Giving Birth Is not a Disease

For the week of April 2, 2022 / 1 Nisan 5782

Message title information over a happy couple holding their newborn child

Tazria & Rosh Hodesh
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 12:1 – 13:59; B’midbar/Numbers 28:9-15; Shemot/Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46; Isaiah 66:1 & 24
Originally posted the week of April 2, 2011 / 27 Adar 2 5771

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And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. (Vayikra/Leviticus 12:6-7)

The Torah does far more than provide lists of rules and regulations. Through the study of Torah, we are drawn into seeing life from God’s perspective. A fancy, popular term for this is “worldview.” Most of us are not aware that we live our lives based on a worldview, but how we see the world controls the way we live. A worldview is something far more caught than taught in that, for the most part, how we see the world is unconsciously derived from our families of origin and the unstated values of the cultures in which we live.

The Torah is an expression of God’s worldview. The explicit statements we encounter in the Torah arise from how God sees life. God’s view of reality, which I accept to be the only true reality, is not always explained, but rather assumed. The reason for something is not usually given. After all God has no need to explain himself; he is the Creator and Master of the Universe. When he provides a directive, it is based on his correct understanding of life. But as we look closely at what he tells us, we can pick up on his perspective. As we do so, our understanding of life becomes enriched, which in turn puts his directives in their context, enabling us to fulfill them as God intended.

Before we look at a particular example, I want to point out that the context in which to best understand God’s directives is that we live in the messianic age. Unlike the original recipients of the Torah who anticipated Messiah’s coming, we live out God’s directives in these days of messianic fulfillment. Yeshua’s coming and the destruction of the Temple revolutionized how God’s people conduct their lives. Yet the radical differences between the Old and New Covenants should not distract us from God’s perspective on life which we encounter all through his sacred writings.

Now to our example of how the Torah provides us with God’s worldview. This week’s Torah portion begins with a section regarding the purification regulations of childbirth. This is then followed by a lengthy section on infectious skin conditions. There are similarities and dissimilarities between these two sections. What these two conditions have in common is that special attention was to be given to their conditions and certain rituals were to be observed when the conditions were resolved. The state of being unclean in each case placed the person in a special relationship to the things of God and in the community. This was designed to protect the community and the individual during their time of ritual uncleanness. However, the port-partum mother did not pose a risk to the community in the way those who contracted an infectious skin disease did. If it was determined that a person truly had an infectious skin condition, they were to be placed in isolation. There was no such requirement for the specified time period following childbirth. While both the post-partum mother and the person with the skin condition were to be regarded as “unclean”, whatever else unclean meant, childbirth is not a disease.

That childbirth is not a disease is, of course, rooted in God’s overall perspective on children, which is that they are a blessing and a reward (See Bereshit/Genesis 1:28, D’varim/Deuteronomy 7:4, Tehillim/Psalms 127:3, Matthew 19:14). Yet even though many cultures correctly understand the differences between these two conditions, and no one would outright say that giving birth is a disease, the amount of time and effort put in by so many people trying to prevent themselves from having children may expose a worldview very different from that of the God of the Torah.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Centrality of Israel

For the week of March 26, 2022 / 23 Adar II 5782

Message information over an old wooden door and an old key with a Star of David at its head

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 9:1 – 11:47 & D’varim/Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-38
Originally posted the week of March 30, 2019 / 23 Adar II 5779

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And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. (Ezekiel 36:23)

The story of the Bible is the story of God’s rescue operation of the creation. According to the earliest chapters of the Bible, from the moment God cursed the world in response to our first parents’ rebellion, he determined to put a complete end to evil (see Bereshit/Genesis 3:15). Much of the rest of Scripture is the unfolding of that promise. The intricate interplay of the whole Bible is summed up by Paul when he calls God’s promise of blessing to Abraham, the “gospel,” meaning “good news” (Galatians 3:8; cf. Bereshit/Genesis 12:3). The good news is that the curse would be undone through Abraham’s descendants.

