Shelach Lecha – Monsters, Giants and Other Formidable Obstacles

June 14, 2017
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Shelach Lecha – Monsters, Giants and Other Formidable Obstacles

 In the spring of 2002 I went to an art exhibit that was featuring a grouping of pictures painted by a good friend who was beginning the process of leaving the safety of a career as a commercial artist and pursuing an art form that was uniquely his own.  The collection was entitled quite simply, “Monsters”. I was not prepared for the transition in his work. My friend’s commercial work had always been clean, crisp and professional and uncluttered. His new art was dark, convoluted, layered and primitive, obscuring warm colors with dark shadows.

What my friend had done was to take his seven-year-old son’s crayon drawing of monsters and reinterpret them in a more adult, almost surrealist genre. The oil re-creations hung next to the crayon originals in this sophisticated Massachusetts gallery. Though there was no written explanation of the work, it communicated to me an honest, yet often ignored reality of life.  The fears, horrors, and insecurities of our childhoods do not disappear with time as we might imagine, but rather remain buried deep in our psyche only to reemerge in more sophisticated genres and expressions. Unless we deal with, slay., shrink or unmask the monsters and giants of our past, they make a subconscious home next to our “child within.” Read more »

B’halot’kha – Salvation On Trial

June 8, 2017
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B’halot’kha – Salvation On Trial

This week parsha will introduce a theme that will characterize much of the remaining narrative of Bamidbar. Chapters 11-25 contain a series of refusals on the part of Israel to accept authority. In chapter 12 even Miriam challenges Moses’ authority. In chapter 11 the people grumble about the unpleasantness of their journey contrasting it with all of the nostalgic pleasantries of slavery in Egypt, exasperating both God and Moses. Moses’ increasing frustration will later culminate with the incident of his striking the rock in chapter 20.

From a slightly different perspective though it is not the authority of God that is on trial in the wilderness, rather it is His salvation. While still in Egypt Jacob’s progeny were concerned as to whether, Israel’s God could and even more importantly would deliver them. Even after the miracles wrought by Moses humbled Pharaoh and his court, our people still doubted by the banks of the Reed Sea, and despite the parting of the sea, the drowning of their pursuers and their own preservation they continued to have doubts. Could they really have continued to question the power of God to deliver? Perhaps, but more likely they were uncertain of His desire to sustain and protect them, after all the pantheons of the ancient world were capricious and the perils of life were uncertain. Read more »

Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

May 26, 2017
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Bamidbar – Wildfire, Water and the Wilderness

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This week we embarked upon our annual reading of Bamidbar.  The fourth book of the Torah is so named since it begins “Vay’daber Adonai el-Mosheh b’midbar Sinai (And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai).” Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar both asks and answers, “Why does Hashem gift the Torah in the Wilderness?”  It goes on to explain that Torah is given in fire, water and wilderness. This is to teach us that just as each of these are free, so the learning of Torah is given freely.

Another approach to the Midrash is to understand fire, water and the wilderness as forces within man. Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, for example, in his Shem MiShmuel, writes that fire refers to man’s heart, the inner fire that aspires to reach God, water refers to his mind, which adds an element of patience and reason in approaching the divine, and the wilderness refers to the renunciation of worldly pleasures which interfere with one’s spiritual pursuits. All three elements, he writes, are necessary for the study of Torah. I would like to extend this metaphor to both examine the potential hindrances to our growth and more importantly our capacity to endure and overcome these obstacles. Read more »

Behar – It All Belongs to the Lord

May 18, 2017
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Behar – It All Belongs to the Lord

From its outset Torah is the story of Israel and the Holy One whose name the nation would bear. From the very beginning of the history that is recorded in the Torah, humanity is called to bear collectively the image of the One True Creator.  With the disobedience of humanity the mantle is passed to Israel with the command to be a “kingdom of priests and a Holy nation.”  (Shemot 19:6) But what does this actually mean?

The first command in Gan Edan is literally to serve (l’avdah), the land (B’restit 2:15).  The God of Israel is not a King who exhausts his creation, rather a sovereign who serves the creation He loves. So as His image bearers it is incumbent upon us to also serve earth and its inhabitants. In such a manner we are to make the name of the King known, and bring all of humanity back into the service of Hashem. As it states in the daily prayer Alenu, “our task is our inheritance”.

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Emor – The Blemished and the Whole

May 11, 2017
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Emor – The Blemished and the Whole

For decades, Western society has been making concerted efforts to be more accepting and inclusive of those who have physical and mental disabilities. This means that accommodations must be made for impediments that have historically restricted people from living fully integrated into the greater society. In the past most of “civilized” society dealt with others’ handicaps by turning a blind eye. At best, the disabled were treated with dismissive sympathies and self-congratulatory charity; at worst they were often blamed for their disabilities and pushed to the margins of society. Only recently has the conversation turned toward treating those with disabilities as fully enfranchised members of society, rather than isolating them and consigning them to lives of degradation and exclusion.

Scripture also speaks of such disabilities through a complex balance of values, priorities, and perceptions. On the one hand, many of the heroes of the Bible suffered from physical and mental handicaps. Jacob limped, Isaac was blind, Moses had a speech impediment (and a fragile ego), Miriam dealt with dermatological concerns, and Saul clearly had bouts of depression and possibly psychosis. Rav Shaul dealt with some type of ailment but preferred to refer to it as “a thorn in the flesh,” leaving us to wonder about his issues of deep shame. What is most important to acknowledge is that these leaders were able to function in exemplary fashion. Read more »

Passover Lambs and Chesed Community

April 6, 2017
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Passover Lambs and Chesed Community

Among messianic Jews much has been said concerning the parallels between the sacrifices of the paschal lamb and that of Yeshua. After all the paschal lamb was the Korban Pesach, the essential sacrifice which God commanded the children of Israel to make before liberating them from bondage to the Pharaoh of Egypt and bringing them to Sinai where they would enter into a covenant of service to Him. The blood of this lamb placed upon the lintel and posts of the doors of Israel’s abodes in Goshen stood as the sign by which the destroyer would pass over them, averting the plague of death to the first born which befell the households of Egypt. Similarly the blood of Yeshua, who Yochanon the Immerser referred to as the “Lamb of God,” spiritually holds the curse of sin and death in abeyance, and brings both Israel and the nations into a renewed covenant with God. Yeshua himself used the symbols that surround the Seder meal and the Passover lamb, to ritualize and point forward to his own efficacious sacrifice. Read more »