Parsha Mishpatim Exodus 21:1-24:18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parsha Yitro “Jethro” Exodus 18:1-20:23

The first thing we read in this Parsha is about Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law. He comes bringing with him Moses’ family and meets up with the Israelite nation “at the mountain of God,” as is explained in the first verses of this portion. Now, why is it important to mention the exact spot where Jethro first encountered the Jewish nation? Back in the time when Moses was just a shepherd, guarding over his father-in-laws flocks, he encountered a strange sight. We read in Exodus 3, “Moses…led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.” How did Moses know that “the bush was not consumed?” Because he gave this strange sight his full attention.

Not only did he give this occurrence his full attention, the next verse states that Moses left the flock behind and said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.” While we may understand this to mean that Moses just wanted to get a closer look, the Ramchal, in his commentary gives a deeper reasoning behind Moses’ statement. He says, “Moshe was saying ‘now I will turn away from the lowly mundane existence I have been living and draw myself close to spiritual loftiness and to my spiritual root.’ For this is man’s entire purpose in this lowly world.” What the Ramchal is saying is Moses’ “turn[ing] aside” wasn’t simply a physical action; it was a change of heart.

Moses turned away from the physical (his flock) in order to encounter the spiritual (the not-burning bush). In Hebrew, the word for “turn” found in the above verse, is the word “SaR.” In gematria (a method which assigns a numerical value to each letter in the alphabet) the word “SaR” is equal to the number 260. The Hebrew word for “eye” is the word “AyiN.” This word in gematria equals the number 130. What is the significance here? If you multiply the singular term “eye” 2 times you get the value of 260, meaning in order to fully turn toward something, you must give it your entire attention, using both your eyes. Moses was confronted with the not-burning bush and fixed his eyes/his concentration solely on this strange spiritual sight. When God saw Moses turn aside and head toward this spiritual sight, God made His move and encountered him there.
God tells Moses that he is the man who will lead the Israelite nation out of Egypt. Moreover, God specifically states, “this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Therefore, to answer my first question, “why is it important to mention the exact spot where Jethro first encountered the Jewish nation?” Now we know it was part of God’s promise to Moses, “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” God brought the Israelites to this Mountain of God in order to fulfill His promise to Moses and show Himself as the One Faithful to His Word.

In the next chapter of this portion, Exodus 19, it again stresses the fact that “after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt…they came to the Wilderness of Sinai…so Israel camped there before the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain…” The repetition here is given to show God’s faithfulness to what He promises. After God calls Moses from the Mountain, He tells him to speak to the Israelites and say, “‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to Myself.” God says He brought deliverance to the Israelites “on eagles wings…” In the Mishnah (Avot 5:20), Judah ben Tema was quoted as saying, “Be strong as a leopard, light as an eagle, fast as a gazelle, and mighty as a lion, to do the will of your Father who is in heaven.” What is the idea behind God’s people having “eagles wings” and being “light as an eagle?” Rabbi Moshe Weinberger writes in his book Sparks from the Fire, “Why does it say to be as light as an eagle? There are many other birds, like the sparrow, that are lighter than the eagle…despite the heaviness of the eagle, it is considered lighter because it has the strongest wings. Hashem says ‘I will lift you up’ like upon the wings of eagles. This means He will take [the Israelites] from the lowest point [] of impurity to the point of receiving the Torah at Har Sinai (Mount Sinai).” God brought His people out from under the impurity of Egypt and raised them to soar among the purest of heights, like that of an eagle, in order to receive the Torah.

The Israelites had to be rescued from their impurity so they could soar. This is why God says He brought the Israelites out “on eagles wings.” When a person makes teshuvah (repentance) for their past mistakes, misdeeds and impurities, they become free to fly even as an eagle. Rabbi Moshe Weinberger continues by writing, “The Ashlich…makes the following point… ‘The eagle flies much higher than all other birds… Learn from the eagle who does not rest until she rises above everything and you do the same!’ …The Ramchal explains that since a person comes from dust and earth, there is a natural heaviness to a person…So Hashem calls out…‘Be light as an eagle! Even though it is heavy, it has strong wings and it shakes off the dust, rising straight up to the Heavens. You (also) have wings and you must use them!” The eagle has the drive to fly high above all the other birds even to the very Heavens. What is our drive to transcend the impurity of the world and rise to Heavenly heights? We have the ability to rise above the earthly pull and connect to God.

In physics, there is the saying “What goes up must come down.” However, in this case, every soul that descends (even to the most impure of states) has the ability to ascend into the very heights of glory! Rabbi Moshe Weinberger writes, “…we have, for the most part, lost the ability to fly, to soar above physicality and elevate ourselves above the world…[However], human beings can fly even higher than angels, as long as they guard their wings.” We achieve “winged-status” when we leave the impurities and temptations of the world behind for the better things of God.
Though I have not read as much of G.K. Chesterton as I would like, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes he once famously wrote, “Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” This is what keeps much of humanity bogged down in the muddle of life—over-consternation—about themselves and life in general. Chesterton later writes in the same chapter, “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light. Satan fell by the force of gravity.”(From the book, “Orthodoxy.”) I believe one side of us, as humans, doesn’t want to fight gravity, we want to stay where things are comfortable, yet at the same time, I believe the other side of our human nature, doesn’t actually believe it possible that we could actually transcend beyond this world.
Many people know the “Ugly Duckling” story, but there is a similar “Chicken Eagle” story that goes like this, “A chicken farmer once found an eagle’s egg. He put it with his chickens and soon the egg hatched. The young eagle grew up with all the other chickens. He thought he was a chicken, just like them. Since the chickens could only fly for a short distance, the eagle also learned to fly only a short distance. That was all that he thought he could do. As a result, that was all he was able to do. One day the eagle saw a bird flying high above him. He was very impressed. “Who is that?” he asked the hens around him. “That’s the eagle, the king of the birds,” the hens told him. “He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth, we are just chickens.” So the eagle lived and died as a chicken, for that’s what he thought he was.” If you felt sorry for the “Chicken Eagle” who never knew his true potential, how much more do you think God is saddened when people resign themselves to the idea, “we belong to the earth.”
God says to Moses, Exodus 19:4-6, “I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to Myself. Now…if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people…and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The mission statement of Israel—special treasure, kingdom of priests and holy nation—is predicated upon the fact that Israel was lifted on eagles wings out from their slavery experience; and not just slavery to the Egyptians, but also slavery to the impurities, spirits, attitudes and amoral practices of Egypt. Only once the nation of Israel rises above the world and its system, focusing squarely on God, can they become an “Am Segula, Mamlechet Kohanim v’Goy Kadosh— special treasure, kingdom of priests and holy nation.”Everyone has the ability to transcend this world, but if transcendence is only all about one’s own person, then that individual has missed the very essence of the reason to transcend. We transcend so the world around us can transcend with us. We are in the process of ascending to God, so that when God sees fit, He will descend to mankind. As He states in both the books of Zechariah and Malachi, “Return to Me…And I will return to you.” When God sees we are serious in our pursuit of Him, He will initiate “Operation World-Redemption” and “the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16) May it come soon!

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

Parsha Va’era “I Appeared” Exodus 6:2-9:35

In this week’s portion we find an interesting genealogy of Moses and Aaron. The first question to be asked when encountering this genealogy is concerning its placement. We read of Moses and Aaron encountering an angry Pharaoh, next Moses speaks to God and suddenly . . . a genealogy? The storyline seems to be coming to an epic peak, an impressive foreshadowing, when suddenly we’re confronted with the genealogy of Moses and Aaron? What an anticlimactic moment! It’s as if the narrator forgot to give a proper introduction, or the playbill failed to mention a list of characters. We suddenly have to stop mid-script and reintroduce our main actors and the details of the central plot. Why?To begin, let us read the Biblical account and see what the “pshat—plain/simple” meaning of the text relates to us. “These are the heads of their fathers’ houses: The sons of Reuben, the firstborn of Israel…and the sons of Simeon…” Wait, what? I thought Aaron and Moses were from the tribe of Levi? Why does the text start by mentioning Reuben and Simeon?

Baal haTurim in his commentary writes, “Reuven’s and Shimon’s genealogy are mentioned [] in order to accord them the courtesy due to seniority. Had the Torah ignored the genealogy of Reuven and Shimon at this point, some people might have thought that Levi was the senior of the brothers.” Basically, the Baal haTurim is showing that the seniority of the older brothers/order of the tribes remains important and unchanged. However, as the saying goes “2 Jews equals 3 opinions” means that this is not the only reason given by the Rabbis as to why the names of Reuben and Simeon are mentioned before Levi. Rashi writes, “because their father Jacob reproached these three tribes in the hour of his death, Scripture again enumerates here their genealogy alone of all the tribes to indicate that they nevertheless were men of worth.” (Genesis 49) When Jacob the Patriarch blessed his 12 sons, some of his harshest rebukes went to his 3 oldest, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi.

