That’s Not Fair!

For the week of July 2, 2022 / 3 Tammuz 5782

Message info over children running a race

Korach
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 16:1 – 18:32
Haftarah: 1 Shmuel/1 Samuel 11:14 – 12:22
Revised version of message originally posted the week of June 16, 2018 / 3 Tammuz 5778

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They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (B’midbar/Numbers 16:3)

I want share with you about time I was traumatized – maybe I should say “triggered” – about four years ago. My wife, our two youngest children, and I along with several other homeschooling families participated in an annual track and field day. We had been homeschoolers for a long time, beginning with our youngest child (we have ten in all) in the mid-1980s. Having lived in different parts of four of Canada’s largest cities and being committed to tailoring each child’s schooling as best we could to their individual needs and abilities, our education experience has been quite varied. From time to time we have been involved in formal and informal co-ops, where we would connect with other families to provide subjects and/or activities to complement what we were doing at home. That particular school year, we enrolled our two youngest (the only children still living at home at the time) in a once-a-week formal co-op. For many years, the co-op parents put on an annual field day.

That’s all to say that it had been a long time since I have attended, not to mention been involved, in such an event. I remember similar field days from my own public-school years. Just like this one, they tend to be a mix of classic track events, such as running races of various distances, standing and running long jumps, etc. as well as the more fun variety, such as the three-legged race. It was a most pleasant day for the most part, except for what triggered me.

Before I get to the truly painful part, I was first taken aback by the giving of ribbons for first through fifth place. When did they add fourth and fifth place? Will this generation be lobbying the International Olympic Committee for more medal categories? I wonder what they would be made of? Would you believe in 2012 a man from England took it upon himself to have pewter medals made and sent to fourth place finishers of the Summer Games in London? But my relatively minor state of shock over extending winning ribbons beyond third place didn’t prepare me for the BIG TRIGGER. As I was watching one of the races of the younger children (six-year-olds, perhaps), it was so obvious that some children were genetically superior than the others. It wasn’t even close as this one child (note my purposeful gender-neutral language) ran with superhero speed (comparatively speaking).

I stood there with dropped jaw. It was incredulous that well-meaning parents (as I assume these were) would allow such disparity of ability to be flaunted before impressionable minors. This child (as were a few others) were clearly physically privileged. No wonder they had ribbons for fourth and fifth places. My daughter’s group only had five competitors, so that was fine, but others had more. I don’t know how the ribbon-less children were able to show their faces in public after such a shameful display of inequality. Speak of unfair!

Korah and company who challenged Moses in this week’s parsha understood this and they were even more irate as I was (whether I really was traumatized or not is up to debate. You decide if I am being satirical or still bitter over being such a loser at athletic events myself). I know the parallel isn’t exact. The inequality demonstrated at the field day had to do with athletic prowess, while Korah was angry over what he perceived to be prejudicial preference. Yet I don’t think the resentment principle at work in these two contexts are that different, especially when you take God into account.

Korah, like Moses, was of the tribe of Levi. They were appointed by God to serve the priesthood, while God gave the priesthood itself to Moses’ brother Aaron and his descendants. Being specially set aside by God to be Levites was not good enough for Korah as he wanted the priesthood as well. While he accused Moses of favoritism, in reality his resentment was targeted at God.

Life isn’t fair. Not everyone gets to be a priest. Nor is everyone graced with the same abilities. Not everyone is born into the same life situation. Not everyone experiences the same challenges and/or opportunities. Not everyone handles their challenges and opportunities the same way. Life’s not fair.

What are we to do about it? Hand out ribbons for tenth place? Don’t hand out ribbons at all? Don’t have competitions? Some may think so, especially if equality of outcome is to be the highest value.

