The main point of Nitzavim (“You stand”) is that the Torah is enough, or sufficient. However, before I explore this in more detail, let’s look at the context. Nitzavim continues the topic of blessings and curses from last week. Our Father truly wants to bless his people; he wants us to be his people and he wants to be our Elohim. Remember all that he did forty years before this, and all that he has had to put up with through these last forty years? He is certainly committed to this purpose. Also, did you notice how this portion is bookended by a reference to the fact that he “swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” regarding the land, the blessings, the long life, and everything else that comes along with having a loving and obedience relationship with YHWH? Clearly, he loves us, wants the best for us, and desires our love and faithfulness as well.
Getting back to what I described as the main point, notice 29:29 “The secret things belong to YHWH our Elohim, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this Torah.” This verse follows a whole section dealing with idolatry and abandoning the covenant (Torah), but is then follow by talk of a time of teshuvah (repentance), restoration, gathering, circumcision of the heart, etc. In turn, this leads us into a description of the Torah as “not too hard for you, neither is it far off”, “very near you...in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it”, “the life and the good”, and “blessing”. Essentially, what our heavenly Father swore to our forefathers is manifested in the giving of his Torah. The Torah presents the way by which we will be his people and he will be our Elohim. When we begin to add to, or take away from, this Torah (something we aren’t to do, Deut. 4:2), things can get cloudy fast. It is implied in verse 29 that there are things we don’t know, or aren’t to know, but also that the Torah is ours to know and it is all we need. The Torah is enough, it is sufficient.
Unfortunately, in this movement, we are regularly seeing people who are looking for the next big secret or mysterious thing. Their focus turns toward the speculative rather than turning toward the Torah with their whole heart. Furthermore, these peripheral issues can, and often do, lead them away from following the weightier matters of the Torah. Even more frustrating are the various “Torah teachers” whose primary ministry seems to be luring people into these things. It reminds me of the Gnostics of the ancient world who were always seeking “new” or “secret” knowledge.
It isn’t my intention to offend here, but if we put anything above or even equal to the Torah, in terms of how we are to live before our Father, then we’ve went away from the will of our heavenly Father. I’m including here: the Talmud and the Rabbis, Christian theologies and commentators, the so-call Book of Jasher and other extra-canonical books, etc. Some may ask at this point, what about the other books of Scripture (the Prophets, Writings, and Apostolic Writings)? I’d include those too, if our interpretation of them erroneously adds to or takes away from the Torah. Everything should uphold, and/or flow from, what is “written in this book of the Torah” (Deut. 30:10). Some may additionally ask, what about Yeshua? Contrary to what many think, Yeshua never walked or taught contrary to the Torah. As a matter of fact, nearly all of the debates he has with the religious leaders revolve around an area of the Torah where they had either added or taken away. Yeshua taught a return to the Torah as described in our portion this week. Had the Torah been sufficient for the religious leaders of Yeshua’s day, they would not have rejected him. Since the Torah alone was apparently not sufficient for them, their understanding was clouded. Sadly, the same is true today of most Jews and Christians. Neither accepts the Torah as enough. Those of us who accept the Torah, and Yeshua as Messiah, should be careful not to fall into this same error.
The Torah is enough! Amein.
Ki Tavo, 2016
Ki Tavo (“When you enter”) is a bittersweet portion of the Torah. While it promises some wonderful blessings for choosing to follow the ways of our Father, including life itself, it also contains some of the most troubling descriptions in all of Scripture of what would happen to those who choose not to follow.
The specific passage that I’m thinking about is chapter 28:52-57. In this passage, we find the description of the people of Israel eating their own children (I don’t know if it is clear whether the children were killed for this purpose or if this is done as a result of them dying). I will not spend time on the surrounding circumstances of this horrific occurrence; instead, I want to simply focus on the meaning of these actions. Why, of all that could and does come from disobedience to YHWH’s Torah, is this disgusting practice included in our Torah portion?