Yeshua followers are quick to point out that the realization of the promise to Abraham is wrapped up in the Messiah. That is certainly true. Yeshua’s death and resurrection provide forgiveness and eternal life to all who repent and put their trust in him. However, Yeshua’s part of the story of God, essential as it is, is not the whole story. In fact, we cannot fully appreciate Yeshua and what he has done unless we see him in the context of the whole Bible.

To understand Yeshua in the context of the Bible is to come to grips with the centrality of Israel in the plan of God. To start with, Yeshua isn’t portrayed in Scripture simply as the savior from heaven. He is that, but he is first and foremost the promised Messiah of Israel. He couldn’t be the savior of all if he wasn’t the Jewish Messiah. That’s just the beginning. There’s far more to Israel’s role in God’s rescue plan than Yeshua’s Jewish messianic pedigree.

Tragically, Israel’s role has been obscured by deep-seated prejudice towards the Jewish people through the centuries. Ignoring Paul’s warning to the non-Jewish believers in Rome to not be arrogant towards the Jewish people (see Romans 11:17-24), the church did just that. Paul must have sensed that there was a growing “new kid on the block” mentality emerging from the increasing number of Gentile believers in his day. He knew that the outworking of God’s promise to bless the nations that they were experiencing could easily be misinterpreted as a shift of God’s heart – that Israel was “out” and the Church, its non-Jewish component in particular, was “in.” His olive-tree metaphor in Romans chapter eleven is a masterful three-dimensional picture of the complexity of the multi-ethnic makeup of the New Covenant community of faith. The inclusion of non-Jews into God’s family was not to be regarded as a replacement of his earlier commitment to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet, that’s exactly what happened.

This anti-Jewish lens filters out the fulness of Scripture. Take this week’s Haftarah portion, for example. When you read Ezekiel’s words, do you hear God’s faithfulness to Israel or his disgust? Israel failed to live up to the standard of being God’s holy people as established at Mt. Sinai through Moses (see Shemot/Exodus 19:5-6). But many have failed to understand that Israel was made an example to demonstrate to the world everyone’s need of God. That should evoke awe and gratefulness, not disdain.

Why then does God himself seem to be so negative on Israel? Isn’t that what’s going on in this week’s Haftarah? He says through the prophet Ezekiel: “It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord GOD; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 36:32). Words like these may appear to reflect God’s supposed rejection of his ancient covenant people. But keep on reading:

Thus says the Lord GOD: On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places shall be rebuilt. And the land that was desolate shall be tilled, instead of being the desolation that it was in the sight of all who passed by. And they will say, “This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.” Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the LORD; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it. (Ezekiel 36:33-36)

God’s response to Israel’s failure is not rejection but restoration – a restoration that’s not only spiritual but physical as it includes a glorious transformation in their ancient homeland. Any version of God’s rescue operation that fails to include God’s ongoing plans and purposes for the Jewish people misrepresents his mission, his word, and himself.

What God began through the faithful remnant of Jewish followers of Yeshua sent out two thousand years ago will culminate in the renewal of the entire creation. When Israel is finally and fully restored, both the people and the land, the curse over the earth will be completely broken and God’s rule and reign will be established forever. God is not finished with Israel; the best is yet to come.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version



Proud of Yourself?

For the week of March 19, 2022 / 16 Adar 5782

Message title information over a boy delighting in himself

Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 6:1 – 8:36 (English 6:8 – 8:36)
Haftarah: Jeremiah 7:21 – 8:3; 9:22-23 (English 7:21 – 8:3; 9:23-24)

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Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:22-23; English: 9:23-24)

Purim, the Festival of Esther, begins this year Wednesday evening, March 16. These two verses from this week’s Haftarah reading reflects a key component of the amazing turn of events that this festival commemorates.

Before I get into specifics, I want to comment on something in these verses that might be strange for many of us. I am referring to boasting. Older English translations use “glory” or “glorieth,” while newer translations use boast or even brag. I suspect that many Bible readers would expect that when God speaks against boasting as in “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom,” his goal would be that the readers would perhaps boast about God instead. Yet, the reader is called to boast about self. There are certain things about oneself we are not to boast about, but other things we are. We will get into what those things are shortly.

