold? Do you still believe?
The Rambam (Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon. 1138-1204) wrote Judaism’s “Thirteen Principles of Faith.” They are 13 different statements which one must believe in order to be considered religiously Jewish. Within this list, the 12th statement declares, “I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come.” This statement became known during the “Shoah—Holocauast” as the “Hymn of the Camps.” (Meaning the Concentration Camps) The reason for this was because of how many Jews perished in the Gas Chambers singing these very words. They sang, “I believe…even though he may delay…” And even as a desperate father cried before Yeshua in Mark 9,
I believe this should become our hearts cry as well, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Shoftim Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

This portion begins with the words “Shoftim v’shotrim titen-l’cha b’chol-sha’arecha—You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates.” It then continues on by saying that Israel should do this once God brings them into the Land that He is giving them. The word “appoint” used in the above verse is the Hebrew word “titen.” This word can also mean, “give.” In essence, what God is saying is, “If I give you the Promised Land, then you must give for yourself Judges and Officers.” The gifts of God always come with responsibilities. As we grow, God’s gifts grow, which means our accountability grows. You could also reverse this idea and say that as God’s gifts grow, we grow as well. God stretches and molds us through His gifts so that we can accomplish His will in the world. 
God’s gifts require that we also give. There is an order by which God’s gifts/blessings descend into this realm. How can we ask God to bless us if we aren’t creating vessels = doing actions into which God can pour forth His blessing? God’s gifts are like a buffet; there is a never-ending abundance, but if you don’t bring your own plate, why would you ever expect to be able to partake? In this case, it is our job to “create plates,” meaning, we do actions and create situations where God can “fill our plates with His blessing.” As Psalm 68 says, “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits…”  
The appointment of Judges and Officers was a very serious task which God had given to the nation of Israel. The third verse of this portion (16:20) tells us, “You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Without Judges there is no judgment and there is no ability to decide on what true justice looks like. When this happens, people do what is right in their own eyes and create their own standards of right and wrong. Therefore, God made Israel’s dwelling in the land contingent upon the fact that they establish Judges to instruct them in the ways of justice. Judges and justice are so important to God that He gave the Torah to balance 2 basic concepts humanity needs in order to live; Order and Freedom.
In the Torah, the nation of Egypt represents a land ruled by order without freedom. The Israelites were enslaved, yet their lives were structured and meticulously controlled from sunup till sundown.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the 7 nations dwelling in the land of Canaan (before the Exodus from Egypt) represent a land ruled by freedom without order. Canaan was known for its idolatrous, anarchic, make-up-your-own-rules type of peoples. These two different lands represent the outcome of what happens when you leave freedom or order out of the picture.The Torah was given to balance these 2 very complex concepts in a perfect way to enable people to live in a free and yet ordered society. The Torah is mankind’s instruction manual. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “The Torah is a formula for the construction of a society, not (primarily) a roadmap for the salvation of the soul.”
Many people think of the Torah as the “Old Testamant Version” of Yeshua, a book that if kept perfectly would bring salvation and justification to the individual. But as Rabbi Sacks points out, this wasn’t the primary reason for the Torah. Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul talks a lot about this idea throughout his letters. The written Torah has never saved, will never save, and was never meant to save. The Torah was given to separate Israel as a nation and to create a balanced, harmonious, God-fearing society. This is why when Yeshua came He said the now famous words that have been argued down through the centuries, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill…” Yeshua didn’t replace what was written in the Torah, rather He, the living Torah, fulfilled what had been spoken of Him in the written Torah. Yeshua not only upheld the Torah, He also raised the standard of Torah. He began to teach what in Judaism is called “HaTorah Shel HaMashiach—The Torah of the Messiah.” He said, don’t just “not murder,” instead, don’t even hate someone in your heart. If we hate someone in our heart does this then mean we ought to receive the same punishment as an actual physical murderer? No! Of course not! What Yeshua is teaching is that hate in the heart is what leads to murder. Lust in the heart is what leads to adultery…sins that begin in the heart, if not dealt with, are what ultimately lead to the downfall and destruction of a society. Next Yeshua says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person…” Here is where Yeshua begins to make Torah invalid, no? He quotes a verse from the Law and then says…do the opposite? But let me ask you, if we applied Yeshua’s words here “[Don’t] resist an evil person…” could we have a just and ordered society? Notice that the entire chapter of Matthew 5 is dealing with interpersonal relationships. Murder, adultery, divorce, vows, greetings and love; Yeshua is not throwing out the need for a Judicial system. Instead, He’s saying that there are a lot of people who have problems who aren’t dealing with them. They are holding onto their squabbles and quarrels, all the while, using the Torah to justify their gripes with others. Yeshua is saying, “Make peace in your interpersonal relationships. Don’t use the Torah to hold onto your bickering. The Torah was meant to bring peace.”  