In Bereishit (Genesis) 1:27-28, YHWH creates human beings and then blesses them. The first commandment, and resulting gift, is to be fruitful and multiply. The first thing that we humans are commanded to do is to have children. These children are truly the gift of our Creator; they are an ongoing reminder of the gift of life that he has given to us all. What we find described in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 28 is the exact opposite. Rather than parents bringing these children into existence, these parents are removing any trace of their children’s existence. Rather than these children representing the gift of life, they clearly represent death and no hope. Rather than Israel representing the holy and pure people of YHWH, they represent the most disgusting, unclean, and separated of all peoples. In choosing to reject the Torah, Israel is used as an illustration to show the world what the true depths of humanity’s depravity are without its Creator.
Why would we ever choose that kind of existence? Why would we ever reject our Creator and his Torah, which represents life and blessing? We are shown this gory episode so that we can see what we are truly capable of without him. The more we know about ourselves, the more we realize we need him.
Ki Teitzei, 2016
Ki Teitzei (“If you go”) contains more commandments than any other portion of the Torah. At times, they seem random and disconnected from each other; however, just because we don’t easily see the connection doesn’t mean it isn’t there. With that said, this is not what I intend to focus on regarding the portion this year.
I would like to pull out one of these seemingly random, disconnect commandments for a closer look. It is listed at Devarim (Deuteronomy) 24:9. I should mention that this verse is clearly tied to the preceding verse but I won’t address here. Moshe says in verse 9, “Remember what YHWH your Elohim did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.” The word “remember” is actually the same Hebrew word “zakor” used for “remember” in Shemot (Exodus) 20:8 in reference to the Shabbat. You have probably heard someone say, “We are told ‘remember’, because this is the commandment we have easily forgotten”, and I’d agree that this is as good of a conclusion as any regarding the reason for its use. Along those same lines, I think that the reason we are told to “remember” in Devarim 24:9 is because of the importance of, and yet easily rejected nature of, the main subject that Moshe is alluding to. (I will assume that you know the situation to which Moshe is referring.) Why are we commanded to remember this particularly unpleasant occurrence? Why doesn’t Moshe give a specific reason to “remember”? I believe it’s because Moshe knew that what he was talking about was a touchy subject. Moshe certainly remembered what happened and why, but do we? It was Moshe whose actions were called into question by Miriam and Aaron, and it was he that then had look upon the punishment (or as Aaron saw it, the death) of his sister.
In this verse, Moshe is gently reminding Israel of the importance of respecting those whom the Father has put as leaders in your life. If the Father wouldn’t spare Moshe’s own sister from punishment, then he isn’t going to spare you. This principal of respecting those put in positions of leadership is seen throughout Scripture: “You shall not revile Elohim, nor curse a ruler of your people” (Ex 22:28); “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex 20:12); “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor” (1 Tim 5:17); “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). The deeper point of these passages is this: when we respect those that the Father has made leaders in our lives, we honor our Father; when we dishonor, or otherwise disrespect, those the Father has put over us, then we dishonor our Father. It is better to walk away from that leader quietly, than to do as Miriam did. Had Miriam chose to separate herself from Moshe (due to her opinions about him) rather than speaking against him, then the Father wouldn’t have had to separate her. In other words, if you don’t like the chief, then just leave the tribe.
In this movement of people, who are coming out of mainstream Christianity and the churches to pursue a walk with Yeshua that involves honoring the Torah, there is a real hurt regarding those who had once been our leaders, pastors, and teachers. How could they have misled us? How could they be so deceptive? You begin to hear things like “I don’t need a teacher” or “leaders aren’t biblical”. I’m not sure what people are reading when they walk away with such conclusions, but it certainly isn’t Scripture. Just because we’ve been hurt by people in leadership roles, or feel deceived by them, doesn’t mean that the roles aren’t biblical or that it’s okay to speak against such positions. We can’t “throw the baby out with the bathwater”.