But is that what we want, really? More importantly, is that what God wants? With all the attention given to diversity in our day, do we know how to truly celebrate actual diversity? We are all so different. And to a great extent, it’s by God’s design. It may not be fair, but it is only when we commit ourselves to utilizing our God-given differences to their maximum potential, free of resentment, that each and every one of us can discover what we were created for.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Fully Engaged

For the week of June 25, 2022 / 26 Sivan 5782

Message info superimposed on an image of a man striving to climb a mountain

Sh’lach L’kha
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 13:1 – 15:41
Haftarah: Joshua 2:1-24

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The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel. From each tribe of their fathers you shall send a man, every one a chief among them.” (B’midbar/Numbers 13:1-2)

When God delivered the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt it was with the stated goal of bringing them into the land he promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, we could say that God staked his life on it (see Bereshit/Genesis 15:12-21). As a result, Israel could count on acquiring the land. Still, God directed Moses to send twelve men to check out the land prior to the nation going in. I imagine he could have just told them to take the land sight unseen, but he didn’t.

As it turned out, while the land was as good as expected, ten of the twelve men were greatly intimidated by the strong people and fortified cities that they had seen. They believed that Israel would not succeed at this venture. Two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, disagreed, asserting that God would help them. Tragically, the fearful ones won over the nation to the extent that they were ready to choose a new leader and return to Egypt. It would be another thirty-eight years before Israel would get another opportunity to enter the land. That time too, scouts were sent in first.

So, why didn’t God just send the people in? It wouldn’t have been the first time that they had to face a seemingly impossible challenge. Perhaps it’s necessary in certain situations to grasp the nature of the challenge before facing it. Obviously, succeeding at such a venture required a level of sustained trust in God. It wasn’t as if God was expecting them to think of this as a nothing. The difficulty was not a concoction of their imaginations. At the same time, after all the people had gone through from the ten plagues, the Red Sea, and all that happened in the wilderness, God expected the people to be ready to trust him amid this great challenge. But they didn’t.

People often say things like, “But if God knew this would happen, why put them through it?” Some may attempt to resolve this by claiming that it had to happen. This is a way of saying that everything worked out according to plan, that at this point of Israel’s development they, of course, would behave this way. I find this reasoning completely unhelpful. What could be learned by such a “solution”? To simply accept what will be will be? I don’t think so.

There’s something far deeper going on here. God has no interest in simply commanding his people as if we are mindless puppets. True faith is not blind. Trusting in God requires keen understanding of life’s challenges. But not in isolation. We need to see all of life within the context of God’s love, power, and faithfulness to his people. God wanted the people to know exactly what they were going to be up against. That they thought they were helpless against this great challenge exposes how shallow their understanding of God was despite all he had done for them.

God calls people into an intelligent engagement of life. Designed to be his representatives on earth, we humans are to reflect who he is to the world: his wisdom, his goodness, his righteousness, and so on. This requires an understanding of the world from God’s perspective. We do this by learning his Word and developing the skill to apply it to every area of life. This also requires weighing truth and discerning appropriate solutions to the myriads of problems we face. We must learn from our own experience and the experiences of others. We need to be responsible for our lives, each of us fulfilling whatever God has given us to do.

None of this is easy. But we were never promised easy. To be fully human is to be fully engaged in life as God so directs. He never intended for us to float through life via some sort of detached spiritual emptiness. Far from it. We have been made to fully engage life as he so directs.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Full Disclosure

For the week of June 18, 2022 / 19 Sivan 5782

Message info over a person holding a book emanating light

Beha’alotcha
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 8:1 – 12:16
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7 (English: 2:10 – 4:7)

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Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and say to him, When you set up the lamps, the seven lamps shall give light in front of the lampstand.” And Aaron did so: he set up its lamps in front of the lampstand, as the LORD commanded Moses. (B’midbar/Numbers 8:1-3)

When I read certain parts of the Bible, in particular the Torah, the books of Moses, I wonder sometimes, what’s that doing there? Please don’t get me wrong. If God deems it to be part of his inspired written Word, I take no issue with it. It’s God’s Word after all, not mine. But why do I need to know this or that? All these instructions for the cohanim (English: priests), for example. They seem to be essential for a strict subset of the people of Israel. But what benefit does it and other such portions have to the average Joe or Joan?

