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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Parashah Mattot "Tribes" Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:1- 32:13

Mattot "Tribes"

Bamidbar (Numbers) 30:1- 32:13

Bamidbar 31

HaShem commands Moshe saying, “Take vengeance on the Midianites for the children of Yishrael" 31:2, therefore 1,000 from each tribe of Yishrael went to battle under the leadership of "Phinehas the son of Eleazar the priest, with the holy articles and the signal trumpets in his hand", 31:6.

At this point a few questions beg to be answered:
1.   Why war against the Midianites?
2.   Why under the command of Phinehas?
3.   Why are the holy articles and signal trumpets mentioned?

When Moshe escaped from Egypt after murdering an Egyptian, he dwelled in Midian. He stayed with the Priest of Midian - Jethro (Exodus 2:18), and there he married a Midianite women Zipporah, Exodus 2:16-21. Midian was established in the land of Moab , and they appeared to have a relationship of sorts, perhaps instigated after the attack on Midian from Bedad in Genesis 36:35. The knowledge of HaShem being with Yishrael and leading them into many victories appears to have spread, and it is  mentioned in scripture that Moab feared Yishrael, as Yishrael was camped just outside of Moab 22:3. As we discover after this battle, the Midianites were extremely influential and powerful within Moab as indicated by the death of 5 Midianite Kings by Yishrael 31:8 - Rashi states the relationship and weight of the Midianites by saying: "Why was it necessary [for Scripture] to say “five”? But it is to teach you that they were all equally involved in the conspiracy", (http://www.chabad.org/parshah/TorahReading.asp?AID=52598&p=2#showrashi=true).

1.    So why aim for the Midianites and not so much Moab? Moab and Midian were united together perhaps mores interweaved socially and as a people, they decided to try and have a curse placed upon Yishrael - it was a weird desperate idea, using Balaam to try and get HaSham to curse those He has blessed... anyway, that's what happened. Balaam was a prophet who would hear from HaShem, however he was a wicked man at heart. Balaam would not speak what HaShem didn't instruct him to speak, and after a bit of a saga, Balaam ended up blessing Yisrael 3 times instead of cursing them as what was asked of him, and therefore Balaam never received the reward promised him for cursing Yishrael. 

2.   After not too long Balaam realized another way to get his reward from Balak the Moabite, was to deceive Yishrael into prostitutes and idolatry rather than curse them - (I suppose a way of getting them to curse themselves). Balak followed Balaam’s advice, and Yishrael fell into sin, worshiping Baal of Peor and committing fornication with Midianite women 25:1, as well as making sacrifices,  bowed down to, and ate with their gods 25:2. For this God plagued Yishrael and 24,000 men died. The plague stopped because Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest threw a javelin through a man of Yishrael who was with a Midianite women - HaShem stopped the plague at this point and honored Phinehas by giving him His covenant of peace, (Numbers 25:1–9; Deuteronomy 23:3–6). Rashi makes note that it is very well possilbe Phinehas "sought the vengeance of Joseph, his maternal grandfather, for it says, “And the Medanites sold him” (Gen. 37:36) (Sifrei Mattoth 34, Sotah 43a), the connections appear to check out, however it may be as simple as, “The one who began the mitzvah (Phinehas) by killing Cozbi the daughter of Zur, should finish it” (Mid. Tanchuma Mattoth 3). 

3.    In some ways it is interesting that the holy articles and signal trumpets are to go to battle with Phinehas. Scholars don't easily agree that these refer to the ark of the covenant or even so much as to why. Phinehas wasn't High Priest and therefore it wasn't proper for him to carry the ark or where the ephod with the breastplate. There is only one other time in scripture that the articles or vessels are worded as 'Holy articles' and that is in 1 Chronicles 22:19, and here it is itemized separate from the ark of the covenant, as well as this the trumpets are not mentioned as being blown in the attack or victory of the war with the Midianites. Perhaps it was as simple as the Yishraelites going to battle with something tangable to remind them who their G-d was and that He was with them, or was it a statement even a declaration to the gods and deceit of Balaam who was known as loving the ways of unrighteousness (2 Peter 2:15), to declare the G-d of the Yishrael's is Adonai.

Graeme Politanski

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Parashah Korach (Korah) Bamidbar (Numbers) 16:1- 18:32

Korach (Korah)

Bamidbar (Numbers) 16:1- 18:32

This weeks Parashah is almost offensive to G-d fearing readers, but also a powerful reminder of our weaknesses, that we should always keep ourselves in check, continually reminding ourselves of who HaShem is, studying His scriptures and building relationship with Him with fear and honor towards HaShem. 

In Bamidbar 16:9 & 10, I could imagine Moshe in disbelief, and almost sarcastically reminding Korah of the blessing and favorable position HaShem had given him - now pride had entered his heart, as written:

9.   “Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to serve them;
10.   “and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking the priesthood also?

Already the similarity of Lucifer's position in heaven, when pride entered his heart, and he no longer saw the anointing upon his life favorably, but desired another anointing that he was not created for, nor could he handle (Ezekiel 28:14). 

In his deception Korah deceives others, leaders, and fellow Israelites that his course is just, saying such things to Moshe and Aaron as: “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?” (16:3)

Korah must have forgotten that their state of Holiness is as a result of their leaders (Moshe and Aaron) obedience and favor before HaShem. Once again Korah not only wrestled with his own rebellious heart but decided to deceive others around, as Lucifer did (2 Peter 2:4), and we will see happen again with the anti-Christ (Revelations 13:14).

There are many times in scripture when people look at other peoples gifts and blessing, loosing focus of what HaShem has given them, such as with the story of Cain killing Abel (Genesis 4:1-8), this leads to jealously and eventually destroys them.

