Thursday, November 23, 2017

Vayetzei "and he went out" Bereshit 28:10-32:3

Vayetzei (and he went out) 

Bereshit (Genesis) 28:10 - 32:3

In this weeks Parashah Bereshit 28-32, Jacob left Beersheba for Haran to his uncle Laban's house. Approximately 51.9 miles into his 3318.3 mile journey (approximately an 8 week walk) towards Haran, Jacob stopped for the night in a place called Luz. Jacob laid his head on a rock and while sleeping he dreamed of a ladder from earth into heaven with angels ascending and descending and HaShem stood at the top. Later in John 1:51 Yeshua also referred to this vision when talking to Nathanael. When Jacob woke from his dream he was so moved by its reality he said 28:17:

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!”

Jacob took his rock pillow and set it up as a pillar, poured oil on top of it and renamed Luz to Bethel, meaning “House of God”. In this dream HaShem spoke to Jacob reassuring him that he will be kept safe, and HaShem gave the promise to Jacob of the Promised Land. Jacob was so moved by this whole experience that he made a vowel to HaShem that would be considered and debated in the local church for  thousands of years - that’s the matter of tithing. Jacob promised HaShem:

“If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Note: Jacob made this vowel to tithe, on the proviso that HaShem fulfilled His word to Jacob.

So Jacobs journey continued where he stopped at a well, just off from his destination at Laban's house. Jacob approached the well at the same time most of the local herders had their flocks at the well to be watered. Not too long after, Laban’s Daughter Rachel brought her sheep to the well also. This encounter with Rachel brought Jacob to end up at uncle Laban’s house to stay and serve him, however Laban asked Jacob what he desired in turn for his service - out of Laban’s two daughters Jacob chose the beautiful Rachel in turn for his service. After an agreed upon 7 years of service Jacob asked for Rachel in marriage, however Laban was deceitful and gave Rachel’s sister Leah to Jacob in marriage. The next morning Jacob finally realised Leah was not Rachel (perhaps her eye colour gave it away), and therefore Jacob decided to work another 7 years for Rachel (the one he loved). 

Jacob now surrounded by women, being Leah and her maid Zilpah, as well as Rachel and her maid Bilhah, had to manage the relationships wisely as Rachel felt his love, and Leah longed for it, and due to this HaShem opened Leah’s womb and Rachel was barren. In a similar way as with Abram and Sarah being barren, now also Rachel was barren and Rachel also gave her maid to conceive with Jacob to have children for her, just as Sarah did to Abram. Then Leah followed the example of her sister and also gave her maid to Jacob in marriage whom also bore children to Jacob. After children coming from both maids and Leah, finally HaShem blessed Rachels womb and she bore her own child, Joseph. Many years have gone by and Jacob has been deceived by Laban so the time to depart came, however Laban again tried to keep Jacob from leaving. After much disagreement, and due to the blessing Laban had received since Jacob has looked after his flocks, Jacob managed to talk Laban into letting him take the worst of the flock marked by speckles and stripes, while Laban would keep the pure perfect stock. Jacob was favoured by HaShem and in his wisdom and from a dream Jacob came up with a method to breed strong good spotted and speckled stock - this led to much blessing and wealth for Jacob.

It came to pass that Laban and his sons saw all that Jacob had acquired in live stock, servants, wives, children, camels and they didn’t look favourably upon it, so HaShem said to Jacob:

“Return to the land of your fathers and to your family, and I will be with you.”

Jacob left to go back to Beersheba, however as he did so Rachel stole Laban’s idols… the question is, Why? It reminds us of Lot’s wife looking back - Did Rachel trust more in her fathers idols than the God of Jacob? Was it for keep sake and memories? Or was it to cause her father to reconsider his gods and see HaShem as the true God that blesses as He did for Jacob? Laban through anger and jealousy chased Jacob down and searched their tents for the stolen idols, however came up empty as Rachel was sitting on them on her camel (deception taught her by her father). Though to the very end Laban was deceived about his rights, his wealth, his daughters (as his own though married to another) - he made a covenant with Jacob that day, that allowed Jacob depart without the concern of Laban’s wroth following him.