According to Rashi, the words here in the Torah show us that though Jacob’s rebukes were harsh, these men still held value among the tribes and in the family of Israel. However, just because these men held value does not mean anyone among their progeny was ready to lead the nation of Israel to deliverance. Sforono, an Italian Rabbi and philosopher, expounds upon this verse by saying, “Moses and Aaron were justifiably referred to as the heads of the various tribal groups of Israel, as they were the most respected and most honored. Reuven, [] none of his descendants were particularly noteworthy… [with] the same consideration [being] true for the descendants of Shimon. Levi, the longest surviving member of the original 70 Hebrews who migrated to Egypt, managed to raise even his grandchildren to become leaders of the people in their own right. Amram produced three outstanding children in the persons of Aaron, Moses and Miriam, all of whom attained prophetic stature.” 

So while the Rashi on the one hand states that Reuben and Simeon were men of worth, Sforno points out that worth versus capability are two separate issues altogether. (A concept which often is confused in our modern era.) The reason Reuben and Simeon’s descendants are mentioned is to point out that there was none more qualified than Aaron and Moses in any of the tribes that came before the tribe of Levi. However, Rabbeinu Bachya adds that, had only the tribe of Levi been mentioned, “We might have thought…that the entire list was only recorded in honor of Moses.” Therefore, while this list was given to show Aaron and Moses’ qualifications over those in other senior tribes (according to birth order), at the same time, this order of genealogies was given to remind Aaron and Moses, that there was nothing to pride themselves in because God could have chosen anyone from the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, or even Levi.
As it states in the following verses (Exodus 6:26-27), “These are the same Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, ‘Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies.’ These are the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt. These are the same Moses and Aaron.” What is this verse implying? In Numbers Rabbah 11 is found the phrase “Like the first redeemer was, so will the final redeemer be.” The “first redeemer,” Moses, gives us a glimpse into the mission and purpose of the “final redeemer,” the Messiah. Within the verse above along with several other verses from Moses’ life, I would like to make a parallel with a passage we read in the Gospel of Matthew. In Matthew 13 we read, “When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, ‘Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?’ So they were offended at Him. But Yeshua said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.’ Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.”

 In the verses above about Moses and Aaron we read a repetition of the phrase, “These are the same Moses and Aaron.” Why? Because traditionally, many of the Hebrews looked at Moses and Aaron and said, “we know these blokes. We know where they come from and who their families are. How can they be the saviors of Israel?” Moses and Aaron were scorned and ridiculed when they first arrived on scene. In the verses about our Master Yeshua’s ministry we read that the people said of him, “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us?” The townspeople who knew Yeshua said much the same as what was said of Moses and Aaron. We know him! How could it be that this is the redeemer of Israel? Yet, Moses and Aaron, as well as Yeshua, these very same people are the ones who brought deliverance for God’s people.

Earlier in Exodus chapter 6 we read, “Moses spoke . . . but the [Israelites] did not heed Moses. . . .” The same is written of Yeshua. “So they were offended at Him . . . He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” Because the Israelites thought they knew Moses, Aaron, and Yeshua, they rejected them because of the calling that God had placed upon them. And lastly, just as an Israelite responded to Moses by saying, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us?” So too, the villagers of Yeshua’s day said, “Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works. . . . Where then did this Man get all these things?” Both Moses and Aaron, along with Yeshua faced rejection. Why? Because the people said “We know these guys. How can they be what we’re waiting for?” And to be completely honest, unfortunately, I feel this same attitude is prevalent today as well. When people feel summoned by God to a certain calling, direction, or mission, oftentimes it happens “the ones closest, hinder the mostest.” It reminds me of one of Marty Goetz’s songs in which he sings about his family. “But now they ask me how I could go so wrong and why all of a sudden I’m singing this song. They say ‘son you’re deserting your fathers of old, so why don’t you just come back to the fold, you’re such a nice boy, or weren’t you told, that when you were born they broke the mold, so whadya need with this stuff you’ve been sold?” 

I think most of the family and friends of Moses and Aaron along with Yeshua probably thought that these poor souls had gone loony and they were just trying to “help a brother out” by bringing them back to reality; and I do understand, I mean, if one of my brothers suddenly proclaimed himself as the savior of Israel, I would think he’d lost his marbles as well. Moses, Aaron, and Yeshua each faced the struggles of interpersonal relationships while still holding fast to their individual calling from God; they each had familial problems. It is much easier to be a Superhero-savior without a family. In fact, I did some quick research on some of the most classic Superheros of all-time. Guess what…Superman was born on the planet of Krypton and sent away by his parents on a spaceship down to earth before the planet of Krypton was destroyed. He was an orphan. Batman as a child witnessed the murder of his parents. He was an orphan. Spiderman lived with his Uncle and Aunt because his parents were killed in a sabotaged airplane crash. He was an orphan. Ironman’s parents were both killed in a car accident. He was an orphan. Captain America lost his father when he was young while his mother died of pneumonia. He was an orphan. These were some of the ones I recognized, but I believe if we continued examining the numerous Superhero characters this pattern would probably continue. Why do you think most fictional characters are orphans or estranged from their family? Family generally stands in the way of greatness…in the eyes of the world. Real-world dictators, guess what? Most throughout history have eliminated all/almost all of their family or have removed them far from positions of power. Why? Family members know and remember too much. They could expose the façade that a person in power would want to remain standing.
However, this is not what we should do. When in a position of power, we should lift up our family and friends, even if they don’t believe in our mission as much as we do. Remember, even though you are a leader, they do know you and their insight can be helpful for you in your blind spots. (Notice the plural of the words blind spots—we all have more than one!) For those who have a “Jesus Freak” for a family member, don’t tear them down just because you “know them,” rather let everyone build each other up! Most individuals see family as a hindrance whether it is in ministry, business, or career. But for those who follow God, not only is family one of the greatest of blessings, it is also the hidden key and unstoppable power that can change the world for good. Broken families and relationships are as old as the Garden of Eden. Healed and reconciled relationships are what will bring us back to the Garden of Glory. If you have a “Moses” in your family, bless and guide them into their calling. Whatever calling others have, I have learned to say, “ If your eyes are on God, then I bless you.” Because how could I not? Therefore, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…[and do] not neglect[] to meet together [] but encourage[e] one another… encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing… [and] you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…being joined together, grow[ing] into a holy temple in the Lord. (Ephesians 4:29. Hebrews 10:25. 1 Thessalonians 5:11. Ephesians 2:18-21)
Grace and Peace from God’s Bondservant,
Shabbat Shalom,