Latter in the book of Matthew, Yeshua says, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” Yeshua doesn’t say, “Come to Me and you’ll be free! I don’t have any yokes! That’s OT stuuuff!” Rather, He says, take “My Yoke upon you…” And the “Yoke of His instructions” is a.k.a. the Torah. In Hebrew the Torah is referred to as “Ohl Malchut Shamayim—The yoke of the kingdom of heaven.” Just as a good citizen would follow the laws of one’s own country, so too, Yeshua is instructing us to follow the rules of His Kingdom. Just as a king’s authority is empowered when his subjects follow his laws; God is glorified when we follow His laws…for His laws bring life. Not salvation, but life.
The Torah is a Constitution of sorts. A constitution as defined by Meriam-Webster is, “the basic principles and laws of a nation, state, or social group that determine the powers and duties of the government and guarantee certain rights to the people in it.” Today, the modern state of Israel has no constitution. People wonder why this is the case, however, many religious Jews say it is because Israel already has one, found in the Torah.
Though Israel’s Torah constitution may never be ratified in the current state of Israel, we are looking forward to the time of “Melech Mashiach—King Messiah” when He brings His kingdom and “out of Zion go[es] forth the law, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” There are 4 references in the book of Judges where it basically says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Well, again we live in a time with no ‘earthly’ King. (Not meaning that the King is earthly, rather that the King is not reigning on the earth) We must prepare the world to receive their King!
If a king were exiled from his land because his citizens rejected him, what would bring him back? Maybe if he heard that his former populace was once again following the edicts and rules that had been laid out by him. We must prepare the world to receive the King! We just entered into a new month known in Hebrew as “Elul.” It is the month before the High Holidays of Rosh HaShannah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Judgment). It is a month of introspection and reflection preparing for these times.
Rosh HaShannah has another significant aspect to it.  In Israel’s history, during the times of the kings, it was the day when a new king was crowned and announced. Obviously, a new king has not been proclaimed for a long time…but during this month of Elul it is known in Judaism as the time when “the King is in the field” and the Hebrew letters that make up the Hebrew word for this month of Elul can be an acronym for the phrase “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li—I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” This month is a month of love. It is a time when “the King is in the field,” meaning, the King/God is personally meeting with his subjects. He’s not in the throne room, or “in the counting house, counting out his money…” This month the King of the universe is asking for us to invite Him into our lives. He wants to experience life with us and not the other way around. He is the parent who wants His children to choose the adventure and take Him with them! God wants to be a part of your adventure of a lifetime, quite literally!
This month as we prepare for a New Year on the Hebrew calendar, let us learn the balance between Order and Freedom as defined by the Torah and also draw near to the King of Universe, Who is the lover of our souls!

Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Re’eh “See” Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17

This week’s Parsha/Portion begins with the words, “Re’eh Anochi Noten Lif’neichem Hayom Bracha Uk’la’lah.” Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m very grateful for our English versions and all the History behind how they came to be. However, I am also very particular about translations because I believe it can be easy to lose the Heart behind God’s Word. You see, many translations translate this verse along the lines of “See, I set before you today a blessing and a curse.” There is nothing wrong with this interpretation, but if we translate this word differently it gives us a greater understanding of what is being conveyed here. The word used in this verse that is translated as “set” is the Hebrew word “noten.” The word “Noten” can mean, “to give, bestow, put, or set.” Personally, I believe the word “noten” should be translated as “give” rather than “set.”  Why do I believe the word “noten” should be translated as “give?” Because the Torah is God’s “gift” to His people! He doesn’t “set” a choice in front of us, He “gives” us a choice. It’s the choice of “freewill.” He is gifting us with the ability to choose blessing and to choose Him! This gift of freewill choice that God has given to mankind reminds me the first word and name of this portion “Re’eh—See.” In Genesis 3 we find this same root word used when the serpent causes the first woman to doubt God’s command concerning eating from the “Tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In Genesis 3:4-6 we read, “Then the serpent said to the woman…‘God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…” Notice how many times these verses talk about “eyes and seeing.” As the serpent was speaking, the woman’s freewill was about to be challenged. As she listened to the smooth words sliding off the tongue of the serpent, it says “VaTere Ha’Isha—And the woman saw…” The word “Tere” and the word “Re’eh” share the same Hebrew root word meaning “to see.”
God is teaching us through these two verses that, even though it was the woman’s sight which caused her to disregard God’s laws, humanities sight can be rectified once again when we remember the choices that He (God) has set before us. Just like in the garden there was a choice. Two trees = two choices. Now again, God is saying in Deuteronomy 11, “See, I give in front of you today a blessing and a curse.” The next verses continue by saying, “The blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God…and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God…” The commandments are God’s instructions to us. And God’s instruction manual for mankind can be summed up in one word: Torah. The word Torah is connected to two Hebrew words. The first word is “Yarah” which means “to shoot” or “to hit the mark.” Following Torah means that one will always be “on target.” The second word connected to Torah is the word “Horeh” or “Hora’ah” these two words are related to the words “Parent or Tutor.” The Torah is our teacher, our parent and our guide teaching us how “to hit the mark/target” that leads to blessing and life. The Torah is like a spiritual mother whose job it is to lead us to our Heavenly Father. In Proverbs 3 it says (speaking about the Torah), “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her…” Notice how it says, “She is a tree of life?” The words “tree of life” are translated into Hebrew as “Etz Chaim.”
Which takes us back to Genesis 3. God is speaking concerning the tree of life and refers to it as “Etz HaChaim—The Tree of Life.” The Torah is tree of life that is leading us back to the tree of life. You see; the Torah was given to rectify and bring correction to our sinful ways, specifically the “lusts of the eyes.” Our eyes are consistently and constantly leading us into temptations, traps and trials. This is why the Torah explicitly states in Numbers 15 that the children of Israel should wear “tzitzit—tassels” on their garments. As it is written “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments…and to put a blue thread in the tassels…And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which…your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.” These tassels were to be a reminder of the commandments of God. They symbolized the set-apartness of the Israelites versus the surrounding nations. Not only did these tassels/fringes remind the Israelites that they were to be holy to God, they were also a status symbol in the ancient world as well. The blue thread, which we read about in the above verse, is a very specific color of blue. The blue referenced in Numbers 15 is the color “Techelet.” This color is a very deep dark royal blue that would have been expensive and hard to obtain in this time period. (To see more about Techelet) This color would have been a color reserved for the royal and priestly classes of the day. Yet, God tells the children of Israel to wear this color in their fringes, not only to remember God’s commands, but also to remember the status of their role and calling in the world. Each Israelite, when he looked at his fringes, would see the royal blue in his tassels and be reminded of his position as a “Mamlechet Kohanim—Kingdom of Priests” and as a royal child of the King. As it says in Chapter 14 of this portion “Banim Atem L’Hashem Elokeichem—You are the children of the Lord your God…” It then goes on to call the Israelites an “Am Kadosh—Holy Nation” and an “Am Segulah—Special Treasure.” God chose this nation to represent Him to humanity. Therefore, He told them to wear the colors of royalty, so whenever they saw it, they would be reminded of the high calling they have within the world. 
The “tzitzit—tassels” are a physical reminder of the truth found in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5. He writes, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” We know what happens when we follow after the lusts of our own eyes…it leads to exile from God’s presence. Faith is the antidote and cure for our sight. As Romans 8 tells us “We hope for what we do not see…” And what is our hope? That “the creation itself will also be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God…[and] the redemption of our body.” We’re waiting for a glorious time that is beyond imagination! Our minds eye can’t even visualize what we are looking forward to! It is awesomely overwhelming, whatever this redemption picture will look like!