I am aware that there is more to many of these passages than what might be obvious at first glance. At the same time, I can be skeptical of certain interpretations that may be doing nothing more than making stuff up. Take the verses I quoted at the beginning. It would be easy to lock on to the concept of light and run with it. Moses’ brother Aaron was given instructions to set up lamps inside the first of two highly restricted rooms contained within the mishkan (English: tabernacle). As far as we can tell, the purpose of the lamps was nothing more than practical: to provide light inside an otherwise completely dark environment. There’s nothing I know of in or around the passage to suggest otherwise. That said, if someone wants to use a passage like this to talk about how God is metaphorically our light in dark places – light signifying his knowledge that we need in order to live effective, godly, and productive lives – that’s great. But do we need this passage to know that? Aaron and his descendants needed it, of course. But what about the rest of us? Do we?

Yes we do. While perhaps there is a deeper meaning in such passages, there is something wonderful going on here. The core priestly function of ancient Israel was hidden from view. Every day, cohanim would enter the first room (the Holy Place) to tend the lamps, keep the incense burning, and replace the sacred loaves of bread. They would do this completely hidden away from view. Only select cohanim would ever get to see these unique furnishings and activities. Similarly, only one person, the Cohen HaGadol (English: the High Priest), would go into the second of the two rooms, the Holy of Holies, and ritually cleanse the Ark of the Covenant. And that happened only once each year. No one else would see it, but how do we know that? We know, because it’s explicitly described in Scripture.

To be honest, I don’t have extensive knowledge about other religions of the ancient Near East, but it seems to me that they were full of mystery. The inner workings of priests and such were for the priests alone. There seemed be a high value among both the religious leadership and their followers regarding mystery. Being clued out over what was really going on in the inner sanctum evoked a certain kind of awe that people valued.

It seems that’s still true today. Having a sense that the experts, be they religious or otherwise, possess information not accessible to the common person fuels a respect for them that allows us to trust their directions. It’s as if the more we don’t know, the more comfortable we feel entrusting our lives to them.

But that’s not God’s way. The God of the Bible is a god of disclosure. While the separateness of the innerworkings of the Mishkan evokes a sense of holiness – for a purpose I won’t delve into here – it’s not a secret. The Scriptures freely inform the people what’s going on beyond their view.

I have encountered Bible teachers who reference hard-to-understand passages as mysteries as if God wants us to simply accept all sorts of concepts just because we are told to. But that’s not the Bible’s use of the word “mystery.” In the New Covenant Writings, Paul commonly uses the word mystery to refer to something that was unknown in the past but has been made known in the present. It is not used to shut down questions and concerns about things that are hard to understand.

God delights in revealing himself and his ways to his people. While there are things beyond human understanding, God is not hiding in order to manipulate us in any way. Far from it! He longs to make himself known to us. If we find ourselves in the dark, it is only because we have not been willing to come into God’s light.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Suspicion

Naso
For the week of June 11, 2022 / 12 Sivan 5782
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 4:21 – 7:89
Haftarah: Shoftim/Judges 13:2-25
Originally posted the week of June 17, 2000 / 14 Sivan 5760 (revised)

Message info over a man with an inquisitive facial expression

But if the woman has not defiled herself and is clean, then she shall be free and shall conceive children. (B’midbar/Numbers 5:28)

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This verse is taken from an unusual passage that prescribes a test for marital unfaithfulness found in B’midbar/Numbers 5:11-31. If a husband suspected his wife of unfaithfulness, she was to be brought before the cohen (English: priest). The cohen would then perform a ritual in which the woman drinks a concoction made from holy water, floor dust, and ink. If she developed an adverse reaction to the concoction in her internal organs, then her husband’s suspicions would be confirmed, and she would be guilty. Otherwise, her husband’s suspicions would be declared unfounded; case closed.

At first glance you may think that this is of the likes of magic potions and incantations. You may also be disturbed by how a woman apparently could be held in such suspicion, dragged before a religious court, and forced to drink something so disgusting.