Parsha Vayechi Genesis 47:28-50:26

This week’s Torah portion describes the end of the life of Jacob. We read that “the time drew near [for] Israel (Jacob) [to] die.” Once Israel (the spiritual name of Jacob) realizes it is his time to “bite-the-dust” he calls his sons to bless them, to tell [them] what sh[ould happen] in the last days,” and to make them promise to bury him in the land of his forefathers; the Land of Canaan. For the sake of this observation, I want to write about the “acharit hayamim—the last days”and the blessing of Jacob upon his sons. Now, I know the expression “the last days” may sound a bit “cliché” and that’s because it is. According to, the definition of the word “cliché” is as follows, “a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality, ingenuity, and impact by long overuse.” Isn’t that a perfect definition of how many people around the globe view the phrase “the last days?” Unfortunately it has become a common, long-overused phrase that has lost its impact and originality. What does Jacob have to say concerning this phrase? What does he mean by using these terms? According to many of the sages, Jacob desired to reveal to his sons the timing and circumstances surrounding the last days, but God did not allow him to do so. The Rashi writes that, “Jacob wanted to reveal the time of the Future redemption but the Divine Presence left him.” Why did God’s presence leave Jacob? Because, writes the Ramchal in his commentary; “Yaakov Avinu (Jacob our father)…[was] ma[king] a great mistake, for the time of the End of Days is something which must remain hidden. Had the time of the redemption been revealed, succeeding generations would have grown lax in their tshuva (repentance) and in their yearning for the Final Redemption. Furthermore, it is within their (the succeeding generations) power to hasten the arrival of those days…” God did not want the timing of the Last Days revealed because future generations, knowing the proximity of the end of days, could use this revelation as an excuse to do evil rather than a purpose to do good. Besides, God did not want us to find our comfort in a deadline; rather, He wanted us to pursue Him out of a pure heart.God doesn’t want His people to live by His deadlines. Instead, He gives His people life because He is our lifeline. God has set the deadline, yet, at the same time, He is our lifeline. God wants us to live in the moment, remembering what He has done for us, rather than live with an “End of World” perspective in our front view all the time. What does this mean? It means, “The sky is falling” mentality of many believers is wrong! God did not create us to remind the world of its impending fate. He created us to bring hope, change, life and light to wherever we go! We as believers cannot just stand by and “watch the world run its course.” If we comfort ourselves with God’s impending deadline = His coming judgment, while doing nothing to change the world around us, to use a quote commonly attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer “…God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” God did not want Jacob to tell his sons the timing of the last days lest they become lax in their relationship and their service to God. God’s Divine presence leaves Jacob the very moment he prepares to reveal his secret.
“Jacob Blesses His Sons” by Phillip Medhurst
The Ramchal writes that “the Divine Presence departed from him (Jacob) and left him in a state of confusion causing him to utter words that need not have been said, as if he did not know what he was speaking about. This is apparent in the following [verse]: ‘gather yourselves and listen, O sons of Yaakov, and listen to Yisroel (Israel) your father’ (verse 2). Why must Yaakov ask them to gather after he had already requested of them [to] assemble? (From the previous verse) Furthermore, why does this latter [verse] open with his asking them to listen to their father Yaakov and conclude with his asking them to listen to their father Yisroel (Israel)?” It was only after Jacob decided to not reveal the end of days to his sons and when he invoked his spiritual name “Israel” that clarity of mind returned to him in order that he could bless his sons. However, according to Baal HaTurim, he writes in his commentary that, though “vision was withheld from him (Jacob) by God, so that he had to make do with allusions to earlier events, he managed to insert hints of what was to happen still later.” What Baal HaTurim is saying is that the “last days” message Jacob wanted to reveal to his sons is hidden within the blessings he bestowed upon each of them. Even though Jacob was prohibited from speaking clearly about “the last days,” within the blessings of each of Jacob’s sons we find clues, pointing to the ultimate redemption. Jacob calls his sons together and tells them,“He’asfu V’agidah Lachem Et Asher-Yikra Etchem B’Acharit HaYamim. Hikavtzu V’Shimu B’nei Yaakov V’Shimu El-Yisrael Avichem—Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days. Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father.” Now, before we continue, there are some very interesting Hebrew words we must clarify. The first Hebrew word that sticks out from this verse is the found in the phrase Asher-Yikra Etchem—what shall befall you.” The word “yikra” is translated in this verse as “shall befall.” But the word “yikra” comes from the Hebrew root word “kara” which means to “cry out, call, or proclaim.” We could literally translate Jacob’s words as “what shall call to you in the last days.” Rabbi Hirsch, wrote, upon seeing this connection, “Jacob taught that whatever event may happen, it must be understood as a call from God, for nothing is haphazard; everything has a purpose. It is for us to ‘hear’ and seek to understand the call.” (Chumash, Stone Edition) Jacob’s blessing upon his sons was, in reality, destiny calling each son to his very own specific role, mission and position, in order to bring about the final redemption. Everything that happens in life is a call from God. Jacob was not telling his sons “let me tell you what is going to befall/happen to you in the last days.” Instead, he was saying “let me tell each of you what your specific role will be in bringing about the ultimate redemption.” (Now, I know it may seem that I am confusing the terms “end times/final days” and “the ultimate/final redemption–a.k.a. the Messianic Age.” However, the commentators by and large agree that the phrase “End Of Days” is synonymous with the Messianic era.) Jacob’s words to his sons are vital for us to understand today. The blessing of Jacob was to prepare his sons for their upcoming roles in bringing about the redemption. The phrase “[Let me] tell you what shall befall you” is not a passive phrase, it is a call to action; “[Let me] tell you what shall call you!”Today, what is your calling in bringing about the final redemption? Each of Jacob’s sons had a role. What is your role? What are you doing to bring the era of the Messiah? Now that you know that each of Jacob’s blessings is in fact a prophecy, hinting to the future redemption, I invite you to read the blessings of Jacob from a different perspective. To finish out this observation I want to go back to Jacob’s first words to his sons. It is here that we will find the first steps, which will allow us to walk in our specific calling. Jacob says, He’asfu V’agidah Lachem Et Asher-Yikra Etchem B’Acharit HaYamim. Hikavtzu V’Shimu B’nei Yaakov V’Shimu El-Yisrael Avichem—Gather together, that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days. Gather together and hear, you sons of Jacob, and listen to Israel your father.” Jacob says “He’asfu—Gather together” and then in the next verse “Hikavtzu—Gather together.” What is important to Jacob? For his sons to be in gathered around him in unity! Only after Jacob’s sons “gather together” is he willing to tell them about the “Acharit HaYamim—the Last Days.” What does this mean for us today? It means that if there is no unity among brothers then it is not time for the redemption. Unity is one of the most important factors in order to bring about the final redemption. If the brothers had not gathered around Jacob in unity, none of them would have received their own unique blessing. And without their specific blessing their work in bringing about the redemption would have remained undone. Unity is what makes each of us strong to accomplish our specific mission and take part in God’s grand-Master-plan. To paraphrase the words of the Teacher in the book of Ecclesiastes, “a threefold cord gets the job done!” Together, is how we bring the redemption! It is the only way we can bring the redemption. If brothers do not join together, the redemption cannot happen. What is the key to bringing brothers together?
When God commanded the Tabernacle to be built, He was very detailed concerning the garments and vestments of the “Kohen HaGadol/High Priest.”
One of those garments was called the “Choshen” otherwise known in English as the “Breastplate.” Within this breastplate were 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. Without the breastplate, each stone would remain singular and by itself. It was the breastplate that brought all the tribes/stones together as one. What does the breastplate symbolize? In gematria the Hebrew word “Choshen—Breastplate” is equal to the number 358. Another Hebrew word that is equal in gematria to 358 is the word “Mashiach—Messiah.” Just as the tribes/stones were joined together as one with the breastplate, brothers are brought together as one through the power of the Messiah. As we read in the book of Ephesians, “For He (Yeshua the Messiah) Himself is our peace,” reconciling us to God and bringing brothers close together. We say that the Messiah is the One who will bring unity, harmony and peace to the world. But how can He bring peace to the world, when those who say they follow Him are not in harmony and are not bringing peace to the world? We are the Messiah’s Ambassadors! If we cannot walk in harmony, joined by our common faith and hope, how can we ever expect the world to gather around the banner of the Messiah? Now is the time to join together as one people! Here is our calling for today from Isaiah 62,“Go through the gates! Prepare the way for the people; Build up, Build up the highway! Take out the stones, Lift up [the] banner [of the Messiah] for the peoples! Indeed the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the world: ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Surely your salvation is coming.’” Proclaim to the end of the world and even to the Daughter of Zion: Salvation is coming! The Messiah is coming! He brings with Him, peace, harmony and joy for all nations, and in that day, everyone will be in united under the banner of King Messiah, when it is announced “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Messiah, and He shall reign forever and ever!”

