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.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Parasha Masa'ei

Parasha Masa’ei – Stages
B’midbar 33:1-36:13

This Torah portion brings us full circle from the beginning of B’midbar, as well as from the beginning of the Israelites’ journey through the desert. The portion begins with a recitation of each stage of their journey, where they camped along the way. This brings us from Egypt to the edge of the Promised Land in just a few short paragraphs. This is a good way to remind us of all that our people went through in their journey from bondage to land-owning nationhood. As each location is mentioned, we can remember back to the events that transpired in that location. It serves as an outline for our study of scripture and this important part of our history.
In smaller scale, we are reminded of the entire book of B’midbar. At the beginning of this book, in parasha B’midbar, Moshe is commanded to take a census of the people. The census was used to enumerate the army of Israel. These would be the men who would fight for the land when they crossed the river. This was the beginning of preparing the people for their entry into the covenant land and the responsibility they had in acquiring it. However, a little later in the book of B’midbar, we see that the perfect plan is not to be. In parasha Shlach L’kha, the people are on the brink of entering the Promised Land and taking possession of their inheritance. Unfortunately, our people were not ready for such a blessing. Their faith in YHVH to deliver the land to them – despite the many enemies they would face, including the giant Nephilim – was not strong enough to sustain them. They lost their courage to enter the land and chose instead to return to Egypt! That was the ultimate manifestation of a lack of faith in the Almighty. Rather than allowing the people to return, thus destroying YHVH’s nation and His reputation, YHVH forced the people to roam the desert for 38 more years until that generation died in the wilderness. YHVH would not allow that fallen generation to inherit His land, and He would not allow the land to be defiled by unfaithfulness. The price to enter the land changed from membership in the nation of Israel, to the blood price of the entire generation that left Egypt.
The sixth aliyah of this parasha begins the discussion of the cities of refuge, six cities that would be a safe haven for anyone who accidentally killed another. Anyone convicted of murder – based on the testimony of at least two witnesses – had to be put to death. No other punishment was available. In the case of an accidental killing, there had to be a way to avoid death at the hands of the victim’s family; at least until the trial. The accused could enter one of the six cities of refuge – three on each side of the Yarden – and were protected until they could be tried. If they were found guilty, they faced the normal punishment for murder. If they were found innocent, the victim’s family could not harm him as long as he stayed in the city. If he left the city, however, and the family avenged the death by killing him, they would not be guilty of murder. This amounted to a form of house arrest until the cohen ha’gadol (high priest) serving at the time of his trial died. Then he would be free to return to his home in peace. But why would someone who has been judged an innocent man be subject to punishment? If the high priest was new to his position, it could be many years before the man could return home. The answer ties us again to an earlier portion of the book of B’midbar.

The shedding of innocent blood, even by accident, defiles the land.  Once the land is defiled, only blood can make atonement. In the case of a murderer, it must be his own blood. In the case of the accidental killer, the death of the cohen ha’gadol will make atonement. Once the man has been atoned, he may return to his land without defiling it. The blood is no longer upon him. But what does this have to do with anything earlier in the book? When the first generation of Israel refused to enter the land, thus defiling themselves and their covenant with YHVH, they could not enter. Had they been allowed into the land, they would have defiled it. As YHVH says in this Torah portion, only blood can make atonement. Therefore, the people of Israel had to die to make atonement and allow the next generation to enter. YHVH’s rules often fit multiple circumstances, differing only by size and degree. A single person killing a fellow man can only get atonement through blood. A generation of people killing a covenant promise can only get atonement through blood. A planet of people guilty of all manner of violations of Torah, can only get atonement through blood.  What price will be required from the final generation when the time of judgment comes?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Hukkat - Regulation

Hukkat (Chukat) - Regulation

Throughout the Torah, there are instructions to be learned, teachings to take to heart, and rules and ordinances to observe and obey. Most of these instructions and regulations are understandable, albeit sometimes only after some study and prayer. However, once in a while, we see something that just doesn't make sense to us. One example from an earlier Torah portion is kosher foods. YHVH doesn't tell us why unclean animals are unclean, he simply states that they are so. In the 3500 years since the regulation was given, there have been many interpretations put forth as to why these rules exist. Some may even be correct. The point is, we don't know for sure from a reading of the text.