In Isaiah 11 we read of a time when the Messiah will arrive to bring in the fullness of this long-awaited redemption. It is interesting to read this passage because there is something to observe about the Messiah’s character traits. It says, “His delight is in the fear of the Lord, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears…” Notice that even the Messiah does “not judge by the sight of His eyes.” Therefore, if even the Messiah does not go by what He sees, how much more should we not follow our own vision but the future vision that God has set before us.
Now, if we look back at our verse from this portion there is one last idea I want to expound upon. So again, here is the verse. “See, I give in front of you today a blessing and a curse.” God is offering His people the choice between blessings and curses. A blessing if one follows the Torah’s instructions of life, curses if one disregards the Torah of truth. Yet, the question we must now ask ourselves is “How can God curse?” Rabbi Chaim of Aleppo makes a note about the wording of this verse. He writes, notice how it says, “‘Before you’ and not ‘on you,’ for no evil descends from heaven, rather it is placed before you. The choice is yours.” God doesn’t put curses on people. People choose the curses and then blame God. As it says in the Midrash, “No evil thing descends from above…” You see the curses are actually blessings in disguise. The blessings are for the obvious good while the curses are for the hidden good. How can we view the curses as hidden blessings? Because the curses are supposed to set us back on a right course, following in God’s ways. The curses can be likened to our sense of pain. If we didn’t feel pain then we wouldn’t take care of our bodies and protect them from harm. And if we didn’t protect our bodies from hurt and harm then we would easily die. So too, the curses are “painful” blessings that are supposed bring us back into relationship with our Heavenly Father. From this we see that the curses are truly camouflaged blessings!
Yet, they are still curses. They still bring pain and hardship. Even though they are a blessing in that they are supposed to turn us back to our Creator, they are still curses in that we still rightly suffer from our disobedient actions. So if God doesn’t curse us, rather, we choose the curses, where do these curses come from? Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchov writes about this concept of evil and curses in the world. He makes an analogy comparing God’s spiritual bounty to the sun shining over a clouded atrium with stained glass windows.
He writes, “When the sun shines through those windows, one can see distinct beams of color – red, blue, purple and so forth – filtering through the atrium. Would it then be appropriate to say that the sun’s beams are red or blue? Obviously not; the sun can be said to be either colorless or encompassing all colors. It is only the window through which it shines that lends a particular hue to the sunbeam…it is the same way with spiritual bounty. Nothing evil emanates from Hashem. The bounty, like sunlight, is ‘colorless.’ Only when it shines through specific vessels does it take on a particular character, becoming good or evil…we are the stained glass windows.” What does all this mean? It means that God is always shining His light into the world. As Yeshua Himself said of God in Matthew 5, “He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good…” So if God is shining His light into the world, we must ask ourselves, “How does His light shine through us?” “What is the hue of His light shining in our life?” and “Does His light shine forth in blessing and growth or does it cause us to wilt and wither away as cursed?” God has given us the choice, it is our decision how we will accept and reflect His light into the world.
I believe James, brother of Yeshua, also understood this concept of God’s continuous light being a blessing or curse in our lives. He writes in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” We have the tendency of being varied or shadowed which is why the light of God that shines within us is varied and shadowed. He’s always sending perfect and good gifts as the Father of lights and we must receive them. Not as a stained glass window would = adding our own hue to God’s perfect gift. Rather as clear panes of glass that keep the bugs out but let the pure light of God shine into the world! As the song goes “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…” He is the source of all goodness, peace and life in the world…because it emanates from Him. Let us become emanators of God’s pure light and let us “Arise, shine; for [our] light has come! And the glory of the Lord [will] rise upon [us].” For there is a time coming when, “The sun shall no longer be [our] light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to [us]; But the Lord will be to [us] an everlasting light, and [our] God [our] glory.” May it come soon! Amen and Amen!
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Ekev Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25

This week’s portion begins with the words “V’Hayah Ekev Tishmaun.”