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

Parsha Vayigash Genesis 44:18-47:27

This week’s Torah portion begins with Judah interceding on behalf of his brother Benjamin before—unbeknownst to him—his long lost brother Joseph, Viceroy of Egypt, as it says in verse 18; “Then Judah came near to him (Joseph) and said: “O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord’s hearing…” In Hebrew Judah says to Joseph, “Yadaber-Na…Davar B’aznei Adoni” which literally translates as “Please let me speak…a word in the ears of my lord.” Why does Judah want to speak “a word in the ears” of Joseph? Joseph is (in Judah’s eyes) an Egyptian official “like Pharaoh” who speaks to the brothers through an interpreter, why does Judah want to speak directly to Joseph’s ears? The Chofetz Chaim once was in a similar situation when an unfavorable edict was issued against the Jewish people. It is said that before the translator even began translating the Chofetz Chaim’s words the government official whom he was petitioning said to the translator, “You do need to say anything, I sense what the Rabbi is saying and I grant his appeal.” You see, “Words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” Judah wasn’t necessarily asking Joseph to understand what he was saying, rather he was asking for Joseph to sense the anguish, pain and sincerity of his words. This situation that had been created by Joseph was in some ways much like the situation the brothers had faced 22 years earlier; what are we going to do with “dad’s favorite” son? Though years separate these two instances, the moral dilemma remains the same. Would the sons of Jacob sell off another brother because of jealousy? Joseph gives the brothers the option to get rid of Benjamin once and for all, just as they had done with him (Joseph). However, this time all the brothers band together with Judah at the forefront. The very one who had suggested selling Joseph into slavery is now the one willing to go into slavery in order to save his brother Benjamin. When Joseph sees his brothers have truly changed he can restrain himself no longer. The text says Joseph could no longer restrain himself “before all those who stood by him.” The Ramban writes in his commentary concerning this verse, “Joseph’s multitude of attendants were moved by Judah’s plea and they joined in pleading for Benjamin’s freedom. Joseph could not resist their combined pleas.” After hearing Judah’s heartfelt plea for his brother Benjamin, the Egyptian attendants themselves were moved with compassion and began earnestly beseeching Joseph to have mercy as well.
In Hebrew it says that Joseph could not contain himself anymore “l’chol hanitzavim elav—before all those who stood on him.” Now, what does it mean that Joseph’s attendants stood “on him?” Personally, I read this as, Joseph, though 2nd in command of all of Egypt was still viewed as a foreigner and outsider. Joseph wasn’t able to define/redefine Egyptian culture; rather Egyptian culture defined Joseph. The trappings, vestments and customs of Egypt were forced upon Joseph because of his position. So while Joseph dominated Egyptian affairs, Egyptian culture dominated Joseph. It says in the passage that Joseph “Yikra—Cried out” to his attendants “Hoziu kol ish—Make every man go out.” For this observation I would like to write about 2 reasons Joseph sent his attendants out of the room. The 1st reason was for Joseph to reveal that, beneath all of his Egyptian attire, he still remained a devoted God-fearer. Under all the pomp and regality, Joseph was still their Hebrew brother whom they had sold so long ago. According to the Rashi, “[Joseph] called to [his brothers] and showed them that he was circumcised.” How else would they believe this Egyptian ruler to truly be their brother? This was obviously a very private moment between brothers when Joseph showed himself to the others in order to prove to them that he was “kosher” = he was who he said he was. This is the first reason Joseph sent all of his servants out of the room. The 2nd reason we find that Joseph sent all his servants away was to preserve the dignity of his brothers. Baal HaTurim writes in his commentary that, “[Joseph] did not want to shame his brothers publicly when he would reveal himself to them, and unavoidably their part in his having been brought to Egypt in the first place would come to light.” Joseph knew that in order to reconcile with his brothers he would have to recount the entire story, from the point of his brothers selling him, all the way until the point of how he had ended up in the halls of power in Egypt. This was something he did not want the Egyptians to know about. He wanted to keep his brothers honor and dignity intact. We know that Joseph did not slander his brothers publicly because we read later in the chapter that “[a] report of it was heard in Pharaoh’s house, saying, ‘Joseph’s brothers have come.’ So it pleased Pharaoh and his servants well.” If Joseph had publicly exposed the sin of his brothers in selling him as a slave, why then would Pharaoh and his servants be pleased when his brothers arrive in Egypt? Joseph preserved his brothers honor. First Fruits of Zion writes a good reason as to why Joseph was quiet concerning his story, they note, “Had [Joseph] told his sad story to everyone, the Egyptians would have had cause to say, ‘If that’s how the followers of your God behave, I want nothing to do with Him or your religion.’” Joseph not only preserved the good name of his brothers, but also the name of God. This is the second reason Joseph sent all his servants out of the room. After all this we read, “So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it.” Another version translates this verse as, “So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.” From this verse we understand the intensity that took place when Joseph revealed himself alone to his brothers; and when he made himself known, his weeping was so loud that the Egyptians as well as the entire house of Pharaoh heard his wail. Rashi writes in his commentary concerning the phrase “And the house of Pharaoh heard it” that “The house of Pharaoh means his servants and the members of his household. ‘House’ here does not mean an actual house (so that the words would mean ‘and one heard it in the house of Pharaoh’), but it is similar to (1 Kings 12:21) ‘the house of Israel’, or ‘the house of Judah,’ meaning the people of Judah.” What Rashi is saying is that expression “the house of Pharaoh” is equal to the entire nation of Egypt.” The Radak, another commentator wrote that the words “V’yishmu Mitzrayim—and the Egyptians heard” means that “the Egyptians who had [been sent from Joseph’s] house heard the sound of weeping, and the matter spread like a wildfire until it came to the attention of Pharaoh’s servants that Joseph was crying.” Joseph’s wail was so loud that the news of his weeping spread like a wildfire throughout the entire nation of Egypt, until everyone knew, from the lowest slave even up to the Pharaoh himself; the Savior of the known world, Joseph, had cried because he was finally reunited with his brothers. This weeping heard throughout the land of Egypt reminds me of a passage of Scripture we read of in Zechariah 12. In this passage it says, “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem…And the land shall mourn, every family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself…the family of the house of Nathan by itself…the family of the house of Levi by itself…every family by itself, and their wives by themselves. Joseph’s brothers looked upon the one whom they had sold, then they all mourned, as it says “[Joseph] fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.” Lastly, it was just the brothers alone, as it is written in Zechariah, every family “by itself.” First Fruits of Zion writes, This is how it will be in the day of King Messiah when He reveals Himself to His brothers and to all the world, as Scripture says, ‘Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him’ (Revelation 1:7)”
Joseph Reveals Himself To His Brothers by Phillip Medhurst
Just as Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, so too, Messiah son of Joseph will reveal himself to the world. “The house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem…they will look on Me whom they pierced… in that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem… every family by itself.” The story of Joseph will play itself out once again in a greater way, when the Messiah arrives on the scene. Rabbi Hillel Shaklover, grandnephew of the Vilna Gaon, writes in his book “Kol HaTor—Voice of the Turtledove” that the verse from Psalm 126, “those who sow in tears will reap in joy” means, “the footsteps of the Messiah will be like this. Every good thing will come out of pain and distress.” Joseph reveals himself to his brothers with the words, “Ani Yosef—I am Joseph!” The Chofetz Chaim writes concerning these two words, When Joseph said ‘I am Joseph,’ God’s master plan became clear to the brothers. They had no more questions. Everything that had happened for the last twenty-two years fell into perspective. So, too, will it be in the time to come when God will reveal Himself and announce, ‘I am the LORD.’ The veil will be lifted from our eyes and we will comprehend everything that transpired throughout history.” What the Chofetz Chaim is saying reminds me of the story of Job. Job had many questions; many unresolved questions that at the end of the book were never answered. What made Job stop asking questions? Job says to God “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.” We currently live in a world of questions, puzzles, complexities and tragedy. But one day, when God arrives on the scene and says, “I Am the Lord” the questions, concerns and troubles will all melt away because we will see Him, and “when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Today our role, job and calling in the world is to “Be still and know that He is God” and to always remember that, “He who says he abides in [Yeshua] ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” What does God want from you today? Listen to the calling of God from Isaiah 42. “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house.” This is the role of Messiah son of Joseph, making it the mission for all those who follow in the Master’s footsteps.