This parashah has looked at a portion of Jacobs life that set him up for his dependance upon HaShe. Jacob walked in the blessing and protection promised him in a dream both financially and materially, Jacob also learnt the power of honouring his word and staying true to himself and the God that guides him - this was a foundational part of Jacob’s life.


Graeme Politanski

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Parashah Re’eh רְאֵה (See) Devarim 11:26-16:17

Parashah Re’eh  רְאֵה (See)  Devarim 11:26-16:17 

Rabbi Akiva is reported to have said: "Though everything is foreseen by Adonai, yet free will is granted to man" (Avot 3:19).    Which would be great if we weren’t so prone to mess up – even when we see.   
Parashah Re’eh begins with a warning, and a desperate appeal to obey the commands of G-d.
(רְאֵה אָנֹכִי נֹתֵן לִפְנֵיכֶם הַיּוֹם בְּרָכָה וּקְלָלָה)  Re'eh Anokhi notein lifneikhem hayom, brakhah u'klalah “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.” Deuteronomy 11:26.  Israel is given instructions from Moses that if they obey the commandments they will be blessed, but if they choose to disobey they will be cursed.  It is then emphasised in Deuteronomy 12:28, “Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee”     This is the most obvious and straightforward instruction.  Of course we will choose to be blessed.  Won’t we?
The plea to observe these commands is both a personal and community order.  Re’eh (רְאֵה – you see) is a singular word whereas lifneikhem (לִפְנֵיכֶם – before you) is a plural word.  This denotes that even though the request is personal the consequences will affect the whole community – either blessings or curses.  This is called arevut (עֲרֵבוּת), "mutual responsibility”.  Which brings me back to my first complaint.  Freewill is wonderful until we understand that we are relying on other people’s freewill also.    Sin affects the whole world.    Of course the flip side, is that when the community obeys G-d, the blessings are personal.   “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people”. Proverbs 14:34.
The parashah continues with instruction to kill anyone in their midst or even destroy cities who try to get Israel to serve other gods.     There is no middle-ground on this.  It was all or nothing.   Every part of us, all of our senses, are to serve the one true HaShem.  This parashah includes reference to all five senses.
Sight — chapter 11:26 — See, this day I set before you blessing and curse.  We should “see” the requirements and the consequences that will follow.  Our eyes are the window to the soul but also the way we relate to our community (so it’s personal and social).
Smell — chapter 12:13 — Take care not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like.   The odour of burning flesh is substantial.
Touch or Feeling — chapter 15:12 talks about setting Hebrew slaves free every seven years unless he/she loves you and is happy with you, in this case pierce his ear:
Hearing — chapter 12:22 — Observe and hear all these things which I have commanded you.  Can’t talk about hearing without mentioning the Sh’ma.  ‘Hear oh Israel’ !!!  Amen
Taste — Chapter 13:3 — Do not eat anything abhorrent.  “Taste and see that the Lord is good” Psalm 34.8
The parashah then appears to contradict itself.  “But there shall be no poor among you; for the Lord shall greatly bless you…” Deut. 15:4” and then states a few verses later, “For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.” 15:11.   So which is it?   Are there poor people or not?
Rashi commented on the verse saying that as long as you fulfil the will of G-d, the poor will be among others, but not among you.   But if you do not fulfil the will of G-d, then there will be poor among you". Rashi, Deut. 15:4
This is interesting because Yeshua said, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” Matthew 26:11.   Is this because he was comparing the two statements from this parashah?  Without Yeshua there is no complete obedience.  They were rejecting Him and thus rejecting the will of God which brings poverty.  They could have him ‘always’ or they could have poverty ‘always’.  Blessing or poverty.  Yeshua is the fulfilment of G-d’s will (Torah).  Or as Yeshua put it, “I have come to fulfil the Law” (Matthew 5:17 paraphrased).
On a side note: I recently read that a baby enters this world with closed hands, but enters the next world (dies) with open hands.  My consideration is that when we act with closed hands we are living as this world dictates, but when we have open hands to the poor as directed in Deuteronomy 15:11 we are acting dead to this world and living in the world to come. 
Besides giving to the poor, this parashah includes, cancelling debts, setting free slaves, dedicating the first born and tithing.   Each of these subjects is an essay themselves but the scriptures on tithing (Ma’aser) is up for great debate amongst Christian theologians who never take the time to read it in Hebrew.  Yes, there are three tithes mentioned in this portion of Torah:
 Ma'aser Rishon: A tenth of a farmer's produce was given to the Levite to support the priesthood and Torah teachers of Israel.  I have no problem with people tithing at church.   Having been in church for decades, I have been involved in so much debate about whether we are to do Law or not, but basically, yes.
 Ma'aser Sheni: A form of self-tithe to be used to rejoice the goodness of G-d, taken to the appointed place of worship (later Jerusalem) and eaten there. I had never heard this preached from the pulpit but I did an extensive research paper on it several years ago which suggests very strongly that this is also one of the “storehouses” that G-d commands a blessing upon in Deuteronomy 28:8
Ma'aser Anni: In the 3rd and 6th year, the Ma'aser Sheni was given to the poor instead.  The poor could then glean from the crops and enjoy the good of the land.
The parashah then commands in Duet 16:16, “Three times in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose; in the feast of unleavened bread, and in the feast of weeks, and in the feast of tabernacles: and they shall not appear before the Lord empty”.  This is the Shelosh Regalim, the three major pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavu'ot, and Sukkot. 