Most English translations render these words as something along the lines of “If you listen.” However, this would be an incorrect translation; or, a not completely accurate translation. A good translation would translate these words as closer to, And it will be, because you listen…” If you look at the verse above you will see I have underlined two words which are important to the makeup and understanding of this statement.
First of all, the word “And” joins the first verse of this week’s Torah portion with the ending verse of last week’s portion. The final verse of last week’s Torah portion was, Deuteronomy 7:11, which states, “And you shall keep the commandment, the statutes, and the judgments which I command you today, to observe them.” Verse 11 reminds us, even as Moses says, “the commandment…which I command you today” are commandments that we should be keeping on a daily basis. This is why Moses says, “I command you today.” Everyday is a day that we must keep and guard the instructions of God. This is why verse 12 begins “And it will be…” Which, in other words means, “This will happen.” Verse 12 hinges on the fact that the Israelites obey verse 11.
From here, we come to the 2nd word I underlined in the verse above (verse 12). That word would be the name of this week’s Torah portion. The word “Ekev” which most translators translate as “If” actually means “consequence or because.” Verse 12 goes on basically to say “And it will be because…” Because what? “…Because you listen to these judgments…the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.”
And now I want to stop. Here is the problem that arises when you translate the word “Ekev” as “if.” The word “If” gives this verse a questioning aspect to it; as in, the promise in this verse may or may not happen. However, in reality there is no chance concerning this verse. The word “Ekev” when translated as “because” gives this verse an authority concerning the future of Israel as a predictive word from the prophet Moses himself. There are no ifs or buts about this verse. It states “because” meaning that there will be a time when Israel shall listen and follow the judgments of God; which means there will be a time when God will keep His “et-habrit v’et-hachesed—covenant and loving-kindness” which He swore to the forefathers of the nation of Israel.
Now, I want to take a look at the words “et-habrit v’et-hachesed.” As you can see above I translated these words as “covenant and loving-kindness.” However, some English translations have instead translated this Hebrew sentence as a “Covenant of love” or “Covenant Loyalty.” Here is my reason why this seemingly small difference in wording, is important to differentiate between.
You see; God didn’t make a “Covenant of Love” with His people. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t love within the covenant; it means that God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and their descendants was not based on love.
It went beyond love. This is why even when Israel lost their love for God, the covenant continued. Even when love failed, the covenant remained. God is faithful to His promises and His covenants. In verse 8 of Deuteronomy 7 (last week’s portion) Moses tells the Israelites why God chose them as a nation. Here was the reason, “…because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers…” God loves His people. But notice the “and” in the middle of the sentence. God loves His people “and” He will keep His covenant. What does this remind us of? “et-habrit v’et-hachesed—covenant and loving-kindness.” It is not a “Covenant of Loving-Kindness” it is a “Covenant and Loving-Kindness.” God keeps His covenants because He is faithful to His word. God shows His people loving-kindness because even though we fall short in keeping the covenant, His unmerited favor upholds us; though, we have done nothing to deserve it. Here is the difference. If God had made a “Covenant of Loving-Kindness,” then it would mean nothing when He showed us unmerited favor. In fact, if this were the covenant, we might even begin to expect and demand God’s undeserved favor for ourselves. But instead, God shows His “covenant and loving-kindness.” God will always keep His end of a deal. He keeps His promises and His covenants. However, it is not required that He show loving-kindness = unmerited grace and favor as well. God goes beyond what His covenants require of Him. As it says in Psalm 89, “Olam Chesed Yibaneh—The world is built with loving-kindness.” The great Torah Scholar Maimonides noted concerning this verse from the Psalms, Creation was an act of pure chessed/lovingkindness. No one ever creates something because it deserves to be created. God’s unmerited favor sustains the world. God shows Himself to us through His covenant faithfulness and His undeserved loving-kindness.  
Over the ages we have seen God demonstrate His faithfulness to His covenant with Israel and many of us have personally experienced His loving-kindness toward us. But throughout history, have we ever seen the fullness of Israel “listen[ing] to [God’s] judgments?” For it is only then that we will see the complete fullness of the second half of the verse, when “God keep[s] the covenant and the mercy which He swore to [the] fathers.” The answer is: No. We have not seen the complete fulfillment of this verse. Which makes this verse a verse of prophecy waiting to happen in the future.
