Saturday, January 9, 2016

Parasha Va'era

Va'era - I appeared
Sh'mot 6:2-9:35

As we all know, last week's Torah portion, Sh'mot, taught us about Yeshua. This week, with Va'era, we will continue to learn about Yeshua, while next week's portion, Bo, will mix things up and teach us about... Yeshua. Now some of you are thinking "But these Torah portions teach about Moshe, not Yeshua. What are you talking about? Can you not read? Have you been studying so much you can't tell the difference between Charlton Heston and Jim Caviezel?" That's OK. I understand your confusion and I'll try to set things straight.

Moshe was a type and shadow of Messiah. As a promised deliverer of Israel, he set the stage for the redemption plan of YHVH. Anyone who has heard me teach before knows that I frequently refer to YHVH's use of cycles. YHVH sets a pattern and then uses that same pattern repeatedly to accomplish His goals. The patterns do not change, they are simply expanded as needed to fit the situation. This is certainly true of Moshe and Yeshua. Let's compare the two.

  • The King (Pharaoh) ordered the death of all male children
  • Both escape death by going to Egypt
    • Moshe into the House of Egypt (Pharaoh's won household and government)
    • Yeshua from the land of Israel to Egypt
  • Both returned in time as a deliverer
  • Each spent time in the desert preparing for his role
    • Moshe spent 40 years in Midian
    • Yeshua spent 40 days in the desert
  • Both were rejected by Israelite leaders, despite proof from YHVH of their identity
  • Both brought deliverance through the sacrifice of the first-born
    • Moshe through the sacrifice of the first-born sons of Egypt
    • Yeshua through the sacrifice of himself, YHVH's first-born
These are just some high points to show the connection between these two important men. I could expand on this topic more, but we would be here all day (and night, and tomorrow, and most of next week.) I encourage you to study further into this connection to get a deeper understanding of how Moshe foretold the coming of Messiah and how Messiah duplicated the pattern set forth through Moshe.

Today, I would like to discuss another repeat of the pattern set forth in these Torah portions, the Greater Exodus still to come. As this Greater Exodus could very well involve some of us living today, it is important the we understand it. Just as YHVH gave Moshe a warning of what was to come in his day, we need to look for the warning signs of what is to come again.

There are parallels between the time of Moshe and the times in which we now live. In Va'era, YHVH tells Moshe that He "... did not make myself known to them by my name, YHVH." (Sh'mot 6:3) Anyone who has spent much time around the Messianic movement, or Hebrew Roots, or whatever name is en vogue this week, has seen someone arguing over the name of YHVH. Pronunciation, usage, etiquette. We get so hung up on the linguistics that we forget to look for an understanding of what He said. To know someone's name, in this context, refers to knowing the full meaning of the one who owns the name. Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov did not yet know the full extent of YHVH's power and might. They knew only what had been revealed to them in their time as needed to fulfill their part of His plan. In fact, they had not even seen the fulfillment of His promise to them to provide the land to them and their descendants forever. All three died without taking possession of the land.

Today, we are seeing a repeat of this. We are beginning to see YHVH's name being brought back into usage among people who have never done so before. Those of us who have been Messianic for a while are used to hearing His name used, but among the Christian church, such usage has been almost nonexistent. However, if you listen to Christian music today, you will hear His name proclaimed proudly in more songs than ever. It's not just Paul Wilbur and Mason Clover using His name in a song title anymore. However, just because they are using His name, doesn't mean that they have come into a full understanding of the meaning of that name. I think this is one of the biggest detriments of discarding the Torah as mainstream Christianity has done for so long. We were so concerned with removing His wrath and judgment (the Old Testament God) that we missed his power and might. We cannot understand YHVH if we selectively choose which parts of Him we will accept and study. He is wrath and judgment, mercy and grace, wisdom, compassion, and righteousness. He is love. He is unending, all powerful, and all knowing. These are not just words to describe Him, these are attributes that only begin to define Him in ways our finite minds can start to comprehend. This is what it means to know His name. I've been studying Torah for over 15 years and I have just begun to scratch the surface of His name. His name is His reputation. When a name is used, the hearer focuses on the reputation of the one who bears that name. That is what Moshe was to proclaim to Israel and what YHVH was building through His actions in Egypt. That is what it meant for all the nations to see and know that "I am YHVH." We are called to make His name known today. By doing so, we are to be a part of restoring His reputation as the true Elohim of Israel. He cannot be known as the Old Testament God of wrath, the God of the Jews, the New Testament God of Mercy and Grace, or the Christian God. He is all of the above and so much more. It is our responsibility to continue studying, learning, and TEACHING His name, His reputation, to all the world.