This week's parasha includes two items that lead to such speculation and varied interpretation. The first comes at the very beginning of the portion regarding the red heifer. Why does sprinkling someone with water mixed with the ashes of a burnt heifer make them clean? Why does mixing the ashes in the water make the person doing the mixing unclean? Why does the heifer have to be burned outside the camp as an unclean item, but the blood sprinkled toward the tent of meeting is clean? As I said before, there have been many different interpretations presented over the millennia. There may be some truth to some, none or all of these interpretations. We simply don't know.

This leads me to the focus of this teaching. Today we are going to focus on the third aliyah, or third reading, of this week's Torah portion, which is Chapter 20:7-13. The story actually begins in verse 2 with the people of Israel running out of water. As is the norm among our people, when facing hardship, we blamed Moshe for bringing us out to the desert to die. This has been the default response for any difficulty faced by Israel for nearly 40 years. Low on food? Moshe brought us out here to die. Low on water? Moshe brought us here to die. Hangnail? Stubbed toe? Splinters and blisters from setting up and tearing down our tents 40+ times? Moshe brought us out here to die. Do you see a pattern forming? But there is another pattern that we see. Moshe's response to the complaints of the people. In verse 6 we see the same thing that is repeated throughout the Torah. Moshe (and Aharon) fell on their faces before YHVH.

And now begins the third aliyah, and the confusion. YHVH provides a way to give water to His people, same as He did forty years earlier. He told Moshe to bring forth water from a rock. This was something Moshe could understand. After all, he had seen it before. However, this time there was a difference. The first time, he was told to strike the rock with his staff and it would produce water. For this latest incident, YHVH changed things. He once again told Moshe to take his staff, but then He told Moshe to speak to the rock. He tells Moshe to "tell the rock to produce its water." (CJB) What happens next is the source of thousands of years’ worth of discussion and debate. When Moshe gathered the people, he deviated from the instructions he had just received. Was it out of frustration? Was it anger? Was it lightheadedness from standing under the desert sun? A cursory reading of the text makes it appear that he was at the very least frustrated with these people, as evidenced by his use of the phrase "you rebels." Hardly a complimentary description of the nation he has led all these years. It says in verse 10 in the Complete Jewish Bible: "Listen here, you rebels! Are we supposed to bring you water from this rock?" And then it happens. Moshe does not speak to the rock as he was commanded. He instead strikes the rock with his staff... twice. What happens next? We would expect that violating YHVH's plan would cause the rock to stay dry and the people to remain thirsty, correct? Wrong. It was YHVH's plan for His people to get water from that rock. Therefore, something as small as Moshe's temper tantrum (?) would ot be enough to circumvent His will. As we have seen many times before and after, when YHVH intends something to happen, it will happen. He just may have to circumvent our will to make it so.

After bringing water to the people, Moshe finds out the extent of his transgression. YHVH tells him that he will no longer be allowed to bring the people into the Promised Land. He would get them to the border but would not be allowed to cross over the river with them. What a harsh punishment. There could hardly be a stronger earthly punishment for such as Moshe. The culmination of his life's work has just been placed out of reach. Just like the rest of the first generation who wouldn't reach the Promised Land, neither would their first leader.

So what exactly was Moshe's sin? This has been the big debate. One school of thought says he sinned by striking the rock instead of speaking to it, in direct defiance of a command from YHVH. Another says that the problem was that he acted out of anger, and not out of faith in YHVH. Still another makes the argument that he stole glory from YHVH by stating that he and Aharon would bring water from the rock. Personally, I think it is more complicated than any one answer. I believe there was some of each of these and possible more involved in his transgression.