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

Parsha Miketz Genesis 41:1-44:17

This week we read about Joseph’s promotion from “pit to palace.” In Hebrew, the first verse of this portion begins with the words, “V’yhi miketz—And it came to pass at the end…” What does the word “miketz” represent? We translate this word as “end,” but what happens when something comes to an end? A Beginning! Therefore, the word “miketz—end” should really be read as “beginning.” At the “end of the day,” every end leads to a new beginning. This new beginning was a change/transition in Joseph’s destiny. The chapter continues with Pharaoh having 2 disturbing dreams, so “he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men…but no one could interpret them for Pharaoh.” Pharaoh sent for all of Egyptians wise men and magicians! This shows how disturbed Pharaoh was by his dream. It is at this point that the Cupbearer of the Pharaoh “remembers Joseph.” We don’t know if he actually forgot Joseph or if it was just an experience he did not want to remind Pharaoh about. “Remember the time you almost killed me because I made you angry…” Perhaps this was an incident the Cupbearer wanted to leave for dead. But God had planned everything up to this point. The Midrash tells us that the cupbearer, upon “seeing Pharaoh’s anguished state, realized that he would be putting himself in great danger by withholding his knowledge of someone who could interpret Pharaoh’s dream correctly.” Notice the Midrash uses the word “correctly.” From this we understand there were many attempted interpretations. In fact, according to the Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzacki), “There were interpreters galore, but no one who could interpret it satisfactorily for Pharaoh.” You have to realize how much this dream disturbed Pharaoh; he was willing to literally “scrape the bottom of the bottom of the barrel”—to dig Joseph, a condemned Hebrew slave, up from the pits in order for him to explain this dream. He was desperate. When Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, Pharaoh says, “I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.”
Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams by Phillip Medhurst
How does Joseph reply? He answers the King of Egypt, the most powerful individual in the known world by basically saying “Nope, that’s not me. Wrong guy.” I can see the air get sucked out of the room really quick at this point in the conversation. Everyone in the throne room is holding their breath, the cupbearer blushes in shock, Pharaoh’s already disturbed countenance becomes even darker. Joseph says, “Beeladai.” Literally, he answers the King of Egypt by saying “It is not in me.” He then continues by saying, “God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” At this phrase, I think everyone is still holding their breath. Joseph admits to having a source for interpretation. However, does Pharaoh really want to hear an interpretation from the God of a Hebrew? When Joseph tells Pharaoh “God will give Pharaoh an answer…” I am reminded of a situation we read about in 1 Kings 22 when King Ahab of Israel and King Jehoshaphat of Judah were preparing to battle the Syrians. Jehoshaphat poses the question to Ahab, “Is there not still a prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of Him?”  Notice the words, “inquire of Him.” Jehoshaphat didn’t want to inquire of the prophet of the Lord; it was to inquire from “Him”—from the Lord Himself. The prophet or tzaddik (righteous individual) is just the vessel through which God reveals himself into the world. Joseph was the vessel through which God was being revealed in the midst of a completely pagan culture. In the gospel of John we read, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Potiphar’s wife had been attracted to the light within Joseph, but there are no shortcuts in God’s realm. Potiphar’s wife should have gone to the Source rather than pursued the light in Joseph. If Joseph had gone along with Potiphars wife’s plans, his light would have been extinguished and Potiphar’s wife would not have received what she was truly longing for—a connection to the light found in Joseph. This is why Joseph said, “Beeladai It is not in me.” In other words, “I am not the Source, but I am intimately acquainted with the Source.” When Pharaoh calls for Joseph to be brought before him, the verse is very interesting in several aspects. Here is what it says, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh.” Where it says, “they brought him out of the dungeon,” the word used here for “the dungeon” is the Hebrew word “HaBor” which translates literally to “the pit.” Joseph was cast into a pit by his brothers and into a pit in Egypt—both times for sins, which he not committed. Why was Joseph in the pits for so long, for sins he had never committed? God placed him in this position that when the right time came he could be revealed as the Savior of the known world. FFOZ writes, “What goes up, must come down, but in the kingdom of heaven, what goes down, must go up.” Many look at Mashiach ben Yosef—Messiah son of Joseph—Yeshua, and wonder why He was cast down into the pits by His brothers and by the Roman Empire? In order for when His time comes, He may be revealed as Savior of the whole world. In Lamentations 4:20 it says, “The breath of our nostrils, the LORD’s anointed (His Messiah), was captured in their pits, of whom we said, ‘Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.’” The Messiah under whose shadow we live among the nations (exile), was captured and held in the pits of the oppressor. But in Zechariah 9, the chapter which declares, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” It is the same chapter, 2 verses later that says, “because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.” The Humble King who comes upon a foal is the one whose blood covenant sets free the prisoners from the waterless pit “because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”
Joseph brought out of the pit by Raphael Sanzio
The second aspect of the verse, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh,” which I want to focus on, is the word “quickly.” In Hebrew this word is “Vai’ritzuhu” which comes from the root word “LaRutz—To Run.” We can literally translate “Vai’ritzuhu” as “and they ran with him.” Why is this important to Joseph’s redemption story? The Chofetz Chaim notes, “When the time came for Yosef’s liberation, he wasn’t let out of prison slowly. Rather he was rushed out of his captivity with the greatest of speed. This is the way the Almighty brings about Redemption. The moment it is the proper time not even one second is lost.” (From Book, “Growth through Torah.) Sforno also comments on this verse saying, Every case of Divine salvation comes hastily and unexpectedly. Similarly, the coming of the Messiah will be sudden and hasty.” As the Midrash states “God’s salvation comes in the blink of an eye.” And Malachi 3 says, “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming.” Rav Shaul, the Apostle Paul urges us with his words, “know the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” Not only must we wake up, we must also remind God of His promises and awaken the Spirit of Mashiach within ourselves. As Joseph said, “Beeladai—It is not in me.” But we are connected to the Source. Be the light of Messiah in the world, just as Joseph was a light in the pagan world of his time. Reject the seductive Egyptian and cleave to the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. Are we bringing God’s light into the world? Yeshua, our Rabbi said, You are the light of the world.” If not you, then who? If your light is darkness then what hope does the world have? Recognize the light of God that is within you and shine it to the world. As it is written in the book of Job, “Man puts an end to darkness.” It is up to us today just as it was up to Joseph in his day. May the testimony of Joseph give you strength to complete your journey and bring the speedy redemption of the entire world!

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

A Short Parable:
“A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.
A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall into that pit.”
A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.”
Confucius said, “If you would have listened to me you wouldn’t be in that pit.”
Buddha said, “Your pit is only a state of mind.”
A realist said, “Now that’s a pit!”
A scientist calculated the pressure, pounds and square inches, to get him out of the pit.
A geologist told him to appreciate and study the rock strata in the pit.
An evolutionist said, “You will die in the pit so you can’t produce more pit-falling offspring.”
The country inspector said, “Did you have a permit to dig that pit?”
A professor gave him a lecture on the elementary principles of the pit.
A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit!”
An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”
A pessimist said, “Things are going to get worse.”
But, Yeshua saw the man in the pit, took him by the hand, and lifted him out.”