As I wrote earlier; there will be a time when Israel shall listen and follow the judgments of God; which means there will be a time when God will keep His “et-habrit v’et-hachesed—covenant and loving-kindness.” Therefore, if this verse is a prophecy of a future we still wait to see, we must ask the question, “What time is it?”
Let’s read the verse one more time. “And it will be because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.”
See the underlined word?  Once again, it is our key word. The word that carries the name of this portion; the word “Ekev.” I already told you that this word can mean “consequence or because.” But there is another meaning to this word that hints to when this prophetic verse will happen. Does anyone remember how the Biblical character Jacob got his name? Let’s go over to the story found in Genesis 25 and read it. In the story, Rebekah, Jacob’s mother is about to give birth to him. Here’s the story. “So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red…so they called his name Esau. Afterward his brother came out, and his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob.” 
Jacob got his name from the way he came out of the womb. And how did he come out of the womb? As a “Heel-Holder.” Jacob grabbed Esau’s…can you guess the Hebrew word? He grabbed Esau’s “Ekev!” In Hebrew Jacob’s name would be Ya’AKoV, which, as you can see, shares the same Hebrew root as the word “EkeV.” “Ekev” can mean heel. So, something connected to a heel is what will bring this prophetic verse to pass.
The heel is the lowest and toughest part of the body. So, in connection to our verse, this means that whatever this verse is referring to has to do with low and tough.
The heel is the part of the body that takes us where we want to go. So, in connection to our verse, it means that this verse is speaking of a time that people will be going where they want to go.
Lastly, the heel is the part of the body that our Rabbi, Rabbi Yeshua, cleans on His disciples. In John 13, we read that Yeshua washed the “heels” or the feet of His disciples. He said, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.”
Now, how does all this tell us when this verse in Deuteronomy will come about?
Here’s the quick answer…Just as the heel is the lowest and toughest part of the body, so too, the days in which Deuteronomy 7:12 will comes to pass will be a time in which humanity will be at its lowest point. The people of that generation will be tough and hard to God’s word. They will trample the word of God underfoot = under their heels. And just as the heel takes a person where they want to go, so with that generation. That generation will choose evil because it is where they want to go, for there will be no excuses before God’s Throne. It will be a time when people will trample God and walk after their own lusts. These days are known in Judaism as the “heels of Messiah;” the time right before the Messiah’s coming. We could also refer to them as the “End times…”
I don’t know if we live in “that” generation, but I do know we have come far from God’s “covenant and loving-kindness.” And with this in mind, what is our job in these days, which seem to be the “heels of Messiah?”
We must learn to live like Yeshua, as I pointed out earlier. The Lord of Lords and Teacher of Teachers knelt down and washed the heels of His disciples. He wouldn’t allow the filth of the world or the toughness of some people’s hearts and feet stop Him from being a servant.
As Yeshua Himself said in Matthew 24, “…because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” If we allow the lawless things that are happening in our world today to harden our hearts, eventually, we will become what we hate. Our heels should be taking us toward Deuteronomy 7:12 as those who listen to [God’s] judgments, and keep and do them…” We are called to emulate our Messiah. Do you know one of the things Yeshua our Messiah did? He crushed the head of the serpent as was prophesied in Genesis 3, in the Garden of Eden
Here is what God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” This verse is about the Messiah, concerning His role and mission in the world. The heel of the Messiah crushed the head of the serpent, but in the process He (the Messiah) was bruised.
Therefore, if we know this already happened, why do we still await the end times = the heels of the Messiah? The answer is this.  In today’s world, we are the heels of the Messiah! We are Messiah’s representatives in the world. We are His “Shlichim—Agents/Messengers.” In Modern Hebrew the word “Shlichim” can also stand for a “delivery person.” We are the Messiah’s UPS or FedEx drivers. We deliver His will and His ways to the world. And as we follow “hot on His heels” it will lead to that great day of fullness as found in Deuteronomy 7:12 “And it will be because (Ekev) you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.”Until then run in the footsteps of the Messiah and may
“…the God of peace soon crush Satan under your feet!”
Grace and peace from God’s bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,