Clearly, striking the rock when he was told to speak to it was a direct violation of YHVH's command. Even if it wasn't one of the 613 commandments in the Torah, it was still a directive that came from YHVH Himself. Moshe didn't do what he was told, and therefore sinned. But that, I believe would not be enough to cost him the Promised Land. After all, YHVH had forgiven Israel and their ancestors of much worse in the past. Could his anger and frustration have kept him from the land? Again, others had shown anger and been forgiven. And if anyone had reason to be frustrated, it had to be Moshe after leading this motley crew for 40 years. I think he could have been forgiven for this as well. But, he compounded all his errors by taking credit for YHVH's work. YHVH does not share glory. This is leading us to the strongest transgression of all. Moshe showed a lack of faith in YHVH. This caused YHVH Himself to call Moshe out for not trusting Him. Moshe allowed his frustration and anger to turn his focus from YHVH and onto his own troubles. This lack of focus caused him to strike the rock, falling back on his own prior understanding, instead of speaking to it as he was told.

Rabbi Lord Sacks presents an interesting interpretation of the event. He says that the first generation that had been slaves were used to lessons coming by being struck with a staff. That was the way slaves were taught. It was a technique they could understand. The second generation, however, were a free people. They needed to be taught by a leader speaking. This fits with the new instruction that Moshe was given. By striking the rock, he was treating the new generation as a group of Egyptian slaves, rather than the free Israelites. Therefore Israel needed a new leader that would be able to lead a free people as they entered the land.

I think there is probably some truth to each of the possibilities, but as with so many things about YHVH and his grand design, we may have to wait until Yeshua can explain it to us.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Parasha B'chukkotai

B'chukkotai - By my regulations

Today's teaching will focus on the third aliyah of this Torah portion. YHVH has been giving Moshe instructions to give to Israel for their entrance into the land. This parasha focuses on YHVH's judgment, justice, and mercy. It begins with a list of blessings on the people if we will only "live by my regulations, observe my mitzvot and obey them". Unfortunately, as YHVH knows his people very well, this is the shortest part of the Torah portion. The next 25 verses deal with punishment for disobedience. It would probably be more, but I suspect YHVH wished to keep things brief so Moshe wouldn't have to spend another 40 days on the mountain.

Among the punishments listed is His people being dispersed among the nations. The reason for this dispersal is spelled out plainly in verse 35; the land will have its Shabbats. What does He mean by this? As we learned in last week's Torah portion, the land is supposed to get a Shabbat rest every seventh year. 2 Chronicles 36:21 tells us that the Babylonian captivity would be 70 years to allow the land to be paid all of the Shabbats that were not observed by Israel. This is part of YHVH's justice.

All of the blessings and curses listed in this parasha are part of His justice. If we obey, we are rewarded. If we disobey, we are punished. It is a simple formula. However, being all-too-human as we tend to be, we have never been very good at keeping that formula in mind. As a people, we have violated every commandment He gave us and then expected to continue to be blessed. It still goes on today. Fortunately for us, YVHV's justice is tempered by His mercy.

Beginning in verse 39, we begin to hear how things will be restored. YHVH tells us that not all of His people will be driven from the land. A remnant shall remain. This is both a blessing and a curse. While it is a blessing to retain the land and keep a presence of His people there, it is a curse because they will have to watch the land grow desolate. He tells us that it will be those people, the remnant in the land, that will be able to bring about the restoration. He says that they will confess their misdeeds and those of their ancestors. He then tells us that if His people will then humble their hearts and serve their punishment, he will remember His covenant with Ya'akov, with Yitz'chak, and with Avraham. And He will remember the land. After the land has been paid its Shabbats, He will restore the covenant and bring the people back to the land. Not a bad deal from the so-called "God of Wrath" of the Old Testament. Mercy existed long before the book of Matthew.