But that’s not what is going on here. The Torah shows us what God thinks of suspicion. I wonder how many women (and men for that matter) have been ostracized and worse because their spouse or someone else was suspicious of them. How many wrongs have been done to people based on someone’s feelings rather than based upon facts?

The Torah says elsewhere: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (D’varim/Deuteronomy 19:15). Suspicion therefore is never enough to convict someone. But if that is the case, then why the need of this ritual at all? If a husband has no proof, then we might think the issue should not even be allowed to be raised.

But preventing his accusation would not likely have alleviated the situation. The prescribed ritual forces the husband to deal with his suspicion. While he may or may not do his best to lay aside his feelings, the ritual brings the matter into the open where it can be dealt with. As the couple, with the cohen’s help, deals with the situation, it will be resolved one way or another. Both the husband and the wife will be confronted with the truth.

How many times do we harbor suspicion, not just toward our spouses, but others with whom we have close relationships? Suspicion eats away at our hearts. Unless we deal with it, we will find ourselves more and more distant from the very people we need to be closest to.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a way to bring these things out into the open? If our suspicions are justified, then we can deal with the wrongs, if not, then we can forget about them and get on with our lives.

An essential dynamic at play here is that God is directly involved. There was nothing about the concoction itself that would have caused the predicted results. Somehow God himself would cause the reaction to occur if the woman was truly guilty.

So, we too can come before God and ask him to deal with our suspicions. But we need to be willing to confront them honestly and openly. Note how a third party was made to be part of the process. This allowed the issue to move outside of the immediate relationship where it could have festered due to keeping it hidden. At the same time, the issue was not to take into the public realm, where reputations could easily be damaged.

So let us deal with our suspicions and bring them into the open, where God can address them. Then when he does, we can either rectify the wrongs or forget about them for good.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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You Count!

For the week of June  4, 2022 / 5 Sivan 5782

Message information over an aerial view of a crowd

B’midbar
Torah: B’midbar/Numbers 1:1 – 4:20
Haftarah: Hosea 2:1-22 (English: 1:10-2:20)
Originally posted the week of June 11, 2016 / 5 Sivan 5776 (revised)

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Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel, by clans, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names, every male, head by head. (B’midbar/Numbers 1:2)

The fourth book of Moses starts with a lot of counting. The English title, “Numbers,” reflects this, while the Hebrew title, “B’midbar” (In the Wilderness), emphasizes Israel’s experiences from the time they left Mount Sinai through just before their entry into the Promised Land.

Sections of the Bible, such as the early part of B’midbar, tend to bog readers down with what appears to be endless lists of names. But perhaps you feel like one of those names. As one of the almost eight billion people on the planet, do you ever wonder if you really count? There might be something here in our Torah reading that says you do.

God told Moses to take a census (or more literally a head count) of all the males twenty years of age and over from all the tribes of Israel except the tribe of Levi, who are counted later on. But Moses was not to do this job alone. God appointed several men by name from each tribe to assist him. Get that? God appointed these men by name. God communicated the exact identity of each assistant to Moses. There is nothing in the text to signify that this is a metaphor. It was not as if each tribe voted on their census leaders and then submitted the list to Moses who validated them by using highfalutin spiritual language. It was not as if God called them out by name. He really did. Could you imagine being called out like that? By name?

It gets more interesting. Once the census team was appointed, they set out counting heads. But that’s not as straightforward as it first might seem. “One, two,… How old are you? You don’t look twenty years old. Really, you are? OK…three, four” and so on. It might have even been more complicated than that, since in addition to the age qualification they had to be “able to go to war” (see. B’midbar/Numbers 1:3). It’s possible that simply being of age wasn’t sufficient, thus creating the need for a more thorough interview. The numbers of the qualified men were then submitted to Moses and recorded.

What makes this interesting is that if God was able to specifically name the assistants, wouldn’t he also be able to provide detailed census information? Assuming he could, obviously he didn’t. It had to be done manually, so to speak. But why? The most basic reason, of course, is because God said so. That should be sufficient but, on the other hand, it shouldn’t stop us from giving it more thought.