YHVH states four promises to Moshe in this Torah portion.
  1. I will free you...
  2. I will rescue you...
  3. I will redeem you...
  4. I will take you as my people...
    1. I will be your God
This is the same pattern (there's that word again) that YHVH will use at the end times to bring His people back together and into His Kingdom. Read those four promises again and think about what you know of His plan for His people in the latter days. Read the prophecies of Ezekiel, Daniel, Jeremiah, and Revelation. You will see these same promises restated in various ways through the descriptions of the actions He will take.

  1. I will free you...
    1. from bondage
    2. from sin
  2. I will rescue you...
    1. from Egypt
    2. from the world
  3. I will redeem you...
    1. bought at a price (the first-born of Egypt)
    2. bought at a price (the first-born of YHVH)
  4. I will take you as my people...
    1. the mixed multitude will become the Children of Israel
    2. the House of Judah and the House of Ephraim shall become one stick in His hand
  5. I will be your God
    1. One Elohim over One people in One land
That is just the start of what is available to learn in this week's Torah portion. I have only discussed the first seven verses of this portion. Imagine how much more you will learn as you study the entire Torah portion. Keep reading and studying and leave comments below on other things you have learned this week. Next year, we'll concentrate on a different set of verses in this portion and expand some more on His reputation.

He is YHVH!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Parasha Tzav

Tzav - Give an Order
Vayikra 6:1-8:36

This Torah portion continues the discussion of the sacrifices. It begins with the burnt offering and ends with the consecration of Aharon and his sons for serving in the office of cohen. The entire portion would take up too much space for a blog entry so I would like to concentrate on the burnt offering.

Aharon is commanded to keep the fire of the burnt offering burning at all times. The burnt offering stays on the altar all night so that the fire will not go out. In this way, the altar is always prepared for the sacrifices and offerings brought by the people. This also served as an example for the priests that they must always be ready. As priests through Yeshua, shouldn't we also look to this example? We must always keep our fire burning and be prepared when someone comes to us looking for YHVH. The priesthood never took a day off. Individual priests may take time off and rotate duties, but the priesthood was always on duty. The same is true today. As priests of Yeshua, it is our duty to ensure someone is ready to assist those who wish to approach our King.

As anyone who has ever gone camping can attest, keeping a fire burning constantly creates a large amount of ash. That ash, if left alone, will eventually overcome and smother the fire that created it. The same can happen in our own lives with our spiritual fire. How many times have we seen someone come into study of Torah and burn with a blazing fire of zeal for YHVH, only to see that fire dwindle and fade away? Their faith snuffed out by their own intensity. In their desire to offer everything of themselves, they forget to take time to clean up the ashes. We all do it at times. We learn something new that draws us closer to Him and stokes our fire. It burns hotter and we feel it burning away the old "knowledge" and misunderstandings. Then we repeat the process and more misunderstanding is burned away. It is all turned to ash. But we never remove those ashes. We continue to carry them as a bitter reminder of things we have given up; of times we were deceived; of misunderstandings that kept us from truth for so long. Instead of removing them and letting ourselves be a clean altar to build our fire, we begin smothering that fire. The ashes get deeper until they take over and the fire dies.

The priests were commanded to clean the ashes out of the altar each morning to prevent such an occurrence on the physical altar. Should we not do the same spiritually? Cleaning out ashes was a dirty, thankless job. If you have ever cleaned out a fireplace, you know how unpleasant it can be. And yet, the priest cleaning the altar was commanded to do it wearing his fine linen garments. Even the seemingly trivial jobs are worthy of our finest when done for YHVH's glory. When we serve our Elohim, there is no trivial job. As I mentioned above, even if it seems like something small, it could be the very thing keeping the fire from being snuffed out.

Once the ashes were removed from the altar, the priest was to change out of his fine linen into other garments before carrying the ashes outside the camp. This illustrates a great picture of the priest doing important work in the service of YHVH with no special attention or fanfare. By removing his fine garments before walking through the camp, he is no longer visibly different. He is not drawing attention to himself when performing his duties among the people. Does this not bring to mind Yeshua rebuking the Pharisees for doing just the opposite? Trying to draw attention to themselves as they did their work. Making themselves the object of importance. In Moshe's day, the priest was just a man carrying ashes. The importance was left at the altar, where the attention was on YHVH.