The truth is that we hurt ourselves, and the greater community, when we disrespect our leaders. For your sake, and the sake of the community, it is better to just walk away. Or, do you not trust the Father to be able to deal with someone that he has put in the positon of leadership? Clearly, Moshe was punished for his mistakes in life when he was not allowed to enter, or lead the people, into the Promised Land. Typically, it is the leaders who receive a greater punishment (see James 3:1). Now, I’m not saying that leaders are “untouchable”, but you better be pretty certain and humble in your approach, if you feel you need to say or do something. Leaders themselves are reminded “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim 5:19) In general, we should always remove the plank from our own eye before attempting to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, and this is even more important if your brother is a leader of YHWH’s people.
How might the verses dealing with the “rebellious son” (21:18-21) relate to this topic?
in the midst of a temporary hiatus...i'll be back
So much is covered in this first portion of the Torah; the creation of the universe, the sin of Adam and Chavvah, the continued corruption of humanity, the introduction of Noah, etc. I’m guessing that this portion covers approximately 1,000 years due to the age of the individuals introduced. If that’s correct, this is a lot of time for just over 5 chapters of Scripture. With so many things to choose from, what do we narrow it down to?
How about adam? I don’t mean the man, but humanity. Specifically, humanity’s creation and its positon within creation. In Genesis 1:26-28, Elohim declares his desire to create humanity and that humanity is to be created in Elohim’s tselem and demuth, or image and likeness. Tselem seems to imply physical form or resemblance, while a deeper study of demuth seems to imply a similarity in cognition. Interestingly, the physical form must be somewhat general as adam will have both a male and a female version. The fact that adam is the only part of creation described as being created in such a way is intriguing, and implies a special distinction not given to the rest of creation. It becomes clear that great responsibility accompanies this distinction.
As a side note, chapter 5:1-3 recaps the creation of adam, and says that Adam (the name given to the first male version of adam) then brought forth a son, Seth, in Adam’s own tselem and demuth. This is interesting because Cain and Abel were not described as being brought forth in Adam’s tselem and demuth. Essentially, Seth is being described as a copy of a copy. This language is not used for those that Seth or Seth’s descendants bring forth either. However, we are told once again in Genesis 9:6 that adam, in general, was created in Elohim’s tselem, although it is interesting that demuth is not mention. We often think that, since Adam and Chavvah ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then we must now be more like Elohim in regards to cognition. That’s what the serpent said, right? What if we actually lost some of the demuth of Elohim when we ate from the tree, and it isn’t until the new covenant is completely fulfilled that we regain what was lost?
Back to the original thought, adam is to bear fruit (parah), increase (ravah), and fill up (mala) the earth (ha’arets). Next, adam is to rule (radah) and subdue (cavash) the rest of creation. This actually sounds kind of violent; radah means to "tread down" and cavash seems to refer to bringing something into bondage. With that said, I believe the idea here is for adam to make something out of creation; similar to how Elohim made creation out of nothing. Ultimately, Elohim declared all that he made tov meod (very good). Creation is a gift to adam, like life itself or the Shabbat, and our Creator wants us to use it for something meaningful. Ultimately, this will involve working with creation (six days to work) which is a topic also discussed in Qohelet (Ecclesiastes). The intent is not to misuse the gift (treat it as nothing or to be wasted) nor are we to dishonor the Creator through what we do with it (we certainly don’t want to make idols out of the created things). In gratitude, we are to make something “good”, or maybe even “very good”, and be glad in it. When we’ve accomplished this, we can, and are commanded to, give thanks to the Creator for making it all possible (Devarim 8).
Another point, from Matthew, is Yeshua using the Greek equivalent of tselem when he responds to the Pharisees’ attempt to test him regarding paying taxes to Caesar. Yeshua asks whose image is on the coin, and they respond that it is Caesar’s image. Yeshua explains that the coin belongs to Caesar and therefore should be given to Caesar; likewise, since we display Elohim’s image, we belong to Elohim and should give ourselves to him.
In conclusion, all creation is YHWH’s, including us. He has created us for a special purpose within his creation. We have a responsibility to create as he created. First, and foremost, we create other humans; this is “good”. Beyond that we create other “good” and necessary things for life to flourish in this creation. Ultimately, we are to honor our Creator through all that we make, and we are to give thanks for the privilege of being his.