The Bible clearly teaches that God knows everyone. Yeshua said that he even knows the hairs of our heads (See Matthew 10:30). That statement is supposed to assure us of our Heavenly Father’s intimate love and care. For some of you, that’s not enough. Being told God loves everyone is too general, too unspecific. When we think in terms of everyone, we don’t think of being personally included, but rather that we are nothing more than part of a big blur of unnamed humanity. God loves everybody, but does he really love me?

There’s something about the administration of the census that bridges this gap. Instead of God announcing the exact population figures himself, which he could have done, he sent out people to take note of everyone. You might say that not everyone was counted, because they weren’t qualified for military service, but the only way to know that is to take notice of each and every person.

The counting of heads, initiated by God, but performed by people, brought God’s knowledge of the people to the individuals themselves. But isn’t this how the intimacy of God usually works? While God does from time to time interact with us directly, he most often reaches out to us through others. It’s possible that our sense of being distant from God comes from not allowing ourselves to get close enough to those through whom he wishes to make himself known.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Profound Peace

For the week of May 28, 2022 / 27 Iyar 5782

Message title information over woman sleeping on a cloud in the sky

Bechukotai
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34
Haftarah: Jeremiah 16:19 – 17:14

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I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:6)

What a wonderful thought! Especially that this is a promise to an entire nation. That there might be a condition by which God would provide such a sense of security, so that people could rest at night unconcerned about danger of any sort. This is even more remarkable when we consider that the people who first heard this lived fundamentally vulnerable lives. They had nowhere near the number of effective structures and resources that many enjoy in our day.

The Hebrew word translated afraid here is “charad,” and means “to tremble.” It’s a loss of control, a fear that intimidates, causing us to run away, be it literally, so that we vacate our location, or metaphorically, where we are unable to engage the situation in which we find ourselves.

What God promises to provide Israel is peace, “shalom.” Shalom is more than calm. It may result in calm, individually or societally, but it’s a way to describe when everything is in its rightful place, working as it should and in right relationship with everything else. In this context, it’s a basic state of social health, whereby the individuals of the society are functioning well and in right relationship with others. We can see why this leads to a lack of fear.

In the context of the Sinai covenant, societal health and the resulting calm is derived from a lifestyle of godliness. The section in which this promise is found begins with: “If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them” (Vayikra/Leviticus 26:3). Some Christian interpreters regard this negatively as being part of an impossible system whereby the promised blessing could never be achieved. They think of this as God’s imposing an impossible standard in which Israel was doomed to fail. Israel did fail, but God wasn’t seeking to simply shame his chosen nation; rather he was instructing them and the world through them that real security can only be found in right relationship to him and his ways.

The misguided notion that Torah (often misunderstood as “law” in a cold legal sense, rather than “teaching” or “direction”) functions only to establish guilt, fails to notice how its blessings were enjoyed by those who genuinely followed it. We see this in both individuals, such as Moses, Joshua, David, and Elijah to name a few, and in the nation of Israel as a whole. Granted, these periods, such as the height of Solomon’s reign, are brief, but they were real. As far as Scripture is concerned, their experiences serve as important positive examples of the Torah promise above.

While these examples demonstrate the positive intent of Torah, they do, at the same time, highlight the failure of most people to experience such a sense of security. Fear is rampant. Whether it has increased in the COVID era is hard to say. I suspect that the constant reports of disease and death along with restrictions and precautions exposed the preexisting insecurities most people live with.

The Torah promise of security should challenge us to confront our fears. Living, always wondering when disaster will attack, be it a debilitating disease or social unrest, is not what we were designed for. God’s heart for his beloved creatures is to live without fear.

No one illustrates this better than the Messiah. Despite living in a most hostile environment, including his closest companions regularly misunderstanding him, he was never flustered. It’s not that he didn’t have emotions. He even got upset from time to time. But he never was looking over his shoulder, worried about what might happen to him.

One of the greatest examples was when he was crossing Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) during a storm. His disciples were freaking out while he was sleeping. I can’t relate. I have enough trouble sleeping in my comfortable bed in my quiet house.

