Be Not Ashamed

For the week of December 24, 2022 / 30 Kislev 5783

Message info over a Hanukkah menorah and a man in disgust pointing at a Bible

Miketz/Rosh Hodesh/Hanukkah
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 41:1 – 44:17; B’midbar/Numbers 28:9-15; 7:42-53
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (English 2:10 – 4:7); Isaiah 66:1-24; 1 Samuel 20:18-42

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Then he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6)

Note: the following are some “final reflections” at the end of an extensive Hanukkah presentation I did recently, where I cover Hanukkah’s historical background, contemporary customs, and some important lessons we can learn. View video here.

In the days leading to Hanukkah, the Hellenistic (Greek) authorities, among other things, forbade the study of Torah. Will we see the Bible banned in our day? We might, but that’s not necessary, due to how much it has been shamed.

Over time we have been told that the biblical world is so different from ours that it’s become more and more difficult to see how what the Bible teaches can be relevant to today’s world. Many have become convinced that it was written at a time when misogynistic, “homophobian” racists walked the earth, and therefore the issues the Bible addresses have nothing to do with our supposedly far more enlightened world. We sit in judgement over the real and imagined sins of the past, while we congratulate ourselves for our superior morality. What then does the Bible have to teach us? We may seek to mine the Bible for encouragement and hope—we want to bolster our faith after all—but when it comes to life’s particulars: marriage and family, sexuality, business, politics, leisure, entertainment, what constitutes legitimate congregational life, and so on, many of us have left the Bible—the whole Bible—far, far behind.

Sure, we’re diehard fans of Yeshua (Jesus), but have become detached from the very written word that defined his person, his life, and his mission—a mission that has been extended to his followers, the God-given mandate to disciple the nations—a mandate entrusted to us by the Most High to instruct the world in his good and life-infused ways. Yet, when we get into the nitty gritty of Scripture, especially when it comes to Yeshua’s own Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures, the same Scriptures Paul said were not only breathed out by God but are also “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” that God’s people may be “complete, equipped for every good work”—when it comes to the fulness of those Scriptures, many of us have become what we might call “neo-Marcionites.”

Marcionism was an ancient gnostic heresy that, not only claimed that the Old Testament god was different from the New Testament god, but that the Old Testament is archaic and oppressive; replaced by a new and improved Covenant, a version of which neither Paul nor Yeshua would recognize. Instead of standing confident in his written Word, his entire written Word, we are often apologetic and ashamed of God’s ancient but enduring truth that is as relevant today as it was when it was first written.

But it needn’t stay this way. Like the Maccabees, we need to say, “enough is enough.” We need to take up the spiritual sword of God’s word. We need to ask God to teach us how to effectively wield it in our day. But first, we need to ask him to pierce our own hearts with it afresh, allowing ourselves to be taught by him—without shame and without fear—as he fills us with his words of life to, not only nourish ourselves, but to enable us to provide light to an ever increasingly dark world.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version


Time To Engage

For the week of December 17, 2022 / 23 Kislev 5783

Message information

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 37:1 – 40:23
Haftarah: Amos 2:6 – 3:8
Updated version of message posted the week of December 21, 2019 / 23 Kislev 5780

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Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Bereshit/Genesis 37:5-8)

Sometimes I ponder the circumstances that led to two of my most important life experiences: my coming to know the Messiah and connecting with the young lady who would become my wife. What this has to do with Joseph and this week’s parsha will become clear eventually. So many unusual twists and turns brought me to hear about Yeshua for the first time in September 1976, including my parents’ breakup, and my own issues with my father, which opened me to accept my mother’s desire to move to Florida from Montreal in tenth grade. But when the better life we sought didn’t pan out, we returned six months later. The instability of that time fueled by my own distraction led to my repeating my senior year of high school, which gave me a new circle of friends. One such friend would later have a boyfriend from California, who upon visiting Montreal shared Yeshua with me.

All this helped set up my sort-of first-time meeting with my bride to be, Robin. I say “sort-of” because as children, we both had been in the same Yiddish school class, three days each week following public school. After my coming to know the Lord, I happened to be in a Bible study where her name was mentioned in a prayer request – that’s how I found out that she too was a new believer. A few months later her name came up again when I overheard her being invited to an event I was involved in, which led to our meeting as believers for the first time.

I could use these details to talk about the working of God’s guiding hand in our lives. So many of the circumstances of what led to my crucial life changes were out of my control. Life can feel like the living out of a script at times. But this is not my point here; nor is it what I want to demonstrate from Joseph’s life. In each of my examples, there is one influence I left out: me. On the morning of the afternoon I received Yeshua, I was sitting in my room wondering what to do that day. I had become friends with another friend’s cousin who had been visiting from out of town and was returning home later that afternoon. The friend was part of the new circle I mentioned earlier. I had already said “good-bye” to the cousin, but on a whim I decided to phone to see if I could hang out with him one more time before he left for the airport. I could have easily dismissed the thought of calling, not wanting to intrude. But I didn’t. So, I called. I went over, not knowing I would soon interact with the person from California who would share with me the message that would completely transform my life forever.