Parsha Vayeshev Genesis 37:1-40:23

This week’s portion begins with the words, “Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger.” In other words, “Jacob settled down.” We understand this verse to mean that Jacob attempted to become comfortable in his surroundings. Unfortunately, when the attempt is made to “settle down,” it often leads to “settling for less.” Rashi, in his commentary writes of this verse, “When the righteous wish to live at ease, the Holy one, blessed be He, says to them: ‘Are not the righteous satisfied with what is stored up for them in the world to come that they wish to live at ease in this world too!’” The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that “Peace” in this World is a lie compared to the “Peace” of the World to Come. Peter in 1 Peter 3 quotes King David, when he writes, “seek peace and pursue it.” However, there is a difference between seeking tranquil peace for oneself as compared to seeking harmonious peace for all of humanity. Yeshua, our master said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” What is it about a peacemaker that makes this type of person worthy to be called a “son/child of God?” Probably one of the most well known Hebrew words is the word “Shalom” which is generally translated as “peace.” However, it also can mean “completeness/ wholeness.” A worthy peacemaker is one who brings wholeness to the world around him. It is not a person set of finding peace “within himself.” Rather, it is a person who brings peace from “within himself” to the world. Author Xus Casal writes “can a righteous person rest while the rest of the World needs to be repaired? Certainly Not! …God brought us here, not only to complain about how bad the things are, but to try to fix them.” Jacob, by “settling/making-himself-comfortable” was not fulfilling his role in the redemption process. He was taking it easy, while his role remained unfulfilled. Jacob knew that from his offspring would come a redeemer for the world, but instead of preparing his sons for a smooth transition—as soon as he settled down—we read of family jealousy, problems, and issues, which should have been “settled, instead of “settling” down. Joseph was destined to become “Savior” of the known world.
Joseph and his brothers – illustration by sweet media
Joseph’s dreams, his status in the family, his intellect, and his charisma, all pointed to a bright future. However, because family issues were not dealt with properly; instead of a peaceful transition of power, Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery. Yet, God’s plan was still in effect.
In this portion, the life of Joseph is an almost perfect depiction of Yeshua at His first coming. In fact, if we understand the story of Joseph, we understand the mission of Yeshua, which he came to accomplish at His first coming. In Judaism, according to the Sages understanding of the scripture, there are two different roles of the Messiah. We read of one Messiah, who comes as a suffering servant. In Rabbinic writings this Messiah is referred to as “Mashiach Ben Yosef—Messiah son of Joseph.” The other Messianic figure comes as a conquering King. This Messiah is referred to as “Mashiach ben David—Messiah son of David.” The specific missions of these two Messiahs cannot be reconciled, in the sense that, the task of each are explicit in their roles; however these two missions and roles can be fulfilled by the same person at different times. As Rabbi Ben Burton writes, “When people speak of the Messiah, they are [usually] referencing Mashiach ben David, whose mission is to gather the exiles of Israel, rebuild the Temple and establish world peace. The mission of Mashiach ben Yosef is vastly different. His purpose and end goal is the same, but he dies in the process.” So what was the mission of “Messiah son of Joseph?” Rabbi Daniel Krentzman (an Orthodox Rabbi) sums up the role of “Messiah son of Joseph” by writing “…the need for the mission of Mashiach ben Yosef came about as result of the sin of Adam. In theory, had Adam not sinned and brought about tremendous spiritual damage to himself and the world, there would not have been a need for the tikun olam (world rectification) efforts of Mashiach ben Yosef, in every subsequent generation. Mashiach ben Yosef thus comes to rectify that damage and return mankind to the state of Adam before the sin.” I could not sum up the mission of Yeshua our Messiah better. The purpose of  “Messiah son of Joseph” according to this Orthodox Jewish Rabbi was to rectify the damage caused by Adam’s wrongdoing and bring humanity back to the state of pre-sin perfection. This was the message of Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul) in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 when he wrote, “It is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being.’ The last Adam became a life-giving spirit… Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Yeshua, the “Son of Man = Adam” came the first time to repair the spiritual damage caused by “Adam Harishon—The First Adam.” The “Messiah son of Joseph” receives his title from the story of Joseph—therefore, it follows that the story of “Messiah son of Joseph” should parallel the story of Joseph, right? For starters, Yeshua our Messiah was, as it is written in Luke 3, “…the son of Joseph.”  The revelation of Yeshua, the “Messiah son of Joseph” was literally “…the son of Joseph.” If we go back to this week’s portion, we read that:Joseph was the choice son of his father, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children.” We know that Yeshua is God’s “beloved Son, in whom [He is] well pleased.”Joseph was sold by his brothers (at the suggestion of Judah) as it is written; “Judah said to his brothers, ‘…Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites’ …and [they] sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.”       Yeshua was sold by one of His “brother’s” (His disciple Judas/Judah) as it says “Then one of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I deliver Him to you?’ And they counted out to him thirty pieces of silver.” Joseph was taken into exile, as it says, “And they (the Ishmaelites) took Joseph to Egypt.” Yeshua also went into exile, as it was written by the Prophet Isaiah, “He [was] despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief…He was numbered with the transgressors.”We don’t learn until later that the rejection of Joseph by his brothers was the saving of the entire known world from famine. Rav Shaul writes in Romans 11 that, “[Israel] by their wrongdoing, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” He then continues a few verses later by saying, “their rejection proves to be the reconciliation of the world.” The children of Israel rejected Joseph, and later “Messiah son of Joseph” leading to–in both cases–life for the nations. The rejection of Joseph saved the nations of the world from physical starvation. The rejection of Yeshua saved the nations “[from] famine [in the world], not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11)
In Isaiah 9 it says, “In Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” The word “Galilee” in Hebrew can be translated to “circuit/district.” This verse is saying, “In the path of the Gentiles = the people who walk in darkness and dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon these people a light has shined.” The words “Shadow of Death” (same words from Psalm 23) can be equated to the “Exile.” Both Joseph and “Messiah son of Joseph” were sent into exile, into the land of the Shadow of Death, where they became bright shining lights, exposing and expelling the darkness. In Hebrew the words “Shadow of Death” is the word “Tzalmavet.” In Gematria this word is equal to the number 566. What else is equal to 566 in gematria? The phrase, “Mashiach ben Yosef—Messiah son of Joseph.” Yeshua, “Messiah son of Joseph,” is with us even in the “Shadow of death.” He met us in our exile and is the bright light in the darkness, the one “who called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light.” It is interesting that these Torah portions about Joseph’s life always coincide with the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. This festival is known in English as either “The Festival of Light” or “The Festival of Dedication.” Why? Because as we literally enter into the darkest parts of the year, when the days are short and the nights are long, we must dedicate ourselves to be lights in a world increasingly walking in the “Shadow of Death.” Now is not the time to “settle” down like Jacob did, as we talked about at the beginning of this observation. Now is the time to burn bright for God, “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Yeshua, our Master, encouraged his followers, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life…” He also said, “You are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” I want to finish with an exhortation from Rav Shaul from Romans 13 which I find to be very fitting for this time. “Do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”

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

Parsha Vayishlach Genesis 32:3-36:43

This week I want to begin by reading the 2 verses that come before this portion. The verses state, “So Jacob went on his way (after leaving Laban), and the angels of God met him. When Jacob saw them, he said, ‘This is God’s camp.’ And he called the name of that place Mahanaim.” Why did angels meet Jacob at this point in his journey? Remember Jacob’s dream of a ladder upon which angels were ascending and descending? Rabbi Levi Cooper writes that both of these incidents point to “a rabbinic tradition that distinguishes between angels that accompany a person in the Holy Land and angels that accompany a person in the Diaspora.” When Jacob had his dream, he was about to leave the land of Israel. These incidents were both a “changing of the angel guard.” But why did Diaspora angels meet Jacob when he was still in the Land (at the time of his dream)? And why are the Holy Land angels meeting Jacob before he enters the Holy Land? Rabbi Avraham Dov clarifies “that since Jacob was on the road to the Land of Israel, Holy Land angels were already accompanying him.” When Jacob left the land of Israel, his mind was already in exile. As a result, Diasporic angels met and escorted him out of the Holy Land. With Jacob now returning, his mind is set for the Promised Land. For this reason, Holy Land angels meet him outside the Promised Land in order to guide him safely to his destination. Holy Land angels and Diasporic angels are not limited to the borders of Israel; rather, they are limited by the thoughts and intentions of each individual. As the sons of Korah wrote in Psalm 84, “Blessed is the man…whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” Meaning, Holy Land angels are among all whose minds are set on leaving the Diaspora and returning to God and His Holy Land, whether they be close to arriving or still far away on their journey out of spiritual/physical exile.
By Stefan Keller from Pixabay
The first verse of this portion begins by saying, “V’yishlach Yaakov Malachim L’fanav El-Esav Achiv—Then Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother.” However the word “Malachim—Messengers” can also be translated as “Angels.” We could read this verse as “Then Jacob sent angels before him to Esau his brother.” Rabbi Levi Cooper writes “since Jacob now had his Holy Land angels, he could use his Diaspora angels as couriers to Esau without being left alone, unprotected by God’s messengers.” Why did Jacob send angels to Esau rather than human messengers? The Ramchal wrote of this verse, “Yaakov was about to confront his brother Esav and before doing so he wished to overpower the forces of evil which Esav represented…Yaakov therefore sent angels, rooted in gevurah, strength, in the hopes of defeating the forces of Esav.” In other words, Jacob recognized the truth we read of in the book of Ephesians. “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Jacob saw the struggle between him and his brother as a spiritual war, not so much a physical confrontation. Jacob knew that if he could defeat the spirit of Esau by sending heavenly warriors (angels) on ahead, the meeting between him and Esau would go a lot smoother. The struggle between Jacob and Esau was a spiritual battle, so Jacob approached this meeting between brothers by attempting to defeat the spiritual giants that may have stood in the way of full reconciliation. Jacob could have taken a roundabout route and not gone through the Land of Seir (Esau), but instead, he took the initiative in seeking to be reconciled. When the messengers returned to Jacob they said, “We came to your brother Esau, and he also is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him.” Upon hearing the words of the messengers it says that Jacob “[became] greatly afraid and distressed” The sages say that Jacob prepared for the confrontation with Esau in 3 ways, “Battle, Prayer and Tribute.” Jacob “readied himself and his camp for a battle to the death, he threw himself upon God’s mercy through prayer, and he sent a lavish tribute to appease Esau’s anger” (Artscroll Chumash Commentary). Jacob was prepared for every type of situation that might confront him.
He divided his camp into 2 parts saying, “If Esau comes to the one company and attacks it, then the other company which is left will escape.” After making these arrangements and pleading with the God of his fathers, verse 24 tells us, “Then Jacob was left alone.”
In the Midrash, Bereshit Rabbah 77:1, Rabbi Berechiah quotes Rabbi Simon as saying, “…who is like God? Grandfather Israel. Just as, regarding the Holy Blessed One, it is written, ‘None but the LORD shall be Exalted in that day’ (Isaiah 2:17), even for Jacob [it is written], ‘Jacob was left alone.’” Just as God alone will be exalted in the end of days, so Jacob was alone in his turmoil. Jacob, in “being alone” was emulating a trait of God Himself. Jacob, though all would forsake him, was willing to stand-alone for what he believed in. According the sages, this verse, “Jacob was left alone,” is explained to mean that Jacob had forgotten some small earthenware pitchers and had returned to bring them back. The Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) said the reason Jacob returned for these items are because “the righteous realize that if the Almighty gave them something, it is important for them to have it. If it were not necessary for their total welfare, the Almighty would not have given it to them.” However, Rashbam says of this verse that, Jacob, fearing a confrontation with Esau wanted to run away. God had to send an Angel to wrestle with him to keep him from fleeing. Jacob used the excuse of finding some missing utensils as an opportunity to escape his problems. I believe we learn valuable lessons from any of these interpretations, but for this email I want to go with the interpretation of Rashbam. Jacob was running away from his brother. He had run once before and it had worked. But God will not let Jacob get away this time. “Jacob was left alone,” then the verse continues and says “…and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” This “man” kept Jacob in the same area the entire night, until Jacob was willing to face his fears. Through the ages, many Rabbis, Pastors, Scholars and Professors have attempted to uncover who this mysterious wrestling-partner was. Many theories have been given. Was Jacob just wrestling within himself? With the Sitra Achara (the evil side)? With his Yetzer Hara (Evil Inclination)?
“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” 
Fresco by  Eugene Delacroix in Paris.
I believe Rabbi Jonathan, olov hashalom, summed up all the many theories out there in his book Covenant & Conversation when he wrote, “This story of Jacob’s wrestling match with an unnamed adversary is deeply enigmatic. Everything about it is mysterious. It takes place at a liminal time between night and dawn, at an unspecified location, with no explanation. We do not even know who the adversary was. The text itself calls him “a man;” according to the prophet Hosea, it was an angel; for the sages, it was the guardian angel of Esau. Jacob himself had no doubt. It was God. He called the placed of the encounter Peni’el, ‘because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.’” So who was it? Was it satan, the Angel of Esau? Or was this “angel-man” a manifestation of God? There are good reasons for both of these ideas. However, the most beautiful explanation I find from this interaction comes from Xus Casal who writes of this encounter. “… Once the angel’s mission was accomplished, the angel was seen as God’s manifestation…the morning was rising and the night leaving…As Samael (satan) was defeated, Metatron (Yeshua the Messiah) was manifested.” Meaning, the entire night Jacob wrestled with satan, the angel of Esau, however, when the dawn broke he (Jacob) found himself in the arms of the Messiah.
Jacob had struggled to overcome and had triumphed. The blessing that Jacob received at the end of his wrestling match was “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” The name Israel is composed of two Hebrew words. “Yashar—Upright” and “El—God” = “Upright with God.” Jacob had struggled with men = his evil inclination; the sinful, fleshly side of him, as well as having struggled with God, and he had succeeded. After an entire night of struggle, Jacob limped away from that place, with a newfound sense of peace. After Jacob’s meeting with Esau it is written in Genesis 33:18, “V’yavo Yaakov Shalem—And Jacob arrived completely intact.” It was at this point, after the entire Esau incident that Jacob realized, he was missing nothing; God had brought him through everything. After that night of struggle, Jacob had found himself in the arms of the Messiah, and as he had limped away from that stop, he knew God was with him. And how could he not limp? He knew he had been touched by heaven, and in that way, he could never walk the same again. In Hebrew it says, “a Man, v’yavek—wrestled with him until the breaking of day.” In Hebrew, “Avek” is a root word, which means, “to wrestle.” But this root word is connected to the Modern Hebrew word “Chabek” which literally means, “to hug.” The Messiah had come to love on Jacob, but Jacob had fought. Jacob had warded off the angel of Esau, not believing his lies, but Jacob had also fought the Messiah, not believing his truths. I believe we all face this same struggle in our own lives, to believe the truth and negate the lies. Draw near to Yeshua, the one who is willing to wrestle with us, and don’t let Him go until, as the Psalmist writes, “[You] receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of [your] salvation. [For] this is Jacob, the generation of those who seek [The Lord], Who seek [His] face. Selah”