The parashah ends with a powerful statement.  “Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord thy God which he hath given thee”.  Seriously, we just spent half a parashah describing what needs to be given and done and then the very last verse appears to turn it all on its head with ‘give as he is able’.  Why?  Because it is HaShem who makes us able. It is the blessings that He has given us.  He does not ask anything from us that he does not supply.   So to give to the poor, tithe, set slaves free, cancel debts and even the pilgrimages are a blessing themselves that we are ‘able’ to give and do because he has made us able.

Shalom Jon Eaton

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Parashah Eikev "Because" Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12- 11:25

Eikev "Because"
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 7:12- 11:25

While humanity finds it difficult to turn from temptation and the lust of the flesh, the reward for such completely out ways the cost. HaShem reminded Yishrael in Devarim 7 before they entered the promise land what the cost were, and what blessings would flow should they obey. HaShem strengthened Yishrael by reminding them that their being chosen had nothing to do with anything other than His love for them, and His promise to their fathers 7:7-8. As a G-d who never changes (Mal'akhi 3:6a “For I am the LORD, I do not change"), HaShem reminds Yishrael of the promises given to their fathers casting a vision of the blessings and favour they will enjoy. In particular HaShem makes a statement of interest saying in chapter 7 verse 15, "And the LORD will take away from you all sickness (choliy), and will afflict you with none of the terrible diseases of Egypt". The second half of this verse reflected that of: 

Shemot 15:26, “If you diligently heed the voice of the LORD your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the LORD who heals you.”

this was also later clarified in Devarim 27-60. The diseases referred to those HaShem brought upon the Egyptians (the plagues), however it is interesting that there is a mention of sicknesses followed by the mention of diseases! The word used for sickness 'choliy' is used for both internal and external instances. Though I can't seem to find any more information to this first line in verse 15 stating sicknesses, as scholars etc simply skip it and refer straight to the following line, and the words 'diseases of Egypt' (likely because it is easy to explain), I am left with the question - 

  • Would sickness (whatever that means) be no more today, at least for the Yishraelites, should Yisrael have remained obedient to the commandments?