However, there remained another step to be done with the fire. Just removing the ashes would not keep the fire going. It had to be kindled and fed. The priest had to add more wood to the fire and another burnt offering. In the same manner, we must continually add fuel to our fire. We must learn more of His Word so that the fire stays strong. We must give more of ourselves as the offering each day. Otherwise, it is just a campfire burning without a reason. The fire on the altar was not the end goal. The fire was not the purpose. The tasks to keep that fire going were never about the fire. Everything was about the offerings and the One to whom they were being offered. Without a fire, the offerings were just dead animals. Without a fire in us, our knowledge of Torah, our professions of belief, and even our teaching His Word, is dead.

Be a priest of Yeshua. Clean the ashes and build the fire. Daily.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

B'shallach - After he had let go

B'shallach - After he had let go
Sh'mot 13:17-17:16

I will be focusing this week on the third aliyot (they are separate for Ashkenazi and Sephardic this week - I will cover both) of Parasha B'shallach. Basically, Sh'mot 14:15-15:21. At this point, the Israelites have left Egypt and Elohim has led them to travel through the desert in a roundabout way to the Sea of Suf. Elohim had them to avoid the main highway so that the people would not see warfare and become afraid. I suspect that He also had another reason to take them on the slower route, He needed to let the Egyptians catch up. The Israelites have now been pinned against the Sea by Pharaoh's army. While the people have become very fearful and are losing confidence, they are about to witness one of the greatest demonstrations ever of YHVH's power.

Moshe has tried to calm the people by letting them know that YHVH will do battle with Pharaoh on the people's behalf. It doesn't appear that they are interested in listening. When Moshe speaks to YHVH about it, His response is to tell Moshe to stop crying and move forward! He commands Moshe to reach his staff over the sea and part the waters. Despite the Hollywood depictions, this was not an instantaneous event. The water didn't just roll away and let the people run through. Reading on, we see that YHVH sent a strong east wind that blew the waters back all night. During this time of vulnerability, YHVH (appearing as a column of fire and cloud) moved from in front of the people to behind them. We all know that YHVH has been leading the people as a column of cloud by day and fire by night. I find it interesting to note that He seems to be appearing as both when He moved behind the people. It says that there was cloud and darkness on one side (the Egyptians), but light by night on the other (Israelites). How symbolic of the ninth plague and Israel's command to be the light in the darkness. He placed Himself between His people and their enemy. He cut off their sight of their past and their troubles. Is it any different today? If we trust in Him, will He not separate us from our past troubles while leading us in the proper direction? Will He not remove any obstacle that will prevent us from reaching His promise?

Once the ground between the waters was dry, the Israelites began their journey. Many explanations have been put forth to explain this mighty miracle as something natural, or an exaggerated event. None of them can explain how the ground was dry, yet water was walled up on the left and the right of the people. An earthquake causing a tsunami may explain the water pulling back and exposing land. It can even explain the water crashing back over the Egyptians just before dawn. It cannot explain their being a wall of water on the other side of the people. It also can't explain the walls staying there all night long while the people crossed. Three million people do not cross a sea quickly, no matter who is pursuing them. There are some who say the water was only a few inches deep where they crossed. That doesn't fit the description by any stretch of the imagination. It also fails to explain how YHVH could drown all those horses and cavalry in three inches of water. It seems to me, that would also be a miracle!

As the Egyptians pursued the Israelites into the sea, YHVH caused panic among them. He broke the wheels off their chariots to slow them down. He caused so much havoc that it says "The Egyptians said, 'YHVH is fighting for Isra'el against the Egyptians! Let's get away from them!'" Isn't that amazing? The Egyptians wanted to get away from the Egyptians. So who were these Egyptians that fled? Read who YHVH said would be destroyed in the sea, and notice who is not mentioned. The chariots, their riders, and the cavalry were slated for destruction. What about the foot soldiers that would have traveled with them? The attendants and servants that would have kept the army ready to fight the Israelites? Remember that not all Egyptian soldiers joined the army voluntarily. And not all Egyptians were of Egyptian descent. Many had families who had been conquered or came to Egypt to escape famine, like the Israelites. Therefore, Egyptians could escape the fate of the Egyptians. Who do you think spread the stories ahead of the Israelites as they traveled through the desert?