Speaking of books in the B'rit Chadasha, in Luke 15:11-32, we read one of the best-known parables of the Bible. Yeshua tells the story of the prodigal son. Many people interpret this story to be about the individual sinner who has fallen away from God and chooses later to come back home. While there is definitely a bit of that in the story, they miss the larger picture. Remember that YHVH is the God of Israel. This story is the same as this week's Torah portion, just told in a parable. Israel - the prodigal son - will take her birthright and heritage for granted and leave the land of the covenant. They will choose to be a part of the larger world instead of remaining in the house of the Father and following His rules. Their fortunes will turn to despair as they realize what they have lost. When they turn their eyes and hearts back to their Father and His ways, they will be brought back in and enjoy a feast in their Father's house. This is the true story of the prodigal son, as told all the way back in Vayikra.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

K'doshim - Holy People

This week's Torah portion, K'doshim, is normally read along with Acharei Mot. However,since this is a leap year, it gets an entire week to itself.

K'doshim means "holy people". This entire Torah portion deals with how we are to be a holy people for YHVH. It begins with a restatement of a few of the ten commandments, including honoring your mother and father, keeping Shabbat, and not making idols. These are ways that we are to be a people apart. We are commanded to be different from the world around us. Holy means "set apart". We cannot call ourselves holy if we act just like the rest of the world.

Chapter 19 deals mainly with ways in which we are to be holy. We see how to deal with our fellow man; don't steal, don't lie, judge righteously, don't spread slander. We also see how we are to treat the land and its produce; don't harvest the corners of your field, fruit trees are forbidden for three years, don't intermix your livestock. Verse 33 is a very important one. It says that the foreigner in our land must be treated the same as a native-born Israelite. This is another way of saying "One Torah". This chapter is all about how we do the things that make us holy. There is no mention of punishment or consequences.

Chapter 20 changes tone. We now begin to see consequences and punishment prescribed by YHVH for violations of holiness. Some violations result in being cut off from the community. This is the gentlest punishment listed in this part of the parasha. These offenses include many sexual improprieties. This also includes people who know of a stronger violation but do not stop it. Other violations result in death. These are serious offenses that were common in the land into which the people were called to enter. Listed offenses include child sacrifice, adultery, and homosexuality.

Why does YHVH spend so much time telling us about holiness? Because he wants his people to be different from those who are being removed from the land. He says that the people already there are being destroyed because they are an abomination. His people are to be different. If we wish to be a part of His people, we must also be different.

One easy way to remember to be holy is to simply show respect for each other, for the land, and for YHVH himself. By leaving the corners of the field unharvested, you provide for the poor and the orphans. You show respect for the land when you allow the trees to grow fruit unmolested for three years. You show respect for YHVH by obedience and sacrifice.

How would our world be different today if we simply showed respect in this way? For example, chapter 19, verse 32 says we should stand in the presence of the gray-haired. This includes male and female as can be seen by the use of the feminine form of the Hebrew word seybah and the male word zaqen. Do we stand in the presence of our elders today? *In English the word hoary means gray. Compare that to verse 29 above it about making our daughter a whore. Today, many parents don't literally turn their daughter into a whore, but they treat her as one. In fact, we give more respect and honor to actors, singers, etc. who dress and act like a whore than we do to our elders. Society has it backwards.*

Which will you choose to honor; the hoary, or the whore?

*This section was suggested to me by my good friend Stan at Coffee & Devotions. He deserves the credit.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Tazria - She Conceives

Vayikra (Leviticus) 12:1-13:59

This Torah portion is the middle of three discussions of clean and unclean. In last week's parasha, Sh'mini, we learned about clean and unclean foods. Things outside of us that make us tahor (clean) or tameh (unclean). In this portion, we begin to deal with our own internal uncleanness. I will be focusing on the first aliyah or first reading of the parasha. The Torah portion begins with a woman becoming unclean by childbirth.

I'd like to take a moment to point out something that was brought to my attention by a good friend, Stan Randall at Coffee and Devotions. The title of this Torah portion, Tazria, means "She conceives". It refers to the moment of conception being the defining moment, not "this trimester" or "so many weeks" or even birth. Birth is listed second as a completion of conception. Understanding this simple statement in one section of one portion of Torah could completely end the entire abortion debate and make this world a better, more blessed place.