As for the day I met Robin, what I had overheard was two girls hovering around the phone (which was on the wall in those days), discussing their attempt to coax her to come to the event that night. She had told them she was too tired. I don’t remember how I discovered it was she with whom they had been talking. But when I did, I asked them to get her back on the phone. She, being intrigued by the possibility of meeting another Jewish believer, came after all. We quickly developed a friendship that would become a lot more than that over the next few years (we’ll leave those details for another time).

I don’t bring up my involvement in relation to these events to take any credit. Obviously, each of these are way too complex for that, but what would have happened if I hadn’t phoned the cousin or asked the girls to call Robin back? We’ll never know, of course. Just like we’ll never know what would have happened if Joseph hadn’t told his dreams to his brothers.

I am conflicted about Joseph. Was he a purely innocent victim to his brothers’ murderous jealousy fueled by his father’s nearsighted favoritism? Or was he a spoiled younger brother taking advantage of his father’s favor? Perhaps he was overly naïve, clueless to how his brothers would react to his dreams. His story doesn’t include the level of commentary necessary to draw firm conclusions. All we know is that he freely spoke about his dreams. Unlike my stories, however, Joseph’s involvement led to some extremely painful experiences. But in the end the fledgling nation of Israel and the whole region of the world in which they lived were rescued through his superior administrative ability working within the Egyptian government. All this came about through the remarkable twists and turns spurred by his sharing of his dreams.

I wonder how much life we are missing out on due to our lack of engagement. Are we paying sufficient attention to what’s going on around us? How many of us are far too tentative, much too passive, and too hesitant in responding to life’s circumstances. We don’t speak up or get involved because we are too cautious. We can’t necessarily set up the events of our lives, but unless we engage the opportunities placed before us, we will never fully live.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version



For the week of December 10, 2022 / 16 Kislev 5783

Message info over an image of a woman transformed from troubled to victorious

Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 32:4 – 36:43 (English: 32:3 – 36:43)
Haftarah: Hosea 11:7 – 12:12

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And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. (Bereshit/Genesis 33:1-3)

Jacob was terrified of his brother Esau. And not for no reason. About twenty years before, instigated by their mother, Jacob tricked their father Isaac into giving the blessing of the firstborn to him instead of his older twin. By customary rights, Esau should have been the one to carry forth the bulk of the inheritance, which in this case, would have included the promises of God first given to their grandfather Abraham.

Some people might get hung up by the fact that God had already foretold that Jacob would take the primary place in the family (see Bereshit/Genesis 25:23). But God’s plans for the two boys in no way justifies the underhanded method employed by Jacob and Rebekah. We also may think it strange that something of such importance not only would be handled this way, but couldn’t Isaac simply have nullified the stolen blessing? Perhaps, but he didn’t. Whether we can appreciate the cultural values of their day or not, what happened happened. And what happened understandably infuriated Esau to the extent that he vowed to kill his brother.

Again, at his mother’s urging, Jacob did what many of us would have done in similar circumstances; he ran away. Perhaps if he would have given thought to the meaning of the blessing, he may have risked staying, trusting that God would work it out. The problem is he didn’t believe in God yet. This is clear by his response to God’s words to him in Bethel on his way to Mesopotamia. Notice the “if”: “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God” (Bereshit/Genesis 28:20-21). Not only didn’t Jacob yet have a personal relationship with the God of his father and grandfather, he also hadn’t fully grasped the fulness of the blessing he stole.

Jacob went off to Haran in Mesopotamia with some sense that he would one day return to the land of his birth. However, it isn’t clear whether he would have, or if he only did so due to how unmanageable the situation with his uncle Laban had become. Be that as it may, as he struggled with this, God spoke to him again, telling him to return home (see Bereshit/Genesis 31:13). Without the insight of Scripture, we might assume that he was spiritualizing his leaving yet another difficult situation. But this indeed was God’s direction. To Jacob’s credit, he did it despite what lay ahead.

As he headed back home, he faced his greatest fear, Esau, but did so in his usual manner of trying to manipulate the situation in order to try to appease his brother. He even put his own family at risk so as to better protect himself.

Then, it was time. Jacob had struggled with others his whole life. Now he was to undergo a struggle like none other as God wrestles with him all night. True to form Jacob doesn’t give up, a tenacity that God commends. Jacob as a result is given a new name to redefine his life along with a limp to remind him of that night. He emerges transformed. Hours earlier he was overwhelmed by fear, doing what he always had done, as he attempted to manipulate the situation to his advantage. Now, he was different as he went to meet his brother, limping as he did so, and discovered that his brother’s anger had abated.

I imagine he may have discovered his brother’s changed attitude regardless. However, we don’t know how Jacob’s anxiety may have irritated the situation. What we do know is that he was a completely changed man able to move forward in what God had for him without the controlling fear.

I don’t know how God wants to work such dramatic change in you and me, but, as followers of the Messiah, he will. A key New Covenant promise is that he would put his Torah in the hearts of his people (see Jeremiah 31:33). Core to the working of the Messiah in our lives is his transformative work of placing God’s ways, perspective, and desires into the center of our beings. He may or may not do so through a dramatic encounter such as what Jacob experienced that night but do it he will.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version