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

Parsha Vayetze Genesis 28:10-32:2

This week begins with the exile of Jacob. Now it may sound strange to call Jacob’s flight from Canaan to Haran an exile. But the reality is, every time Jacob or one of Jacob’s descendants leaves the Land of Promise…it is exile, whether that exile comes by choice or is forced. Paul writes that the lives of the forefathers are illustrations for us. In 1 Corinthians 10 he writes, “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition.” Paul is telling us to learn from the life of Jacob. The first verse of this portion says, “Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran.” This verse hints to the consequences that happen when Jacob or his offspring leave the Land of Israel. The name “Beersheva—Seven Wells” represents a Land of prosperity. Beersheba was where Jacob’s grandfather Abraham had established himself in the Land of Canaan. God had blessed Abraham and there was water aplenty to go around. Jacob left “Beersheva—Seven Wells” behind, and was headed to the Land of “Haran” which is connected to the Hebrew word “Charar” meaning “Parched.” From this we learn that disconnection from the wellspring—the Covenant that God made with Abraham—leads to spiritual parchedness. The next verse begins by saying, “So he came to a certain place…” In Hebrew this phrase consists of two words, “V’yifga Bamakom.” The word “V’yifga” which is generally translated as “And he came/And he lighted upon/And he encountered,” comes from the root word “Paga” which can mean “to intercede or supplicate,” as when God tells Jeremiah, “ve’al tifga bi—nor make intercession to Me (on behalf of Israel).”  The Sages state that this phrase implies that Jacob was praying to God in that place, as it is written in the Talmud, Berachot 26b, “Jacob instituted the evening prayer.” Each of the 3 Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, established one of the 3 daily times of prayer. In Genesis 22 it says, “Abraham rose early in the morning,” thus instituting the daily morning prayer. Of Isaac it is written “Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening,” thereby establishing the afternoon prayer. Bringing us back to our story about Jacob. The full verse says, “So he [interceded in] a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set.” Jacob set a precedent for the evening prayers just as the sun was sinking over the horizon. Jacob was in communication with God, or, at least he was communicating at God, attempting to understand his situation. Here is the first place we should take note; when we find ourselves in exile, we pray, intercede, and make supplication to God.
“Jacob’s Dream” by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1665.
There is another way to translate the word “Paga.” We have learned that this word can signify prayer. However, it can also quite literally mean “to fall.” Jacob is fleeing for his life, praying and interceding to God, when suddenly “V’yifga Bamakom—He fell upon a certain place.” If we read the text this way it seems as if Jacob “stumbled” into this place by random chance, and in Jacob’s mind, he probably did think it happened by accident. But it didn’t surprise God, for it was part of God’s plan. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “Jacob signifies God’s encounter with us—unplanned, unscheduled, unexpected…It is not something we do. It is something that happens to us. Vayifga bamakom means that, thinking of other things, we find that we have walked into the presence of God.” It is interesting how later, after Jacob’s encounter, he says, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” Didn’t Jacob know that God is everywhere? Why would he make such a statement? I believe Jacob’s statement was not so much one of amazement that God was in that place; rather, it was a statement of awe recognizing that God had actually shown up. Sure, Jacob was praying and crying out to God, but who would have ever thought he would get an answer? Yet, God heard and revealed Himself. I believe that was the shock of Jacob’s statement, God had actually come when Jacob cried out to Him in “Hamakom—The Place.” What is important about the place Jacob encountered or had “fallen” into? Though the location of where this dream actually happened is disputed, many Rabbis have traditionally agreed that this place is connected to the site of the future Temple Mount. In Hebrew, it tells us that Jacob came to “HaMakom = the place.”Throughout the Bible, there is only one location continuously referred to as “the Place.” It is the Temple Mount. Remember, when Jacob awakes he states, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” Now there is something else interesting about this “Vayifga bamakom” verse if we continue reading. The full verse says, So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set.” Rashi makes an interesting observation concerning the chronology of this verse. According to him, this verse ought to have said, Jacob “came…and because the sun had set, [he] stayed there all night.” The Rashi continues by explaining “The expression ‘Ki Va Hashemesh—because the sun had set’ implies that the sun set suddenly for him, not at its usual time, so that he would have to stay there overnight.” God caused the sun to set so that Jacob would have to “fall” into “the place” and encounter God. The darkness closed in faster than Jacob was expecting, because God wanted him to stop and experience Him. From this we learn that when the darkness surrounds us, it may be God wanting us to stop and look to Him; for it is in the darkest of moments that God is nearest. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes concerning this event, “[These] experiences take place, literally or metaphorically, at night. They happen when we are alone, afraid, vulnerable, close to despair. It is then that, when we least expect it, we can find our lives flooded by the radiance of the divine…That is how Jacob found God…Jacob, in flight, trips and falls – and finds he has fallen into the waiting arms of God…‘Now I know that You were with me all the time but I was looking elsewhere’ – that was Jacob’s prayer.” The next verse continues, “Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” Jacob dreams of a ladder uniting heaven and earth, and on this ladder were angels ascending and descending. I find the order of the words “ascending and descending” very interesting. If the angels were “ascending” up to heaven before they were “descending” back to earth, it means that they were with Jacob in his difficulty. Jacob thought he was alone, but the “malchei Elokim—angels of God” had been “on earth” with him all the way to this point in his journey. It says that, “the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” With the words “on it” we immediately assume that this is referring to the ladder. But upon further examination we find that the Hebrew word used here “Bo” can also be translated as “on him,” as in, “the angels of God were ascending and descending on him.” Yeshua, our Master, in John 1:51 tells His future disciple Nathaniel, Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Yeshua was telling Nathaniel that He is the ladder that connects heaven and earth. I believe this is the same idea God was attempting to convey to Jacob in his dream. Each of us has the ability to be a ladder and to bring God into the world. Yeshua is the ultimate ladder through whom the whole world becomes reconnected to the heavenlies. But once we are reconnected through Yeshua, we ourselves “ought . . . to walk just as He walked.” We ought to become “ladders for God”—connecting points between heaven and earth, just as Yeshua was. This is our calling!
Rav Moshe Weinberger makes an interesting comment about Jacob’s dream. He writes, “…the angels were ascending and descending on Yaakov Avinu (Jacob our father)…[and] the angels wondered, ‘How could it be that this person who is so great that Hashem (God) takes such pride in him and his face is carved above under the Throne of Glory is sleeping his life away?’” (The idea of Jacob’s face being carved in God’s Throne comes from Ezekiel 10:14.) The angels were confused. This human being who is viewed by God as so great and important was sleeping his life away? It is one thing to receive a vision and dream from God, the next important step is to wake up and accomplish it! We must daily climb the ladder of life which God has set before us and aspire to greatness, not for our glory, but to connect this world with the world to come! Rabbi Yisroel Salanter used to say that a person is like a bird. A bird has the ability to fly very high. But it must continually move its wings. If a bird stops flapping its wings, it will fall. Every person is similar. (From the book: Growth through Torah, pg.72.) God created each of us for greatness; know it, live it and bring to reality the idea that we are all ladders, connecting heaven and earth. God created each of with the potential to fly, the key is to continually move forward, flapping our figurative wings until we fly away to glory! Seeing that the Prophet Isaiah prophesied, “those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” As Paul says in the book of Galatians, Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.”