And now back to our regularly scheduled teaching. YHVH tells Moshe to tell the people that a woman who has a son is unclean for seven days. On the eighth day, she is to have the boy circumsized. He then goes on to say that the woman must wait thirty-three more days before she can be purified. She is not unclean, but neither is she clean. She cannot touch anything holy or come into the sanctuary during this time. If she gives birth to a girl, for reasons not given by YHVH, her period of uncleanness and her wait for purification are doubled. She is unclean for fourteen days and must wait an additional sixty-six days before purification. Many different opinions have been offered through the years as to the reason for the difference, ranging from patriarchal superiority to punishment for Eve's sin in the garden. Personally, I think there is probably some compensation involved for male children having to go through circumcision while the females get to skip that requirement. But that may just be the modern-male squeamishness talking. (Choose among them as you will, your mileage may vary, author is not responsible for intentional or unintentional misuse of information gathered from outside sources and the opinions formed or held by readers thereof.)

We now learn of the requirement for the woman to be purified so that she can return to the sanctuary. There are two offerings required; a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon or dove for a sin offering. If she can't afford a lamb, two pigeons or doves will suffice. This leads to an interesting question. Why the sin offering? What sin has the woman committed? Has she not in fact obeyed one of the earliest of all commands, to go forth and multiply? How can she then be guilty of committing a sin? I humbly submit that she is not guilty of any sin in the childbirth itself. However, as she has been unable to approach the sanctuary or the altar, she has been unable to bring her normal sin offering for up to two and a half months. Is it likely that she has committed no sins at all during that time? Had no impure thoughts during the painful childbirth or when the baby is crying all night? Never had a disparaging thought about her husband who got her into this mess in the first place? This is her opportunity to gain atonement for all those things for which she has been unable to atone during her separation. If she has managed to be completely sinless during her entire time of separation, is the sin offering still necessary? Look at Vayikra 5:3. It clearly states that if someone touches human uncleanness, as soon as he is aware of it, he is guilty and must bring a sin offering. If a woman has been declared unclean - as any woman who has given birth has - she cannot be made clean without a sin offering. That's why the scripture tells us in the last part of verse eight; "the cohen will make atonement for her, and she will be clean."

But what about the husband? The father of the baby who brought forth so much uncleanness to the woman? There's no mention of him being unclean. Or is there? Remember verse 5:3 earlier? If he touches his wife at all during her time of separation, he is unclean. He must then bring a sin offering to be made clean again. How's that patriarchal privilege working for you now? So why can he be made clean immediately? Why doesn't he have to wait 40 or 80 days like his wife? Well, if he has to remain separated and cannot be a part of the community for all that time, who is going to provide for the needs of the family? YHVH made a way for the family to continue to function while still observing the necessities of cleanness and holiness. He's good that way. He takes care of His people.

The last part of this aliyah begins the discussion of tzara'at, commonly translated as leprosy. It is pretty clear through reading the descriptions of tzara'at, however, that it has no connection to the modern disease of leprosy, also known as Hanson's disease. Everyone today can envision the leper with missing body parts and incurable organ damage. Where in this parasha are either of these symptoms mentioned? Leprosy is an incurable disease that always leads to painful, lingering death. Tzara'at can be cured by atonement and purification after repentance. How can they possibly be the same disease? The rabbis have taught for generations that tzara'at is a spiritual disease caused by inward sin. Haughtiness, arrogance, slander, and gossip are all causes of tzara'at according to the rabbis. Remember that Miriam was cursed with tzara'at for speaking out against her brother Moshe's leadership. Tzara'at was an outward sign of an inward condition. It is interesting to note that there has been no recorded case of biblical tzara'at since the loss of the Temple and our means for ritual purification. I believe that is further evidence that tzara'at is a sin condition more than a skin condition.