For the remainder of chapter 7 through chapter 8, HaShem reminds Yishrael of the power He has already displayed through the exodus, and now promises to go before them again in great might, followed by HaShem outlining what must not happen, and warning Yishrael to never forget who has blessed them, protected them, and gone before them.

As we so often do when we walk in blessing, should it come as (what we think is) a result of our labour, or be it us coming before Hashem on our knees seeking His favour - after time we often pat ourselves on the back thinking it is our Righteousness that got us there. HaShem makes it clear in Devarim 9:4-5 to not do so:

4  “Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land’; but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out from before you.5  “It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This theme of remembering where the blessing comes from and in whom it will continue to flow from, continues to the end of this parashah. Obedience paved the way for blessing, in the same way that today faith in Yeshua paves the way to salvation, as Ephesians 2:8 says:

"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God"

This weeks parashah in a sense examples the spiritual reality of life without relationship with Yeshua. Disobedience placed Yishrael in a position of separation from blessing and favour, though still under promise, just as no faith in Yeshua today places a person outside of HaShems redemption through Yeshua:

Psalms 32:1,2,51  Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,Whose sin is covered.2  Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit...5  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. 

Ephesians 1:77  In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace

As Yishrael was required to walk in obedience to access blessing, we are required to walk in, and outwork our faith in Yeshua to access salvation.

Graeme Politanski

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Parshah Devarim (Words) Deut. 1:1-3:22

Parshah Devarim (Words)  Deut. 1:1-3:22
With Shabbat Chazon – Shabbat before Tisha B’Av

It is important to first note that Parshah Devarim includes a special remembrance called Shabbat Chazon  (חזון שבת)  i.e “The Sabbath of Visions” and is often called “Black Sabbath” (not the band) due to it being the saddest Shabbat as part of the three weeks of mourning that begins on Tammuz 17th through to 9th Av.  It is during these three weeks that judgement against Israel is remembered historically and the Shabbat Chazon is the last Shabbat during this period before the grand finale on 9th Av.   

The Shabbat takes its name from the words of rebuke and doom that was coming to Israel in the Isaiah 1:1-27. אָמוֹץ -בֶן יְשַׁעְיָהוּ חֲזוֹן “Chazon Yeshayahu ben Amots -The vision of Isaiah son of Amos”.  These visions were not so great for Israel, especially the Temple, at the beginning but would eventually lead to the Salvation of Israel; so in a way, Great mourning will one day be turned into Great joy.

Back to the Parshah which is Devarim:  Deut 1:1 – 3:22.
Whilst “Devarim” is interpreted as “words”, the Bible has it written as Deuteronomy from a Greek word  “Deuteronómion” that means repetition of the Torah.  There is some discussion that this may have been a mistake from the Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate of a phrase in Dt 17:18.

Devarim  is taken from the first verse which states משֶׁה דִּבֶּר אֲשֶׁר הַדְּבָרִים אֵלֶּה – “Ele HaDevarim asher diber Moshe – These are the words the Moses spoke”.  Considering that his personal speaker and brother Aaron was dead, this is particularly interesting since in Moses described himself as "slow of speech and slow of tongue" having "never been a man of words - devarim"  Exod. 4:10.  Now Moses steps up to the plate and begins a strong delivery of Torah and new Mitzvot (commandments).

This is an honest retelling of the trials and adventures of the Jewish people since leaving Egypt yet filled with mysteries and prophecy.  Take for example Deut 1:35-36 where Moses tells the people that the whole evil generation will not enter the promise land. “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!’”.   We do know that Joshua and the Levites also entered the Land but Moses was unable to.   This is truly odd, considering that Moses was the most humble man on earth; the only one to speak with HaShem face to face?    

Rambam's commentary to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:1) describes Moshe as "the most perfect of all mankind."  Is Caleb (and Joshua / Levites) more worthy than Moses to enter the promise land?  For me, this is a clear picture of how faith is the way to enter the promise land.     Our best, well intentioned efforts won’t suffice either, as we see in Deut 1:41-46 when the children of Israel decided to take the Promise Land by force as a vain attempt of repentance as we see in verse 45 which says “And you returned and wept before the Lord, but the Lord did not listen to your voice or give ear to you”.