The Hebrew word for glory/boast/brag is “halal.” It’s the same word used in the expression hallelujah, praise the Lord. Hallelujah is often used as an expression of praise, but actually it is an imperative – a command – calling people to praise the Lord. To praise is to declare the goodness of someone or something. While it is common for people to say “hallelujah” or “praise the Lord,” praising the Lord is declaring his attributes or actions in great positive ways. Appropriate praise is not limited to God but can be directed towards others. In these verses from Jeremiah, they are directed at self.

It might be that glory/boast/brag are not the best ways to express halel here, where the subject is what personal attributes in our lives are praiseworthy from God’s perspective. We might put it another way. What about ourselves should we be proud about? For many, pride is viewed exclusively as negative. But there’s a good pride, one in which we recognize what is truly good about ourselves.

Those who are wise, shouldn’t be proud of their wisdom; the strong man not in his strength; nor the rich man in his wealth. All these are gifts of God, not derived from self. The only thing truly worthy to be proud of is understanding and knowing God. This is a pride about self that ironically isn’t self-focused. But we can feel good about ourselves when we truly know God.

It’s important not to miss, however, that this knowing of God isn’t simply a relationship with little substance. To know God here includes an awareness that he is a doer of love, justice, and righteousness. To know and understand this is not merely intellectual. The one who truly knows God knows that we, who are made in his image, are to reflect these things. In other words, to know God is to do what God does. Those who reflect God in this way have something to be proud about.

Mordecai in the Purim story was such a person. He lived a life of love, justice, and righteousness. Whether he cared for his orphaned cousin, spoke up when the king’s life was in danger, or strategized the protection of his people, his life demonstrated that he knew and understood his God. His confidence in his relationship to God enabled him to effectively discern real need and provide real solutions. He didn’t possess the kind of phony humility that often prevents one from boldly taking on difficult situations. Instead, his positive self-understanding, based on his authentic relationship with God, equipped him to represent God’s interests in his day.

Perhaps it’s time we shed the false humility that prevents us from doing what God is calling us to do, thank God for the gifts he has given us, and if we truly know and understand him, be proud of ourselves.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


The Dynamics of Sacrifice

For the week of March 12, 2022 / 9 Adar II 5782

Message title information on an illustration of the mishkan (tabernacle)

Vayikra & Zakhor
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1 – 5:26; D’varim 25:17-19
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 15:2-34

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The LORD called Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of livestock from the herd or from the flock.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 1:1-2)

The directives in Torah regarding sacrifices and offerings are far more concerned about the what than the why. God through Moses was speaking to a culture where animal and other sacrifices were the expected norm. Sacrifice goes back to at least Cain and Abel, the sons of Adam and Eve. Some think it goes back further when God provided animal skins to cover Adam and Eve to replace the skimpy fig leaf “clothes” they made. Regardless, the Bible assumes sacrifice as a primary human activity without explaining why. The lack of why has not prevented it from being core to many societies throughout human history, continuing until today.

Similar to the why question is what does sacrifice do? It appears that many cultures understood it to be a way to appease the gods. It was believed that the gods were behind the challenges of nature. Somehow the offering up of an animal, often through burning it, transferred it to the domain of the gods. If the gods accepted it, good things would happen. If not, you continued to be a victim of their wrath through drought, famine, floods, and so on.

There are some hints that biblical sacrifice worked in a similar fashion. God speaks of receiving an acceptable sacrifice as a pleasing aroma (e.g. Vayikra/Leviticus 1:9). Torah teaches that blood is imbued with a certain quality that makes sacrifice effective (see Vayikra/Leviticus 17:11). Yet, it is very clear that the Bible rejects any sort of mechanical dynamic regarding sacrifice. For if a person’s attitude toward God wasn’t one of humility and genuine honor, the sacrifices would accomplish nothing (e.g. Hosea 6:6). It was never the sacrifices themselves that made the difference. It always was (as it still is) more to do with how people personally relate to God. Biblically speaking, rituals were always intended to be an outward expression of an inner reality.