It’s unhelpful when we view the Messiah’s sense of confidence through a lens of “He’s the Messiah; what do you expect?” We forget that he was fully human, living a truly godly life. He reflected a genuine Torah-oriented lifestyle as was offered to Israel.

And because he did so even to the point of death, followed by conquering death through his resurrection, he has opened a way for us to share in his life. We do that by admitting our failure to live by God’s standards and by relying on Yeshua, through who we not only derive the benefits of his obedience but are drawn into the type of lifestyle that results in profound peace.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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Jubilee

Behar
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 25:1 – 26:2
Haftarah: Jeremiah 32:6-27
Originally posted the week of May 20, 2000 / 15 Iyar 5760;
Revised version as appearing in the book “
Torah Light

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And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan. (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:10)

I love the way the Torah confronts conventional thinking. Far from being irrelevant or outdated, the Bible addresses many of the same issues we face in our own day. Yet how it deals with these issues is so very different from the dictates of popular thinking.

This week’s Torah portion is a great example of this. God commanded that every fifty years was to be a jubilee year. At that time, everyone among the people of Israel was to return to his ancestral property. If anyone had sold their land to someone else or lost it due to debt, they would get it back. God says, “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Vayikra/Leviticus 25:23).

What a different way of looking at property! First, in ancient Israeli society, no one actually owned land; it belonged to God, who allotted portions of the Land to the various tribal groups and specific clans. Because it was his to give, the tribal inheritances could not be lost permanently. As the people went about their daily business, they could lose their land temporarily. After every fifty years, however, the land would revert to the original owners.

In God’s economy, the highs and lows of economic fortune are balanced by the jubilee. Every fifty years the nation would basically start over. This would have prevented the poor from becoming completely destitute and staying that way from generation to generation.

This reminded the people that what they had was entrusted to them by God, something that every society would do well to realize. We wrongly think that all we have has come to us by our own efforts rather than by God’s blessing.

Another thing the jubilee teaches us is that when we truly know God, we don’t have to think that our future is dictated by the present. We too can start over. God is a God of restoration. He longs to see his beloved creatures restored to the place he intended for us. Just like he provided a physical inheritance for the clans of Israel, so he has an inheritance for all people. He wants to restore each person to the quality of life he intended before our first parents’ rebellion in the garden of Eden. When Yeshua went public, he read a passage from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue—words reminiscent of the jubilee:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
   and recovering of sight to the blind,
   to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18–19, quoted from Isaiah 62:1–2)

Through Yeshua, every one of us can experience a jubilee. No matter how destitute we have become, we can be restored to the kind of life God originally intended for us.

In the jubilee, for anyone to be restored to their land, they had to get up and go there. No one was forced to return to his God-given inheritance. Each person had to take it upon himself to reacquire what was rightfully his.

It is the same for us today, but how do we do that? Pray and ask God for your rightful inheritance. Then trust him to answer that prayer. It might mean a major change in your life, but you will finally find yourself where you were truly meant to be all along.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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You Can Count on It!

For the week of May 14, 2022 / 13 Iyar 5782

Message title information along with a barley sheaf

Emor
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 21:1 – 24:23
Haftarah: Ezekiel 44:15-31

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You shall count seven full weeks from the day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering. You shall count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath. Then you shall present a grain offering of new grain to the LORD. (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:15-16)

This week’s parsha (weekly Torah portion) includes the most complete description of the feasts of Israel in the Bible: Shabbat (the weekly sabbath); Pesach (Passover); Shavuot (Pentecost or Weeks); Yom Truah (the day of blowing [of the shofar], which traditionally marks the new year); Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement); and Sukkot (Booths or Tabernacles). Note that biblically speaking, Pesach actually refers only to the first evening, while the seven days following is the Feast of Matzah (Unleavened Bread). Eventually the term Pesach came to refer to the week-long feast.