Noach is another portion that covers much time, and many events, in a relatively small passage of Scripture. It is the continuation of the origin of humanity, but in many ways begins to show that humanity is cyclical, or another way to say it, “there is nothing new under the sun”. Alephbeta.org shares some interesting comparisons between the creation in Bereishit and the “new” world after the flood. In terms of comparisons, this year I noticed something that I don’t believe alephbeta.org addressed (Maybe I’m wrong on this and just don’t remember). Specifically, the initial act of human rebellion once the “creation” was completed and the human(s) were put in their new environment (garden/vineyard). Of course, we remember that Adam and Chavvah were told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which was placed in the midst of the garden, but eventually they ate from it and subsequently began passing the blame. I believe we see the same thing happening here in Noach. Once Noah was placed in the “new” creation (post-flood world) and the garden (his vineyard), he messed up. Noah over indulges, or becomes drunk (shakar), on the fruit of the vine. Regardless of what you might think about the act of becoming drunk (acceptable/unacceptable), the word shakar is used elsewhere in the Tanakh, most of the time, as a shameful thing with negative consequences. Clearly, in this episode, it is connected with a shameful act which led to negative consequences. Whether Noah was directly or indirectly responsible doesn’t really matter. What Noah did, right or wrong, gave opportunity for his son to stumble. What’s more, Noah responded with a “passing of the blame” so to speak. Now, I’m not saying that Ham is innocent in the matter. On the contrary, Ham is as guilty as Adam when he ate of the fruit that Chavvah gave him. Likewise, Noah is as guilty as Chavvah, in terms of being the human originator of the eventual outcome. With that said, Noah’s “finger pointing” wasn’t as obvious as that of the first couple. His response came in the form of retaliation against his son and grandson and his descendants.
If we are honest, I think we can safely say that most of us have played the “devil made me do it” card. Maybe, we’ve also blame other people for our shortcomings, especially those close to us. For example, “it’s your fault that I’m like this” or “if you hadn’t done that, then I wouldn’t have done this”. This is a character trait that most, if not all, of us inherited from our original parents (Adam and Chavvah). What about Noah’s response, the response of retaliation? I think that we are just as susceptible to this type of response as we are to the other. Is it possible that both of these are a part of our internal fight-or-flight response mechanism? In these cases, I believe that the flight (humble) response is the correct response. One who humbly admits to their wrong, through accepting their feelings of shame and/or guilt, will more quickly correct their wrong. Those who choose the other response (pride) will fight against feelings of shame and guilt, and against the acceptance of their wrong, which quickly leads to passing the blame or retaliating in anger. Let me remind us here, “Elohim opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Ya’akov 4:6; 1 Kefa 5:5).
I humbly admit here that many times in my life I’ve not responded appropriately to my own sins, and have in turn, hurt others. However, I like to think that I’m doing a better job as I mature, both physically and spiritually. Sadly, this topic touches really close to home. Being involved in ministry for many years has put me and my family at the forefront of such “finger pointing” and retaliation. As recently as this year, people who were not willing to accept responsibility for their own sins have cost my family a great deal and caused much grief. These individuals chose the response of pride. Unfortunately, the “finger pointing” and retaliation was directed at those who tried to hold them accountable for their sin and the wrong done to others. More difficult than the hurt caused to me and my family is the thought that these individuals will continue to respond like this in future situations. Unable to humble themselves in the presence of their own sin, they will continue to elude true shalom, and will continue to hurt and blame others.
I share these thoughts as a reminder to myself and those that care to read this post. This is a rebellious attitude that goes all the way back to the beginning of human existence and continues, sadly, amongst those who claim to be children of Israel. This is a major source for division and strife in the body today, and needs to be address if we are ever to be the perfect spotless bride of Yeshua. Maybe I’m off here but “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).