The great exception to this is the Messiah. His sacrifice actually made a practical difference by breaking the power of sin in the world. A case could be made that every other sacrifice is a sort of symbolic gesture reflecting the uniqueness of Yeshua’s selfless death.

The call to sacrifice continues despite the effectiveness of Yeshua’s own. I am not referring to the Old Covenant sacrifices established through Moses, for they are now obsolete due to the establishment of the New Covenant as prophesied through Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 31:31-34). This is thoroughly explained in the Book of Hebrews. Under the New Covenant the focus on sacrifice shifts from giving up what we own to the giving up of our very lives. We read, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1). Far from seeking to court favor from the gods in order to reap benefits, we give our whole selves out of gratefulness to the one who graciously restored us to himself.

Yeshua called his followers to a lifestyle of sacrifice. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). And yet these words are often misunderstood to refer to the need to reckon with the great difficulty of following him. “Oh, what a heavy cross I have to bear!” one might say. That misses the point, however. Instead, this is in line with the call to be a living sacrifice. Yeshua is saying that his followers must be ready to do God’s will even if it results in giving up our lives just as he did.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version



For the week of March 5, 2022 / 2 Adar II 5782

Message title information on a illustration of a love meter

Torah: Shemot/Exodus 38:21 – 40:38
Haftarah: 1 Kings 7:40-50
Edited version of message posted the week of March 1, 2014 / 29 Adar 5774

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Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Shemot / Exodus 40:34; ESV)

The manifest presence of God is a key component of biblical truth. According to the Bible, God is not simply a philosophical concept. He is an independent, self-defined, self-aware, active, responsive relational being with personality. As a relational being, while invisible, he isn’t cut off from human beings. Rather, he has made himself known and accessible to people. While God has revealed himself in implicit, more subtle ways, through such things as creation, which acts as material evidence for his existence and his creativity, he also has done so in more explicit, dramatic ways, through prophetic utterance and his manifest presence.

The Bible itself is the product of prophetic utterance. The most obvious examples of this are the recorded words of the prophets themselves as they spoke God’s actual words to their hearers in their day. Knowledge of God and his will is not determined by divination and fortune telling, but by God’s intimate communication through people. This also applies to the entire Bible in that its authors wrote under the authority of God’s inspiration.

But God not only reveals himself through words, but also through observable phenomena, whereby he, who is normally invisible and nonphysical, makes himself known in some sort of physical way. The Torah mentions such occurrences, including the burning bush (see Shemot / Exodus 3:2-6) and thunder at Mt. Sinai (see Shemot / Exodus 19:19). God even manifests himself in human form on more than one occasion. He comes in this way to Abraham to announce Isaac’s birth, to warn him about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (see Bereshit / Genesis 18), and in his life-transforming wrestling match with Jacob (see Bereshit / Genesis 32:22-32). That God would come in a similar fashion in the Messiah should not surprise us.

During Israel’s forty years of wilderness wanderings, God’s manifest presence guided and protected them through a pillar of fire and cloud. When the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), the center of Israel’s worship, the mobile precursor to the permanent Temple built many years later, was completed, the cloud covered it and the kavod (English: glory) of God filled it. Kavod is one of the ways the Torah refers to God’s manifest presence. Where God was to be worshipped, his presence was really there. Note that this didn’t occur until every detail of the Mishkan’s construction as given by God through Moses was fully completed. It was only then that God’s presence filled the Mishkan.

The filling of the Mishkan foreshadows a much greater event when God’s manifest presence would fill individuals as foretold by the Hebrew prophet Joel:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit (Joel 3:1-2; English: 2:28-29).

Joel speaks of a day when we could experience God from the inside out due to the indwelling of his very presence through his Spirit. But as in the construction of the Mishkan, every God-ordained detail needed to be completed first. People could not be filled with God’s Spirit until we were made ready.

But we can be ready right now. For the Messiah has done everything necessary in order that we can be filled with the glory of God. The forgiveness of sins through Yeshua’s sacrificial death and the newness of life through his resurrection are all we need to be so filled. All we need to do now is turn to God and put our trust in Yeshua and what he has done for us.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version