Also included is a ritual that starts at Pesach time and continues until Shavuot. There is some controversy over which day this ritual was to begin. The Torah says, “on the day after the Sabbath,” but the first day of Pesach is to be observed as a sabbath, whatever day of the week it lands. So, it isn’t clear whether the ritual was to begin the second day of Pesach (the majority view) or the day after the first weekly Shabbat after the first day of Pesach. Sorry if that’s confusing. Regardless, what is clear is that at Pesach time an offering of the first fruits of the harvest was to be waved before the Lord and then the people were to start counting days. They were to count fifty days from the waving of the sheaf. The fiftieth day was the next festival, Shavuot (which is why it is also called Pentecost, derived from the number fifty). The Hebrew word for sheaf is “omer.” The counting of the fifty days between Pesach and Shavuot is called “Sefirat HaOmer”, the Counting of the Omer. From what’s written in Torah, it is difficult to determine whether God intended a literal counting of the days, but that is the custom. Each day a blessing is recited, and the day is counted.

That the days are counted might be behind how the New Covenant book of Acts refers to Shavuot in chapter two and verse one. To denote the arrival of the day, the Greek word, “symplay-ro-oh” is used, which has the sense of fulfilment or filling up. That is why some older translations, read, “When the day of Pentecost had fully come” instead of simply writing “arrived” as became more common in later translations. All Torah feasts have an element of anticipation, but the Counting of the Omer, takes it to another level.

But there is more than anticipation going on here. There is a unique, purposeful connection between the two feasts of Pesach and Shavuot. You might remember that when God directed Moses to tell Pharoah to let the people of Israel go, he said that it was so that the people would serve God at Mt. Sinai (see Shemot/Exodus 3:12). It was about fifty days between Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their receiving the Torah from God on that very mountain. Pesach commemorates the deliverance; Shavuot the receiving of the Torah. One leads to the others. Neither are standalone events.

God rescued the people from slavery in order that they would become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Shemot/Exodus 10:6). While the experience of liberation is something to celebrate, it is essential to remember that it was a liberation unto a mission. The people weren’t set free so that they could finally do whatever they wanted. They were set free from serving the oppressive, self-seeking tyrant in order to serve the life-giving, loving Creator.

Those who have experienced the greater liberation from bondage to sin and death under the oppressive rule of the evil one also need to remember a similar connection. We too haven’t been set free just so that we can do whatever we want. As we read in the New Covenant Writings, like ancient Israel, all followers of Israel’s Messiah have been called to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Sometimes, we can feel as if our lives are without purpose or direction. This can be the case even for those who have experienced the liberating power of God through the Messiah. Let’s remember, however, that becoming God’s children through faith in Yeshua is only the beginning. How our purpose is to be lived out may not always be clear, but God’s got a plan for us. You can count on it.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version 

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No Leftovers, Revisited

For the week of May 7, 2022 / 6 Iyar 5782

Message title information with a crossed-out image of leftovers in containers

Kedoshim
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 19:1 – 20:27
Haftarah: Amos 9:7-15

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When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the LORD, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. It shall be eaten the same day you offer it or on the day after, and anything left over until the third day shall be burned up with fire. If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from his people. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19:5-8)

In the past I have commented on God’s directives of not allowing certain offerings to be eaten beyond a certain time. That message dealt with the thanksgiving offering, a variant of the peace offering, which was to be fully consumed on the same day it was offered. At that time, I suggested that not allowing it to stay around for longer ensured that it was being used exclusively for its intended purpose.

This week, we see a different type of the peace offering that could be eaten through the next day. Anything left over afterward had to be burned up. We are told in the Hebrew that by the third day the meat becomes “pigool.” The sense is similar to the normal expression of unacceptability, “ta-may.” Ta-may is most often translated “unclean,” denoting ritualistic defilement, while pigool appears to have the sense of “stinks.” These leftovers may not actually stink, though in the context of ancient Israel, they might. The point, however, is that as far as this offering is concerned, the meat has gone bad, and is no longer suitable.