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

Parsha Toldot Genesis 25:19-28:9

This parsha is the only portion dedicated to the life of Isaac. In the Torah there are 3 portions dedicated to the life of Abraham, 6 portions dedicated to the lives of Jacob and his sons, but only 1 portion dealing with Isaac’s life. Because of this, it is easy to skip over the life of Isaac and move on to more exciting Biblical accounts. For me, this brings up the question: What was the life of Isaac about? This whole portion is about Isaac doing tedious, blue-collar labor while raising children. Isaac never even left the Promised Land as compared to his father and his sons who did. Sounds like a pretty average life. It is within my last sentence wherein lies the greatness of Isaac. This portion begins with the words “This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham’s son. Abraham begot Isaac.” Why does this portion repeat the fact that Isaac is the son of Abraham? Rabbi Jonathan Sacks zt’l writes, “The opening of Genesis 21 speaks of the birth of Isaac to Sarah…in Genesis 20, we are told that Sarah was taken into the harem of Avimelekh, king of Gerar…the speculation of the sages [is] that gossips were suggesting Abraham was infertile…Hence the double emphasis…not only was Abraham Isaac’s father but also everyone could see this because father and son looked exactly alike.”
The Binding of Isaac
According to the sages, Isaac was an exact look-alike of his father Abraham. Even if the idea of the first recorded doppelganger in history may feel like a stretch, when we read about Isaac’s life, it mirrors the life of his father to a “t.” –His wife is barren, he lies about his wife, he prospers in the land, he re-digs his father’s wells, and he makes a covenant with Avimelech, king of Gerar—All these incidents are an exact retelling from the life of his father Abraham. What made Isaac great was his normality. Isaac understood the importance of following in the footsteps of a Godly heritage. Why reinvent the wheel?
Isaac recognized the fact that using someone else’s invention of round wheels can take you further than your own invention of triangle wheels could ever go. Isaac was following in the footsteps of his father, and more often than not, this is harder than carving out one’s own trail. In today’s world there are many books, podcasts, seminars and courses on how to become a great leader. However, when do we read about Moses asking for the leadership section in the Egyptian archives? Did Joshua go to the “Warriors Leadership Summit?” Or did King David listen to the latest CEO tips podcast?  
In each of these men’s stories, they had a calling and with the guidance of those around them, made a difference for God. But how many people in the days of Moses, Joshua, or David were called to be leaders? Not everyone can be a leader. Otherwise, you end up with the place of the nation of Israel was in, as it says in Judges 21:26, In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Isaac taught the world how to be a follower. It wasn’t his calling, dream, or vision per say. God had called his father, why did Isaac have to be faithful to his father’s “fantasies?” Why fight his father’s fight? Isaac had to choose to follow in his father’s footsteps; and this is why it is harder to follow in someone else’s tracks. It is hard to take someone else’s vision and make the problems, difficulties and challenges one’s own vision as well. Weathering out the storm, holding onto one’s own waterlogged vision is a lot easier as compared to holding onto someone else’s calling when the wave comes down. Yet, despite all the difficulties, Isaac was faithful. Rabbi David Fohrman poses the question “What is the challenge of the child of a great innovator? Often, to carry the innovation to the next generation.” Most people want to be innovators and inventors, bringing revolutionary change to the planet, but who wants to be (as Rabbi Fohrman puts it) “a consolidator?”
Here is the definition of “Consolidate” according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition. Consolidate: “To unite into one system. To make strong or secure; strengthen. To make firm or coherent.” Isaac brought clarifying unity to his father’s ideas, strengthening and bringing coherence to them. Isaac kept his father Abraham’s vision alive. Abraham’s entire vision rested on one son, and fortunately for him, and for us all, Isaac faithfully followed through. In the words of Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, “Avraham came into a world full of people who were on the wrong track. He searched deeply and eventually discovered truth. Avraham’s path was new. He was a trailblazer. Yitzock (Isaac), however, grew up on a path that had already been forged, an ‘old’ path. Nevertheless, he did not treat his service of Hashem (G-d) as old. Rather, he searched deeply to find his own path in the service of G-d. He approached everything with fresh eyes, looking for a way to make the ‘old’ path his own.” According to Rabbi Weinberger “a tzaddik (righteous person) who is the child of wicked people…[have] the thrill of the ‘new,’ the excitement of rebelling…[to] feel like a trailblazer…That is why the accomplishment of Yitzock (Isaac) in deepening the ‘old’ path is greater in a certain respect…” We look up to Abraham’s life of faith, but we often forget that without Isaac’s life of dedication, the faith of Abraham would have been for naught.
Isaac’s life fits the Hebrew verb “L’hiyot—To Be.” This word is the word God uses when describing His glorious name to Moses, “Eh’yeh Asher Eh’yeh—I will be who I will be.” It is from this expression that we get the Tetragrammaton = God’s personal 4 letter name. God’s 4 letter name is created by combining the words “haya—was,” “hoveh—is,” and “ye’he’ye—will be” together. This symbolizes God’s timeless nature, the One who has been and always will be. Isaac, in being connected to the Hebrew verb “L’hiyot—To Be” connected to the very essence of the Creator. Isaac didn’t try and be something he wasn’t, he just was, and in being who he was, he brought the message of Abraham to countless generations after him.
“Isaac’s Wells” by Philip Medhurst
In Judaism, Isaac is equated to the attribute of “Gevurah” which is often connected to “Justice,” however, when one translates this word it means “Power, Might, Courage, Valor, Heroism.” I believe this is fitting. Isaac is a courageous hero in my book. He set the example for us all on how to become leading-followers and how to stay true to the path of those gone on before. Isaac was a light in his generation, not because he was making big fireworks for everyone to see, rather, as Lubavitcher Rebbe put it, “Light does not have to actively exert itself to dispel darkness—darkness simply ceases to exist in the presence of light.” Because it just is… Isaac walked on the “old” paths, creating a “rut-of-righteous” for succeeding generations to follow in. May it so be as we pray to God from the book of Lamentations, “Hashivenu Elecha Hashem V’Nashuvah Chadesh Y’meynu K’Kedem—Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we will be restored; Renew our days as of old…” Return us to the paths of the Patriarchs; the path of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!

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