Vayelech – Re-Righting Our Stories

September 13, 2017
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Vayelech – Re-Righting Our Stories

  “I am now one hundred and twenty years old, I can no longer be active.” (Devarim 31:1) With that surprising realization, Moses begins his final address to the children of Israel. When Moses completes this address, he will have accomplished what few others take the opportunity to do. With the completion of Devarim Moses gave Israel its code of law, ethics and ritual practice, but also, he successfully managed to record for posterity his own story. But not only did he write his story, Moses managed to right his story.

 

It has been observed that the life of Moses played out like a three act play in which each act had a forty year duration. In the first act Moses thought he was somebody, having found himself through providence a prince in Egypt, removed from the lowly plight of his brethren. In the second act Moses found out he was nobody having been sent into exile in the wilderness of Midian and encountering the inscrutable God in a fire-retardant bush. Finally in the last act Moses learns what God can do with somebody who thinks they are nobody. Though Moses could not control the events of his life, he nonetheless took the opportunity through obedience to write and re- right the conclusion of his own story. Read more »

Ki Tavo – Lessons From The Storm

September 7, 2017
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Ki Tavo – Lessons From The Storm

The events of the past years have caused me to think a lot about the fragility of our world. It has only become more intensified over the past several months with the threat of nuclear war. The events of the past several weeks have caused me to feel even more distressed about the fragility of life itself. With friends and family taking shelter from the many natural disasters it is difficult to stay calm, in the midst of both literal and figurative storms.

The recent hurricanes have caused me to recall my only first had experience of a hurricane. In the fall of 1985 Hurricane Gloria worked its way up the eastern coast of the United States, eventually crossing the Long Island Sound and passing over Milford, Connecticut where I resided with my family. To the best of my knowledge I had never before seen a category 4 hurricane or anything close to it.  So as the storm was developing over the small beach community, I drove to a public beach and parked in the empty municipal lot. As I trudged toward the beach I fought through my way through the torrid winds and driving rain. I was able to get within about 100 yards of where low tide should have been before being hit with the spray of the crashing waves. This was the end of my misplaced bravado, and I ran back to my car and drove toward home and high ground. 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 »

Vayikra – A Tough Place for Man or Beast

March 30, 2017
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Vayikra – A Tough Place for Man or Beast

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At first glance Torah can be a tough read for those concerned about animal welfare. Much of the first ten chapters of Leviticus contain cultic material, especially in parsha Vayikra that, that concerns itself with sacrifice, which is more than occasionally of the animal variety. Though this brutal instruction may violate our contemporary sensibilities, the animal sacrifices in Torah must be understood within the cultural context of ancient Israel and its surrounding neighbors. While it is true that many of the particulars of Israel’s sacrificial system were borrowed from the cultures of pagan neighbors, the sacrifices they offered are to be understood theologically according to the particular character of Israel’s God and in accord with the peculiar covenantal relationship that He enacted with them. In this respect Israel’s sacrificial system can best be understood as a domestication of existing practices by inculcating God’s highest values into the normative ritual milieu. Israel’s community of faith put incredible energy and attentiveness into these offerings as material gestures, which defined the importance of God for the life of the community. The various sacrificial practices prescribed for Israel were vehicles designed to celebrate, affirm, enhance, or repair the defining relationship between them and God. Read more »