Beshalach – Buyer’s Remorse

January 24, 2018
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Beshalach – Buyer’s Remorse

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Here in Connecticut all contracts require a three-day “cooling off” period, a time when all involved parties can examine their contractual obligations and determine whether or not they can honor them. This allows the parties involved to observe the considerations involved in the deal free from the duress that can be created by the pressure of the moment, and minimize the possibility of “buyers remorse”. It would appear that such a “cooling off” period might have been helpful to Pharaoh. As we observe in the parasha for the 7th day of Pesach, When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services! (Ex.14:5)”

Of course it is debatable whether or not Pharaoh really ever had a choice, after all God had made him “an offer he could not refuse”, let the children of Israel go or suffer consequences that may be worse than the ten plagues which culminated with the death of all of the first born sons of Egypt. In fact we are told that it was God that had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, further evidence that dealing directly with God is more complex, urgent and compelling than say purchasing an automobile. It also raises the specter of a moral and theological quagmire. How can Pharaoh be held accountable when the omnipotent God seems to have overtaken his faculties? Read more »

Bo – Passover Lambs and Hesed Community

January 18, 2018
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Bo – Passover Lambs and Hesed Community

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Every year the gift-giving season comes earlier and earlier, to the point that some desperate merchandisers try to lure us into their stores with X-mas in August promotional ads. But as we read Parashat Bo we should be taken with the concept of Passover in January, a reversal of materialism as Hashem offers us the free gift of redemption. 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 »

Va’eira – Four Stages of Liberation

January 11, 2018
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Va’eira – Four Stages of Liberation

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We are just two weeks removed from the beginning of the  New Year  in accord with the western secular calendar, the one by which a majority of Jewish people worldwide conduct their normal life’s business. Many have  already s broken  the past year New Year’s resolutions; work harder, work less, spend less money, make more money, eat better, exercise more, swear less, etc. In reality the civil New Year is rarely a time for serious reflection, rather a brief interlude in the tumult of life, a short lived celebration that often provides a “farewell tour” for the very behaviors that we have flippantly resolved to abolish, a not too subtle reminder that we really don’t want to change. So we are free only to make the same resolutions a year later, ten pounds heavier and 365 days closer to our expiration date. Much like the ancient pagans, we subscribe to calendar whereby we are presumably bound by the endless cipher of nature’s repetitive cycles, and an unassailable wall of inevitability limits our human potential.

The biblical calendar on the other hand, though cyclical, is seen as an advancing spiral, moving toward the consummation of the Creator’s perfect design. Therefore we are given endless opportunities to redeem and be redeemed. The exodus from Egypt is but the beginning of a journey toward total liberation from any and all limits to our potential as individuals, and the full potential of humanity as a whole. We are free to begin the journey anew at any time; hence we liturgically celebrate Passover in the spring, but relive its urgency throughout the year. Read more »

Shemot – What’s to Know?

January 3, 2018
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Shemot – What’s to Know?

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What is in a name? This is an apropos question since this week’s parsha begins with lots of names. In fact it is called Names or Shemot in Hebrew. It begins v’aleh shemot b’nei yisrael (Exodus 1:1), “these are the names of the sons of Israel.” The narrative then goes on to name each of Israel’s sons by name. It tells how many children and grandchildren, seventy in all, moved down to Egypt and how they prospered and multiplied. The narrative serves as the divine voice, displaying not only a great knowledge of Israel’s prodigy, but an actual concern for them.

This is a direct contrast with the Pharaoh of Egypt. Verse 8 begins, vayakedem melech chadash al mitzraim asher lo yada et yoseph, “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” Of course the new Pharaoh would have had knowledge of Joseph and his service to the kingdom, saving it from the ravages of famine and making it the most powerful nation in its ancient world. He would have been raised with this information, as it would have been part of the history and lore of ancient Egypt. So what the meaning of this verse? Read more »

Vayechi – Body and Soul

December 26, 2017
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Vayechi – Body and Soul

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The significance that this week’s parshah, Vayechi,is bookended by two deaths, those of Jacob and Joseph, is both unavoidable and undeniable. But the events concerning the burial of both patriarchs, and the emphasis on their skeletal remains are both enigmatic and intriguing. Both men make their successors swear to lay their bones to rest in the land of Israel, and these promises are ultimately fulfilled.So, what significance can be found in the return of Jacob and Joseph’s bones to the land of Israel?

Perhaps the answer might be found in an interesting alliteration. The Torah is written without nikkudim, the vowel pointing that often helps us to distinguish between similar words. The absence of nikkudim can make for some interesting, and evocative wordplay when reading the text. When the text of the Torah is not vocalized, the word for bones (atzamot) can also be read as essence (atzmut).Also the word for independence (atzma’ut) is derived from the root word for bone (etzem). So the removing of Joseph and Jacob’s bones might be read as a liberation of both their bodies and their spirits, from Egypt. This is of course consistent with the Jewish holistic understanding body, soul and spirit. A liberated body without spirit is only a corpse, while a liberated spirit without body is simply a ghost. Only together, bones and essence, body and soul is liberation of the full human being achieved. Read more »

Vayigash – Family Ties

December 21, 2017
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Vayigash – Family Ties

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It has been said, “blood is thicker than water”. This platitude would suggest that family ties, though frequently tried are stronger than any other relational bonds that might be formed. This is simple proverbial wisdom. After all, no judge would allow the sibling of a defendant to sit on the jury that is empowered to impartially try him or her. And which of us would not suspect a miscarriage of justice if such a situation were to be allowed. Even if the verdict were to go against the defendant, it might suggest severe animosity between the siblings. For as many of us have observed, that when the strong knots of family ties are broken, they are often the most difficult to repair.

Such is the prologue to the intense and profound theatre of today’s parsha. Joseph, who is Israel’s favorite son, sits in judgment of his brothers. These same brothers had many years earlier sold Joseph into slavery, as a jealous response to their father’s privileged treatment of him. Though suffering many years of hardship, providence elevated Joseph to a position of authority, vizier over all of Egypt and second only to Pharaoh. His position is a reward for his God given wisdom, insight and vision that saved Egypt and in effect the surrounding nations from the deadly results of a great famine. After correctly interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph had urged the ruler to prepare for seven years of famine during seven prior years of prosperity. How could he have known that his own brother’s would seek audience before his throne in an effort to purchase food to sustain the lives of themselves, of their father Jacob and their youngest brother Benjamin? And how could they have known that the great man who controlled their very lives was their brother who they had betrayed a lifetime ago? Read more »