Lech Lecha, 2016
In the opening verse of Lech Lecha, Elohim commands Abram to go from his home to another place. This is then followed by a couple of verses promising good things to Abram. Interestingly, hidden within all those blessings is another commandment which most English translations translate in such a way that causes most readers to misunderstand it. In the Hebrew, it is the last two words of verse two which translate literally as “and be a blessing”. Now that you look at this section again in your English translations, you might ask, “What’s the difference between ‘you will be a blessing’ and ‘be a blessing’”. Well, there is a difference. One suggests that the blessing is passively transmitted to others through Abram, while the other (the literal translation) is active. In other words, while it may be true, Abram is not told that his mere presence will bless people; instead, Abram is told to “go” and “be” a blessing. Both the opening “lech” and this “veh’yeih” are imperative verbs, which means they're commands.
Abram is then told, in verse 3, that people will either bless or curse him in return for him being a blessing to them. Regardless of what people do to him, Abram is to be a blessing. Elohim will then return their blessing or cursing of Abram upon their heads. It isn’t Abram’s responsibility or privilege to curse those who curse him; he is only to be a blessing to them. I can’t help but think of Paul’s words in Romans 12:14, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse”.
Let’s review these first three verses: 1) Elohim tells Abram to “go out” from his home to another place. 2) Elohim states he will make Abram into a great nation, bless him, and make his name great. Elohim also tells Abram to “be a blessing”. 3) Elohim states he will bless those who bless Abram and curse those who curse Abram. Finally, all families will bless themselves in Abram.
What does this last statement mean? Well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know. However, a medieval Jewish commentary translates, and explains, it this way, “‘and all the families of the earth shall count themselves blessed if they can establish family ties with you.’ The root of the word [for "and they will bless themselves"] is the same as that of [a word meaning] ‘to graft’. They will consider it an accomplishment to have Abrahamitic blood in their veins”. (Daat Zkenim, Bereishit 12:3:2) I like their translation because it seems to make sense within the larger scope of the Scriptures which refers to the scattering of Abraham’s descendants (those of his grandson Ya’akov) throughout the nations. In a way, this is at the heart of the plan of restoration. I won’t go into great detail here now, but I will point to these words in Galatians 3:29, “And if you are of Messiah, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” There is a whole long connecting thread through Scripture that connects these two verses which can’t be examined in this short post, but it is there and I’ll attempt to point it out occasionally in these posts as I go through the weekly parshiot.
If we are bnei Yisrael, Abraham’s descendants, then we too need to heed the words given to our father many years ago. We also need to “go out” away from that which Elohim has called us, and we need to “be a blessing” to those we meet along the way. The only way that we can do the later is if we obey the former. We must obey our Elohim, and his ways, because it is only through him (his power within us and his blessing of us) that we can in turn be a blessing to others.
Chayei Sarah, 2016
There is a lot of speculation on this Torah portion when reading through the commentaries. We read things regarding the circumstances of Sarah’s death, the identity of Keturah, the unbelievably young age of Rivqah (Rebekah), and the like. This is somewhat odd, and sad, when compared to the specific, undeniable details of the story of Rivqah being selected as a wife for Yitschaq (Isaac). It almost seems like the speculations are more interesting to some than the miraculous events described. Not only are the details of the selection process described once but twice in this portion. I think our attention should be drawn to this, rather than what is not stated.
In this movement, we’ve often run across this same kind of thing in various manifestations, such as, those who spend more time in the book of Jasher than the Torah, or those who are more interested in finding out the newest, strangest version of “when is the Shabbat?” than simply keeping it as directed. I’ve come up with a couple of personal responses to these endless inquiries into the speculative. (Keeping in mind that Yeshua is my Rabbi and my only concern is in regards to his practice.) One response is “will it change the way I walk out my faith?” If not, then it really isn’t worth my time. If so, then “how does it line up, priority wise, with the heavier matters of the Torah that I really need to spend more time on?” My second response is “the Torah is enough.” There is more in the Torah (I’m including the rest of Scripture here too) than I can grasp and fully understand in my entire lifetime. I know that what has led me to Messiah and the commandments is sufficient, why in the world would I want to add something speculative to that? Every year we read through the Torah, and every year I learn something new. Every year I’m humbled by the reality of what the Torah is and how little I know, and by how blessed I am to be able to read and study the truth of my Creator. I’m amazed at the number of people in this movement who appear to be bored by simply studying Scripture. I’m equally amazed by the number of people who, after a couple of months of going through Torah portions, feel they have heard enough to be Torah teachers themselves and start their own Shabbat fellowship. Both of these are really sad, but the later is a real pet peeve of mine.