Once the people of Israel had crossed the sea, Moshe reached out his hand again and the waters returned to normal depth. As mentioned above, the chariots and cavalry were all destroyed... "not even one of them was left." The Israelites saw the dead Egyptians washed up on the shore of the sea. Scripture says that seeing this mighty deed made Isra'el fear YHVH and believe in YHVH and in Moshe. After all that they had gone through and seen in Egypt, the people finally believed in YHVH and His mighty power.

The first 21 verses of Sh'mot 15 gives us the pattern for how we should always respond to the awesome works of YHVH. The people sang and danced and gave praise to YHVH. I have to wonder if the people really understood that the song they were singing was telling prophecy. They sang about events in their future as if they were a done deal. Indeed, they were. The important thing to note is that they were praising YHVH and rejoicing in things that had not yet happened. While their faith didn't always stay as strong as it should, at this point it was rock-solid. This is another one of those not-so-subtle lessons in how we should walk out our faith in Him. We should be thanking and praising Him for all the wondrous deeds He has done in our lives. For every victory we have through Him over adversities and attacks of the enemy. But we should also be rejoicing in the belief in what He will do in the future. There are so many prophecies for His people that have not yet been fulfilled. Like our people coming out of the sea, we should be dancing and singing to Him for the fulfillment we know is yet to come.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Bo (Go?)

Bo (Go?)
Sh'mot 10:1-13:16

This Torah portion is named for the command that Yahweh gives to Moshe to "go" in to Pharaoh and warn him of the next plague. However, as we can see just two verses later, this word also (and probably more correctly) means "come". If we change translations in verse one, does it change the meaning of what Yahweh is telling Moshe? Of course it does! Why else would I ask the question? Let's take a look at the connotations of the different translations.

If Yahweh is saying go in to Pharaoh, we get a picture of Moshe being sent away from Yahweh into the presence of Pharaoh. This is the equivalent of me telling my kids "Go to your room" or "Go outside and play". It's clear that I'm not going outside or to their rooms with them. They are departing from my presence. Does this sound like the way Yahweh operates? I don't think so. That would be a pretty significant violation of His promise to always be with His chosen people. It doesn't seem right that He would say "I will never leave you nor forsake you, now go away."

If Yahweh is saying come in to Pharaoh, we can visualize Yahweh leading Moshe into Pharaoh's throne room. If I say "Come to the synagogue", it is implied that we will be together. Therefore, we can translate this as Yahweh saying "Come with Me to Pharaoh". I think this is a better fit with what I know about Yahweh (granted that's not as much as I would like). So, "bo" along with me as we delve deeper into this week's parasha.

As we begin this portion, Moshe and Aharon have come to give Pharaoh another warning. Locusts! Aharon warns Pharaoh that the locusts will cover the entire land, worse than has ever been seen before. We immediately see a small, but very significant, change in the dynamics of Egyptian life. Before Pharaoh has a chance to respond, his servants begin to argue with him. Imagine, servants speaking apparently rather boldly to their "god-king". What would cause them to do the unthinkable? Remember the preceding plague? That's right, hail, the first plague to kill people. Which people would have been killed by the hail? I would suggest that few regular Egyptians were out working in the fields with livestock. It would have been the servants that had to face the danger. Who had to die. These servants who had placed their trust in Pharaoh to protect them. And now, Pharaoh is still arguing with Moshe and Aharon instead of ending the plagues. How important were the lives of servants to their king? The evidence was not favorable for Pharaoh.

These servants were witnesses to opposing attitudes from two different deities. One, their Pharaoh, was seemingly indifferent to the suffering of lowly servants. He was only strongly vocal when the plagues inconvenienced Pharaoh. The other, Yahweh, who was willing to destroy an entire nation to free and protect a bunch of slaves. The lowest of the low, the most despised in all the land. These were the people important enough to Yahweh to make His presence felt with extreme prejudice. As we read through the accounts of the plagues, we see Yahweh systematically attacking various aspects of Egyptian society. He attacks them economically, psychologically, and theologically. Now he continues the trend and attacks their faith and trust in their king. I wonder how many of the mixed multitude that left Egypt were servants.

To Pharaoh's credit, he actually listens to his servants and offers to let the Israelites go and worship Yahweh. Until he hears who is going. His reaction to the news that ALL the Israelites are leaving? "Ain't happening! Yahweh will have to be with you to get all of you out of here." Who knew that Pharaoh was a prophet? Albeit not a very enlightened one, apparently. He didn't bother to listen to his own statements. With his refusal to let them go, the plagues must go on. Here "bo" the locusts. A strong east wind brings locusts that cover the entire land, destroying all plants and trees in Egypt. We now see an amazing change in Pharaoh. He summons Moshe and admits to sinning against both Yahweh and Moshe. He actually asks for forgiveness and asks Moshe to intercede with Yahweh to remove the locusts. Humility from Pharaoh! Who'd a thunk it? Yahweh responds and removes the locusts with a strong west wind. There "bo" the locusts. But He hardens Pharaoh's heart again. His plan is not yet complete.