Repentance (Teshuvah) is not just about fixing or being sorry for our sins, it is the direction of our being.  Teshuvah literally means "return towards".    When the Israelites attempted to take the Promised Land by their own sorry strength, they were still not facing the right direction - they were navel gazing, not heaven gazing.  

Devarim begins with Moses speaking to a new generation that may not have seen the exodus from Egypt, the fire on the mountain or heard God speak out from the fire.   They may not have understood how their sins will hamper their settlement in the Promise Land and thus Moses explains carefully what is expected.   He begins with a reminding rebuke of how sin was the reason they were stuck in the desert for so long but that even in their days in the wilderness God continued to protect them and deliver them from the hands of their enemies including the king Sihon of Heshbon and Og the king of Bashan ; according to tradition, king Og was a huge giant and over 500 years old (Midrash Rabbah Bamidbar 19:32 / Nidah 24b / Zohar, Bamidbar 3:184a-b).     

So despite overwhelming odds, HaShem was with His people at all times.  Moses may have been using their experiences with a giant (Og) as encouragement for the people to not be afraid when they take the Promise Land this time.  It was with great regret that the story of Giants in the Land from the spies caused Israel to disbelief and sin 40 years earlier but we see throughout scripture and certainly in our own personal lives, that we often face giants in the field before taking on the real issues (even bigger Giants) in our life.  Take for example King David.  David was confident that he could win over Goliath because he had already faced lions and bears and was ready for this new giant – with HaShem.

In Deut 3:12 Moses is explaining how land had already been delivered to some of the tribes of Israel. This may have served as encouragement; in that settling in the Promise Land was not some dream that only happens to other nations. It had happened before and will happen again! It was not hope deferred but the fulfilment was to yet come – though it was close.

Some sages of the Sifre on Devarim suggest that the numerous place names listed in the first verse are not really true landmarks or geographical locations but were words to rebuke Israel of their sins in a code to keep their dignity.  Rashi stated  “These are the words.” Because they are words of admonition, he enumerated here all the places where they angered the Omnipresent; therefore he said the things obliquely, mentioning them in an allusive manner, out of respect for the dignity of Israel….”    When we read “Between Paran and Tofel and Lavan.” Rabbi Yohanan said: “We have searched the entire Scripture, and have not found any place called Tofel or Lavan. Rather, he rebuked them for the words with which they denounced the manna, which is white (lavan), saying “and we are sick of this spoiled bread” (Num 21:5). And for what they did in the wilderness of Paran in the matter of the Spies.”

Other points are:
1.     "In the desert" (בַּמִּדְבָּר ) – when they complained "if only we would have died in the desert" (Exod. 17:3)
2.     "In the plain" (בָּעֲרָבָה) - the sin with the Moabite women (and Ba'al Peor) in the plains of Moab (Num. 25)
3.     "Opposite Suf" (מוֹל סוּף) -  complaining on the shores of Yam Suf (at the start of the great exodus from Egypt)
4.     "Paran" (פָּארָן) - the Sin of the Spies, who were dispatched from Paran (Num. 13)
5.     "Tofel and Lavan" (תּפֶל וְלָבָן, "libel" and "white") - that is, their ‘libeling’ the white manna (Num. 21:5)
6.     "Hazerot" (חֲצֵרת) - that is, where Korach's mutiny against Moses took place
7.     "Di Zahav" - (דִי זָהָב,"too much gold") the sin of the Golden Calf.

The Parshah finishes on a GREAT message of encouragement. “You shall not fear them, for it is the Lord your God who fights for you” (Deut 3:22).  

So often we think we are alone in our battles against HaSatan, but it is the Lord who fights for us.  Victory was won on the cross and in Colossians 2:15 we read clearly “And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.”

Shalom  Jon