I get it, sometimes it is fun to imagine and speculate on that which we don’t know, but when it takes our focus from Torah or Yeshua or causes division then we’ve gone too far. As I think about this subject, I’m reminded of Jeremiah 2:13 which says “For my people have committed a double evil: they have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water.” May we immerse ourselves in the living water that is his Torah, and not the dirty, stagnant water of our broken, manmade cisterns.
What does it mean that YHWH appeared to Abraham? And, was it the first time? Let’s start by answering the second question first. No, Vayeira (starting at Genesis 18:1) is not the first time that YHWH appeared to Abraham. The term vayeira (and he appeared) in reference to YHWH appearing to Abram (or Abraham) is found in Genesis 12:7 and Genesis 17:1. The first time is when Abram obeyed YHWH’s voice and went to the land of Canaan. At Shechem, when Abram was seventy-five years old, YHWH appeared to him and Abram responded by building an altar. In reference to this occasion, Ramban (or Nachmanides, a medieval Jewish commentator) states that Elohim actually made a physical appearance in contrast to when he told Abram to leave his land which was either done in a dream or through the Holy Spirit.
The second time that YHWH appears is when Abram is ninety-nine years old. YHWH changes Abram’s name to Abraham, and establishes the “everlasting covenant” with Abraham through circumcision. At Genesis 17:22, this interaction ends, and it states that “Elohim went up from Abraham”. Another medieval Jewish commentator, Radak, states that this phrase is a “euphemism for the disappearance of Elohim’s presence”. Again, suggesting an actual physical presence, appearance, or manifestation that then had to go back from where it came. If these Jewish commentaries are accurate, and I believe they are, then we must assume the same applies to Vayeira. Ramban seems to make the case that what is described in Vayeira is an actual event and not a dream or vision. However, rather than believing this to be a unique physical manifestation of Elohim, Rashbam (grandson of Rashi) suggests that these three beings are merely angels acting as agents of Elohim. He points to other passages where angels are described as Elohim being heard or seen. Interestingly, Rashbam seems to have no conflict with YHWH appearing to human beings through created heavenly beings who look like human beings. If this is the case, why is there a conflict with YHWH appearing to human beings through a human being which he specifically, and uniquely, begot and anointed for the purpose of doing and saying everything according to his will? Clearly, I’m referencing Yeshua here, and going a bit off topic, but it’s an honest question.
With all that said, if these three individuals are merely angels used to bring a message or carry out the will of YHWH, then wouldn’t every instances of this type of interaction in Scripture merit the phrase “vayeira”. There seems to be something special going on here with Abraham. Yes, I agree that Elohim uses heavenly beings to act as messengers or agents of his will, and sometimes, these independent beings may even speak in the first person as if they are Elohim and their audience may respond as if it were so. However, what I’m also suggesting is that YHWH can physically manifest himself in various ways; possibly through fire in a bush, a pillar of cloud, a pillar of fire, smoke filling the Mishkan, what Moshe saw on Sinai, etc. Are all these merely independent agents already in existence, which he commandeered for his personal use, or is it possibly that the invisible Elohim is making his presence known through uniquely designed vessels in a way that human beings can relate? I believe that what we have in Vayeira is a combination of these two possibilities. Yes, there are three individual entities appearing as human beings which drop by for a visit with Abraham. I’m suggesting that two of these individuals are heavenly beings prepared to speak and carry out the will of YHWH, but the other is YHWH appearing to Abraham in a unique and personal way. Anything less than this requires elaborate theological and grammatical gymnastics to get around the simply stated reality of this very special event.