Without tzara'at in our midst today, does this part of the Torah portion have any relevance to us? Of course it does. Torah is a manual for life, not just in the wilderness outside Egypt 3500 years ago, but today, tomorrow, and forever. Is there still a problem of arrogance, gossip, or slander in the community today? Do we not need to have a plan for dealing with these issues? When these afflictions appear in our midst, we must remove them. The offender needs to be put outside the camp until they have repented and are made "clean".

Thursday, February 27, 2014


Sh'mot 38:21-40:38

This is the last of 5 parashot regarding the building of the tabernacle. It begins by listing the amounts of the precious metals used to build the tabernacle.

  • Gold - 1930 pounds
  • Silver - 6650 pounds
  • Bronze - 4680 pounds
They need the BIG trucks to move everything! But we see that this isn't all that the people brought. They brought so much that B'tzal'el had to have Moshe tell the people to stop bringing it. There was too much! Do we bring more than is required when YHVH calls us? Or do we complain about bringing the little that is required?

The next section describes the making of the priestly garments. It repeats the detailed description of the High Priest's garments. As we know when reading Torah, repetition implies significance. From this we can infer that those who are called to serve Him as priests are not to take the calling lightly, and are not to be taken lightly. Aharon's robes, breastplate, etc. contained gold and gems. It was very heavy. Therefore, his robes were a constant reminder that he carried a heavy burden for Israel.

We are told repeatedly that the people did exactly as YHVH had ordered Moshe. When we follow YHVH's commands as stated, the results are spectacular. YHVH's design plans created the tabernacle, man's design plans created the Roman coliseum. Let's compare the two. The coliseum is bigger and "grander". It was built to be permanent. It is a monument to pompous arrogance and is a place of death and depravity. The tabernacle, on the other hand, is more magnificent and moved with the people. It was an expression of our willingness to give of ourselves to YHVH. It was a place of Life and holiness. Which would you rather visit if given the choice?

Now let's compare two dwelling places of YHVH among the Israelites. The Tabernacle versus Solomon's temple. As I said before, the Tabernacle was YHVH's design and plan. YHVH desired to move with the people as they traveled. The Tabernacle was always in the center of the people wherever they were. It was built by willing artisans with materials donated as heart-felt gifts. Only materials willingly given were allowed in its construction. It was assembled by Moshe as YHVH insructed. Moshe blessed the people for the work they had done when construction was complete. YHVH's presence filled the Tabernacle per His desire. The temple was Solomon's design. It was a permanent structure in Israel. When the people were forced out of the land, the temple stayed behind. It was built with forced labor, not willing participants. There was no command from YHVH to build the temple. It was allowed because David wanted it and YHVH honored him. Solomon took credit for building the temple, but the work was outsourced to King Hiram of Tyre. His architects and builders did most of the work. While YHVH's presence did fill the temple, it was in respect for David's desire, not YHVH's.

Finally, we end the Torah portion with the cloud by day and fire by night. YHVH's presence descended to the Tabernacle and dwelt among His people. When the cloud of His presence moved, the people moved. If it stayed in place, the people stayed in place. The people of Israel literally followed YHVH daily. Do we?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Vayak'hel - He Assembled

Sh'mot (Exodus) 35:1-38:20

This Torah portion can be difficult to teach, simply because it is very short and spends most of its time restating what we already read in Parasha T'rumah three weeks ago. In normal years this portion is read along with the next portion, Pekudei. Since this is a leap year, we read them separately. So let's see what YHVH has for us in this Torah portion.

The portion tells us again about the voluntary offerings brought to build the tabernacle, all the implements to be used in the tabernacle, and the garments for the priests to serve. It says that the people brought gold, silver, and bronze; fine linen; blue, purple, and scarlet yarn; fine gems and stones, and acacia wood. Do you know where acacia trees grow? They are common in Australia, Africa, and the desert areas of the Near and Middle East. Where were the Israelites when they built the tabernacle? That's right, the desert of the Middle East. Do you think it is a coincidence that anyone who did not have the fine materials, precious metals, or gems could still provide some of the needed materials? All they had to do was give of their time to go out into the desert around them and gather wood. It's YHVH's way of making sure that anyone who was willing would be able to honor Him.