The penultimate plague is another no-warning plague. At Yahweh's command, Moshe lifts his staff and darkness descends on the land. There is no light anywhere in Egypt, except Goshen. The Israelites have light in all their homes. I will leave you this week to ponder the significance of the Israelites being the only source of light in a darkened world. Is there a chance for His people to be a light in a darkened world again? Must we wait, or are we expected to be that light now?

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Va'era (I appeared)

Va'era (I appeared)
Sh'mot 6:2-9:35

Get the video or audio of this teaching at http://bima.sermon.net/20295400.

This is going to be one of my longer posts. This week's Torah portion has much that we can learn beyond the basics of the plague stories that we all know so well. I will be discussing two topics that I have named "The Plague Pattern" and "The Staff of God". I will go into detail about both of these topics as we go along.

But first, I want to address the beginning of the Torah portion when YHVH seems to contradict his own Torah. In Sh'mot (Exodus) 6:3 Yahweh says “…I did not make myself known to them by my name, YHVH.” Yet, His name is shown repeatedly in Torah during the stories of Avraham, Ya’akov, etc. We even see in B'resheet (Genesis) 32:9 that Ya'akov refers to Him as Yahweh. So how can they not have known His name? To understand this statement, we must understand that a name is more than just a name. It is not enough for someone to know that my name is Robbie. There are plenty of people named Robbie running around, mostly unsupervised. There is even another one running around inside my own house. Therefore, if I tell someone that I am Robbie, I haven't really told them that much about me. To make a name known is to show the full meaning of the one who owns the name. If I tell you my last name, where I live, that I am a husband and father, you begin to know more of who I am. In the context of Torah study and instruction, I can tell you that at our synagogue, I am the Gabbai (like an MC, I control the order of service, lead announcements and liturgy, etc.), I am an elder, I am a teacher, and I am the son of the head Rabbi. Now you can start to understand more of me and my authority to write this blog. Each new bit of information gets you closer to "knowing my name".

For the Patriarchs, they did not yet know the full extent of YHVH’s power and might. They had only begun to see some of who He is. While they had the promise of YHVH, they had not yet seen the fulfillment of His promise. That fulfillment would be seen by their descendants. Someone's name is his reputation. In other words, we are known by our actions. Looking back from our present day, we can see that fulfilling the promise to give the land to Avraham's descendants made His name known.

Read verses 4-8 of this chapter and you will see YHVH explaining to the Israelites how He will make His name known. He reminds them of the covenant, describes how He will fulfill that covenant, and then finishes His description with His name, showing the completion of His introduction.

According to the prophets of the Tanakh and Revelation, He will make His name known again.

Now let's get to the topics I mentioned above.

The Staff of God

This topic actually starts with last week's Torah portion. As we all know, when Yahweh spoke to Moshe at the burning bush, He got Moshe's attention through the staff that Moshe carried. As a shepherd, he would always have his staff when in the field. It made for a good teaching tool. It also shows us a pattern that Yahweh still uses today. Something ordinary, when used by Yahweh and for Yahweh, becomes extraordinary. A staff, a rock in the desert, a teenager too small to fight a giant. These are only a few examples. But there are times when even the extraordinary isn't quite enough.

In Sh'mot 4:2-4, we see Moshe's staff turn into a snake. When Moshe picks it up, it reverts back to a staff. This is important; Moshe is now holding his staff in his hand. Now read verse 17. It's OK. I'll wait.

Are you back? Good. If Moshe is already holding his staff in his hand, as verse 4 tells us that he is, what staff is Yahweh telling him to take? If you were holding a bottle of your favorite beverage (mmm... Mt. Dew) and said "Here, take this Mt. Dew", would you think I was referring to the one in your hand, or to a new one that I am giving you? If I wanted you to take the one in your hand, I would say "your Mt. Dew", not "this Mt. Dew." See the difference? Read verse 17 again. There is no use of "your". Now go to verse 20 and read the second sentence. I'm waiting again.