In contrast to the other offering, there was no obligation to finish off the meat the same day. Leftovers were allowed, but only for one day and no more. There is therefore an urgency and intensity lacking. Thus, one engaged these offerings in a more laid-back fashion. And yet, there is still something key that was not to be neglected: that which was set apart for God was for God alone. It appears that allowing for an extra day of consumption didn’t distract from this, while any additional time likely would have.

Some people might be surprised that sacrifices were eaten by the one offering it. Some were not consumed by humans at all. Others included a portion for the cohanim (English: priests). But the peace offerings were divided between God, the cohanim, and the one offering the sacrifice. This reminds us that sacrifices are not always and only about giving up something completely. It has more to do with giving the thing over to God. That might include continued relationship to it. However, when such an ongoing relationship exists, it is essential to remember that the thing from that time forward always remains God’s property to do with what he wants.

This should help us to better understand the call under the New Covenant to give our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (see Romans 12:1). To do so isn’t accomplished by somehow completely disconnecting ourselves, giving our will away to a cause or an organization. Neither is it to absolve ourselves forever from personal responsibility. Far from it! It is that we come to a place where we truly fulfill our role as stewards of God’s creation (see Bereshit/Genesis 1:26-28). This doesn’t cut us off from deriving benefit from life. In fact, as we fully live out our callings, we discover blessings we never dreamt of when we were living for ourselves. But as we enjoy the great benefits of serving God, we must not be distracted by enjoying them for their own sakes. Rather, we need to always remember that they, as we ourselves, have been fully given over to our Lord and King.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version 

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Moral Consequences

For the week of April 30, 2022 / 29 Nisan 5782

Message title information over a hand ready to flick one domino of a row of dominoes

Achrei Mot
Torah: Vayikra/Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30
Haftarah: 1 Samuel 20:18-42

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Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. (Vayikra/Leviticus 18:24-25)

For many people, spirituality is disconnected from the physical world. It is consigned to the invisible realm of thoughts, feelings, and spiritual entities, angels, demons, and God. This is not a biblical view of life. The Bible regards all creation, things material and things immaterial, as integrated. The spiritual affects the material and vice versa. A powerful example of this way of thinking is found in this week’s parsha (weekly Torah reading portion).

Israel here is being instructed on the types of sexual relations that are to be avoided. They are told that these behaviors resulted in negative consequences for the Land’s previous inhabitants. While the Torah’s teachings are specifically directed to the people of Israel, this is one of the few examples of their clearly applying to other nations. The nature of these behaviors is such that it didn’t matter that these nations were not so instructed.

While the negative consequences will be experienced by these nations through Israel’s conquest of the Land, the image painted for us is a graphic one of the land’s vomiting them out. Through this we see an intricate interplay between human behavior, God, and his creation. God designed the creation in such a way that it cannot tolerate immorality. We see this elsewhere in Torah, whereby the blessing of crops and family are tied to behavior.

Earlier this month, I posted a message entitled, “How Does It Work?”, where I concluded that it’s more important to accept that life works the way it does than to figure out the mechanics behind it. Governments today are keen to prevent potential climate disaster through controlling consumer behavior, while ignoring the consequences of moral behavior. Actually, they aren’t ignoring moral behavior as much as making it more and more difficult to address it.

Any suggestion today that the forbidden relations of this section of Torah may have a negative effect on society is itself now being deemed immoral. But what will be the outcome? No legislation will be able to stop the consequences that God himself instilled in his creation. Contrary to popular misconception, biblical morality is not an arbitrary code of conduct imposed upon ignorant humans to oppress them for some lofty religious goal. Rather, it is the loving directions from the One who understands the very nature of life in every way, given to us as a gift to enable us to live good, healthy, and prosperous lives.

Whether these directions are known or unknown, they demonstrate how life works. All people are accountable to the God of Israel whether they know him or not. That’s just the way it is. As the people of Israel were instructed in God’s ways, so we would do well to take heed.

Moreover, if we care about others, we need to find ways to share the truth about moral consequences before irreparable damage is done to people’s lives. We must not give into the pressure of keeping these truths to ourselves. While we need to learn to present them as humbly and lovingly as we can, may God help us not to remain silent.

Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version

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