Speaking of willing, the Torah portion repeatedly states that only those who gave willingly were to bring an offering. In the Complete Jewish Bible it says "everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit made him willing." We never find out if all of Israel gave, or just some of them. The implication is that some chose not to give, since it keeps mentioning only those who were willing. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of punishment for anyone who chose not to bring an offering. It was truly a voluntary offering. It didn't even require that people brought "things". It stated that those women with skill in spinning brought the yarn and linen. Some women who didn't have yarn, came and gave of their time and energy to spin the goat's hair.

Everyone who gave for the building of the tabernacle, regardless of their gift, knew what it was for and how it would be used. Too many people today give without understanding why. The don't know two important things:
Where is the money going?
What is its purpose?
Unfortunately in many churches and synagogues, the leadership hasn't bothered to answer these questions, either. They often just continue to collect offerings because it's better to have more rather than less. They don't have a plan for how that money will be used for the advancement of YHVH's Kingdom or the betterment of His people. When was the last time you heard a church say "Stop bringing your offerings, it's too much"? And yet that is exactly what B'tzal'el told Moshe to tell the people. They brought too much for the project at hand.

Speaking of B'tzal'el, we learn more about him and his assistant Oholi'av and their roles in building the tabernacle. Wasn't it good luck that B'tzal'el was born with all the knowledge necessary for building the tabernacle? Metal work, sewing, spinning, weaving, setting gemstones, woodworking. He knew it all from birth and was just standing by waiting to be called upon to help, right? No? Well then he must have learned all those skills when he was a slave in Egypt. He obviously apprenticed with all the best teachers to learn metal working, sewing, spinning, weaving, setting gemstones, and woodworking. No? Well then how could he possibly have known all the things necessary for the building of the tabernacle? If we accept a common teaching of modern Christianity that the Holy Spirit is a New Testament thing - as we all know, it came about in Acts 10, right? - then the patently ridiculous options I listed would have to be the only possibilities. However, as readers and students of Torah, we know that the Spirit of God came upon B'tzal'el and gave him the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge of every kind of artisanry. B'tzal'el and his Oholi'av were both given the ability to teach others. Throw in some prophecy and speaking in tongues and they could have had an entire Pentecostal revival right there in the desert!

Clearly, the Holy Spirit is not something new in the New Testament, the B'rit Chadasha. However, we can see a difference in how the Spirit was given and manifested before and after the coming of Messiah Yeshua. In the Tanakh, we see that the Spirit was given to individuals as needed to complete a specific task. B'tzal'el for example. In the B'rit Chadasha, we see the Spirit poured out upon large groups and offered to all believers for all needs. The 120 men of Acts 10. Just as the Tanakh tells the story of a small nation chosen to be YHVH's people, and the B'rit Chadasha shows how all people can choose to be a part of that nation through Messiah Yeshua.

The last thing I want to discuss about this Torah portion is the composition of much of the furniture in the tabernacle and how that relates to the living Tabernacle that YHVH says will be built for His eternal reign. As we see in this portion, the ark, the altar of incense, the table for the showbread, and even the walls themselves were made from acacia wood and covered in fine gold. Why this arrangement? Why not just use wood as most furniture and walls were, or just gold if it had to be so pure?

Acacia wood is very strong, but it is not refined and pure like gold. Gold is pure and very beautiful. However, in its purest form, it is very soft and malleable. By combining the two, they create a strong, beautiful item that is pure enough to serve in YHVH's house. As the building blocks of YHVH's living tabernacle, we must be the same. We cannot just have the strength of the acacia wood. Strength without purity is selfish and worldly. It will break under pressure and show all the scratches and gouges gained through time and exposure. We cannot be pure like the fine gold without support. Purity alone is too weak to stand. It will bend under pressure and can be easily re-formed into a new shape. When we have strength and purity, then - and only then - will we be ready to serve in YHVH's kingdom.