Welcome back. Did you see anything interesting in that verse. Whose staff did Moshe take with him to Egypt? Who's staff was needed to perform miracles in Egypt? Why did Moshe need to take God's staff to Egypt instead of his own? We already saw it turn into a snake once. Why couldn't it be used for the same purpose again? I think the better question to ask is, in who's authority was Moshe to act in Egypt?

In Midian, Moshe's staff was his tool for exercising power and control over his flocks. Moshe didn't go to Egypt to display his own power. He was given authority by Yahweh, and therefore needed a symbol of Yahweh's power. Hence, the staff of God.

The Hebrew word for staff is matteh. Interestingly, this word can be translated as rod, staff, branch, or tribe. It can refer to a rod of correction, a ruling sceptre, a lance, a walking staff, or figuratively as a support of life. In the case of God's staff in Egypt, we can see it being used for correction of Pharaoh, a ruling sceptre to show Yahweh's authority given to Moshe, and as a support of life in saving the Israelites from Pharaoh. Remember, Yahweh doesn't give us a single lesson to learn with each of His actions. Everything we read in Torah has many meanings and layers of meaning. I challenge you to spend some time rereading these chapters, substituting each meaning of matteh, and looking for new understanding. This is also a good way to find connections to other verses throughout the Tanakh and B'rit Chadasha that use the same word in different contexts.

Speaking of Moshe using the power of Yahweh in Egypt, that leads us to our next topic.

The Plague Pattern

Anyone who has studied Torah for any length of time or has heard me teach a time or two is aware that Yahweh uses patterns. The cyclical pattern is very clear and applies in micro and macro scale throughout scripture. As we continue to study, though, we can see other patterns emerging. In this Torah portion, we can see patterns in the order and types of plagues that are brought upon Egypt. The plagues in this portion are grouped into three sets of three. The final plague is a capstone that closes out the pattern while keeping itself separate.

Let's begin with the first three plagues. These three are different from the rest in that they affected the Israelites as well as the Egyptians. Within these three we can see a pattern that is unique to this set. The first plague, turning the water to blood, was duplicated by Pharaoh's magicians. It appeared from the start that Pharaoh was as powerful as Yahweh. It is important to remember that Yahweh allowed this to be seen by the Israelites. They needed to see the power of Pharaoh. The second plague, frogs, was also duplicated by the magicians. However, there was a problem. They could not get rid of the frogs. Pharaoh was forced to ask Moshe to have Yahweh remove the frogs. The Israelites and Egyptians began to see that Yahweh was stronger than Pharaoh. Now came the third plague, lice. This was the final plague to affect Israel. Pharaoh's magicians were forced to admit that they could not duplicate this feat. They had no choice but to acknowledge that this was a work of God. More importantly, Israel had no choice but to acknowledge it also.

When the fourth plague, insects (or flies, or wild beasts - the meaning of the word is unclear) comes, we begin to see another pattern. If you look at the first nine plagues in groups of three as I mentioned earlier, you will see that the first of each set starts with Moshe and Aharon speaking to Pharaoh at the river. These were very public pronouncements made to Pharaoh where everyone could see and hear them. They were public challenges to his authority and power. The second of each set is preceded by Moshe and Aharon approaching Pharaoh in his throne room. While the announcements are less public, they are more threatening to Pharaoh's seat of power. They are a direct confrontation where he is strongest. Finally, the third plague comes without warning. No proclamations are made and Pharaoh is given no chance to avoid the plague by releasing the Israelites. These plagues show Pharaoh that Yahweh can do anything he wants in Egypt, with our without Pharaoh's knowledge, and there is nothing Pharaoh can do about it.

Another pattern is seen in the types of plagues in each group and the escalating severity. In each group there is a large-scale annoyance plague, an all-pervasive plague, and a deadly plague, all increasing in intensity and severity. These do not stay in the same order in each group, possibly as a way of intensifying the fear and uncertainty gripping the land. The annoyance plagues consist of frogs, insects, and locusts. Each gets harder to deal with until the last destroys their food supply. The next group are the all-pervasive plagues. The lice, like the frogs, are everywhere. They are much smaller and nearly impossible to remove. The boils come upon everyone in a fine dust that is unavoidable. Finally, the darkness that was impenetrable. These escalated from very annoying, to painful, to terrifying. Finally, there were the deadly plagues. The first plague was turning the water to blood. We see that all the fish died. While unpleasant and rough on the seafood industry, it was not a long-term hardship for the Egyptians. The next was the livestock disease. Killing all the animals was a significant hit to the Egyptian economy and food supply. Finally, in group three, we have the hail. This is the first plague to kill humans and is therefore the worst of the death plagues. Until we get to the final plague which combines features of every group.

The last plague included an annoyance; can't go out after dark. It was all-pervasive; every Egyptian home was affected. And it was the most devastating death plague. It was a targeted killing that struck the very fabric of Egyptian society, including Pharaoh's own house. Yahweh pulled out all the stops. The message from this final plague was clear. Pharaoh tried to destroy Yahweh's firstborn, Israel. Yahweh succeeded in destroying Pharaoh's firstborn. He disrupted the line of succession and inheritance. The last plague had permanent effects for Egypt. And for Pharaoh.

The patterns don't end with the plagues themselves. Yahweh was also setting up a pattern for Israel's future. As I mentioned earlier, Yahweh will make His name known again. We read of a Greater Exodus that will take place. What patterns can you see in the prophecies of this time?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parasha Nitzavim (and Vayalekh?)

EDIT (9/19/14): I was informed that, despite it being a leap year, Nitzavim is still paired with Vayalekh this year. In light of that, there are no changes to this teaching and you are on your own to study Vayalekh. Have fun. :)

Nitzavim (Standing)
D'varim 29:9-30:20

This is a short Torah portion this week. Normally it is combined with the next portion, Vayalekh, but since this is a leap year, we get it by itself. This is the shortest Torah portion of the year at only 40 verses. While this is a quick read, it should not be assumed that there is little we can learn. As usual, YHVH has given us much to think about at various levels in this short portion.

This parasha continues the final teaching of Moshe before Israel enters the Promised Land. He begins this section by telling us who he was addressing. He says that everyone there is "standing today before YHVH your Elohim". He this lists all who are there from the leaders of Israel down to the foreigner staying in the camp, the man who cuts your wood, and the one who draws the water. He tells the people that they are there to enter covenant with YHVH. But wait! Didn't Israel enter into covenant with YHVH back at Mt. Sinai 40 years ago? Yes and no. The generation who came out of Egypt entered into covenant with YHVH, but they broke the covenant and died in the wilderness. Moshe is now speaking to the second generation who have not made that official declaration of acceptance and commitment.

However, Moshe explains in the next paragraph that he is not speaking only to those who were standing before him. He explains that this covenant is "with him who stands today before YHVH our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today." All of Israel was standing there at the time? To whom else was he speaking? To all future generations of Israel, both natural-born and those grafted into the commonwealth. Some people say that Torah doesn't apply today. Moshe puts the lie to that statement right here.

Moshe then tells them (us) what would happen when the people turned away from Torah. First, the would think that they were okay. "I'll still do what I want and be counted among the righteous." Unfortunately for those who think this way, he tells us that YHVH will not forgive that attitude. All the curses spoken of in the last parasha will be put upon that person and his name blotted out from under heaven. This paragraph is written in singular form, speaking of the sins of an individual. The next paragraph changes to plural form, speaking of the entire nation of Israel.

Torah and it's blessings and curses apply to the individual and to the nation. As Israelites, we are expected to follow Torah and be accountable for our actions. As Israel, we are expected to follow Torah and be accountable for each other's actions. We must police ourselves so YHVH doesn't have to get involved. This is very similar to the way the motion picture industry was designed. At first there were no regulations; no censors, no ratings, etc. The movie makers went beyond what was acceptable and refused to police themselves. The Motion Picture Association of America was formed to take care of these issues. The community began to police itself to avoid government intervention. Those who would not govern themselves individually no had another safeguard in place. The safeguard can still be bypassed; unrated movies and independent releases bypass the MPAA. By doing so, however, the movie makers lose all benefits of membership in the MPAA; promotion, support, etc. How does this apply to us as believers?

If we don't follow Torah properly as individuals, the community is expected to intervene. We are to tell individuals the standards and work with them to stay within those standards. We can still bypass those safeguards by leaving the community, but in so doing, we lose the benefits of membership; blessings, instruction, and a relationship with YHVH. By choosing to stay within the community, a part of the nation of Israel, we are required to adhere to the community standards as set forth by Moshe from YHVH.

Just as there are some who say we don't have to keep Torah (an argument destroyed by Moshe as seen above), there are others who say we can't keep the Torah. It is too difficult. Well, that argument is handled by Moshe as well. In verse 29:28 Moshe tells us that the hidden things belong to YHVH. Some things are not for us to know or understand. We don't need to worry about those things; YHVH will take care of those. But all things that have been revealed belong to us. Therefore Torah belongs to us. We CAN, and indeed must, keep all of it. But what about our human fallacies? We all know that we make mistakes and fail to keep Torah correctly at all times. Doesn't that fit with the argument that we can't keep Torah? Only if you forget about t'shuvah (repentance). YHVH made a way for us to keep Torah even when we are too human to keep Torah. If we make a mistake, we can repent and turn back to the right path. Through Yeshua, we are restored and can retain our righteousness.

There is more in this short Torah portion, but I must leave something for you to study for yourselves. We have already heard from Moshe about the future misdeeds of our people. He knew that we would violate Torah and reap the curses and lose the land we were promised. This section of Torah can get a little depressing because of his comments and prophecies. However, reading the last half of this portion will keep your spirits up and give reason to rejoice. There is a day coming when... well, read it for yourself. I don't want to spoil the ending.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Parasha Re'eh

Re'eh - See
D'varim 11:26-16:17

For this week's teaching, I will be focusing on the first aliyah of the the Torah portion. This parasha begins with a familiar refrain that we will hear repeated throughout the book of D'varim; blessings and curses. But first, let's take a look at what YHVH has Moshe saying to the people.

The parasha starts with the name of this portion, re'eh. Re'eh, like most Hebrew words can be translated multiple ways. The most common is as see or behold. However, it can also mean learn about or understand. I believe in this instance, the meaning is a combination of these. Like the word sh'ma means more than just hear, but hear and do, re'eh means more than just see. It means to see or perceive and understand. Learn the meaning of what is being said and take it to heart. It has both a physical and spiritual component that must be made a part of our very being.

Now let's look at the first line of the Torah portion, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse...". The first word is singular; it is speaking directly to each individual. Moshe is saying "I am speaking to you personally." The word used for before you, lifneikhem, is plural. In this case, Moshe is referring to the whole nation of Israel. Why the difference? This is Moshe's way of reminding us that each individual has a responsibility to protect the whole. In essence, we can translate this opening (using myself as an example) as "See and understand, Robbie, I am setting before the whole people of Israel a blessing and a curse; you, Robbie, will choose for yourself which to receive as well as being a part of ensuring one or the other for this nation." As you can see, it's much more concise in the Hebrew. Those listening to this in the desert beside the Jordan River knew exactly what Moshe was saying.

The blessing and the curse that Moshe pronounced are two sides of the same requirement. As he states, we receive the blessing if we obey the mitzvot (commandments) of YHVH, and the curse if we do not listen and obey. He continues on to define disobedience as to "turn aside from the way I am ordering you today and follow other gods that you have not known". This last can also be translated as "gods that have not proven themselves to you". This sets them apart from YHVH who has proven Himself repeatedly throughout the last 40 years.

Moshe next commands the people to put the blessing on Mount G'rizim and the curse on Mount 'Eival once we enter the land. Both of these mountains are on the West side of the Jordan, inside the Promised Land. This is a reminder to us that the blessings and curses are a choice for only those who choose to accept the covenant of the land offered to His people. Anyone choosing to remain outside the land, choosing not to accept His covenant, is free from making a choice of accepting the blessing or the curse. This also reminds us that there is a responsibility involved in making the choice. We must take the land before we can get the blessing.

Moshe now lists some of the things we must do upon entering the land. We must destroy all the places where other nations served their gods; on high mountains, on hills, or under a leafy tree. We must break down their altars and smash their standing-stones to pieces. We must burn up their sacred poles and cut down carved images of their gods. We must exterminate their name from that place. Whose names must we exterminate? The gods of the nations. Not only are we to avoid following their gods, we must not even try to learn their ways of worshiping. Many people today will try to use scholarship or understanding of other cultures to justify learning other ways of worship. Even in many seminaries, students are encouraged to learn the ways of others. This is supposed to make us more tolerant and accepting of other religions and beliefs. Unfortunately that also makes us more tolerant and accepting of other religions and beliefs. Accepting that others have a belief is not the same as accepting those beliefs. Too many times, however, our people have blended those two types of acceptance. This is the reason for this command to avoid learning their ways. YHVH knew and still knows our hearts and our weaknesses.

As we study this Torah portion, we must not only see the words. We must understand and accept into our hearts the commands we were given. We must then choose, with open hearts and minds, whether to obey or not; whether to receive the blessings or the curse. May we always choose Mount G'rizim and stay away from Mount 'Eival.