When we loose focus of our salvation, what HaShem has done for us, His love for us, His gifts and anointing given us - we too fall away, follow paths of others even if they are ridiculous (like worshipping gold idols) or destructive. Humanity hasn't changed and well according to scripture with the anti-christ, it will never totally change :(

In order for HaShem to judge Korah and his follower, Moshe instructed in 16:17-18

17.   “Let each take his censer and put incense in it, and each of you bring his censer before the LORD, two hundred and fifty censers; both you and Aaron, each with his censer.”
18    So every man took his censer, put fire in it, laid incense on it, and stood at the door of the tabernacle of meeting with Moses and Aaron.

I find it interesting that He would even require such a thing to happen - does He do this so everyone can see their sin in a tangible way, why did HaShem require the censer, after all He can see everything even Korah's heart is seen by HaShem (Jeremiah 17:10).

It appears that the out working, or the seen is as important even though the heart and motive is already known to HaShem - I wonder where this thought could take us??? No wonder why David said to HaShem, "Let my prayer be set before You as incense", (Psalms 141:2). To have a pleasing sent before HaShem is evidence of our heart, our motive and our surrender to Him. In reverse we read that faith without works is dead (James 2:20), we have the acts of sacrifices in the Mishkan, when really HaShem could just see our heart and act accordingly. Is this HaShems way of allowing us see our own heart, for our own understand, be it in a positive or negative light. If our heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), our mind is not to be trusted (2 Corinthians 10:5) perhaps our reasoning in regards to HaShem's actions or judgement can only be understood through our own experiencing of our actions, be it in one way or another.

Graeme Politanski

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Parashat Naso (נָשֹׂא "Lift up!") Numbers 4:21-7:89 by Jon Eaton

Parashat Naso (נָשֹׂא "Lift up!")   Numbers 4:21-7:89  by Jon Eaton
Today’s parashat begins with the Lord directing Moses to take a census of the Levites who were responsible for transporting the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

“The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, take a census of the sons of Gershon also, by their fathers' houses and by their clans””. (Numbers 4:21-22).  These Levites were responsible for carrying the “tent of meeting”.

Earlier in Exodus chapter 13:2, we learn that the firstborn son of each Hebrew family was consecrated to the Lord on behalf the family, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether human or animal.”    But after the sin of the golden calf, the role of the firstborn was handed over to the Levites. It should have been the firstborn sons who would perform the sacrifices, carry the sacred objects and also carry the weight of the Tabernacle in the household but these duties were assigned as follows:

Gershonites, descendants of Levi's firstborn son Gershon, were responsible for caring for the Mishkan's woven articles. They were placed on the West side of the Mishkan.
Kohathites, descendants of Levi's middle son Kohath, carried the sacred objects of the Mishkan. They were placed on the South side of the Mishkan.
Merarites, descendants of Levi's youngest son Merari carried the wooden parts of the Mishkan as well as the ropes and sockets used for the curtain of the courtyard.  They were placed on the North side of the Mishkan.
Kohanim, descendants of Levi's great grandson Aaron were responsible for performing all of the korbonot (sacrifices) and other rituals on behalf of all of Israel.  They were positioned on the East side of the Mishkan.     

Some commentators have noted that the outlay of the tribes made a large cross figure.

 But I would rather go to the 4th Aliya about Sotah; "if she has strayed" (verb:שטה satah) in Numbers 5:12.

I’m not choosing this particular Aliya as a sexist statement, but from what I have read, it has been often called the most misunderstood passage in all scripture. 

The Sotah is a woman who has been warned in advance by her husband not to seclude herself with a particular man.  Interestingly, the Lord also warned Israel (His betrothed) not to become curious of other gods in Deuteronomy 12:30  “do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’”

Numbers 5:19 states, “Then the priest shall put the woman under oath and say to her, ‘If no other man has had sexual relations with you and you have not gone astray and become impure while married to your husband, may this bitter water that brings a curse not harm you”.

But where is the male counterpart in the adultery?? !!!!  Well, tradition states that the bitter waters affected BOTH parties.

“While it is the accused woman who must actually drink the bitter waters, the waters affect her male partner in adultery identically. Just as the waters examine her, they also examine him”. (Talmud, Sotah 27b)  Tough ey..   Not sure how the waters affected his thigh and belly but that conversation is up for another day.   I wonder if the woman was the one to drink the waters because the guys are often emotional wimps and wouldn’t show up for the test.  Haha.
But regardless of that, we should remember that this test is completely self-administered.   

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.  Not that I am comparing a woman to a horse but if the wife has been adulterous, than she can simply avoid the test by admitting to adultery and accept a divorce.   Also, it states clearly here that this test occurs when there are NO witnesses, so in ways she doesn't even have to admit to anything.     She could avoid the test by feigning anxiety etc.

Maybe HaShem was explaining how Israel would be punished when they too became adulterous and forget their first love – Him.  When they ignored his warning of following other gods and became Sotah.  They would be cursed and ashamed;  in need of redemption.  In-fact we read of the curse that would come upon Israel, due to their disobedience in Hosea 9:11, “No birth, no pregnancy, and no conception!”

So why take the test?   Possibly to humble an overbearing husband.  In fact the Hebrew states clearly that, “if a man, a man (
אִישׁ אִישׁ ish ish ) whose wife goes astray….” (Numbers 5:12)..  The double wording implies a man’s man (too much of a man);   Maybe a controlling, obsessive jealous type man.  Still, the drinking of bitter waters would be a real test of fire.  Very scary indeed.

Charles Spurgeon stated, “It looks very hard to believe that a child of God should be tried by the loss of his Father’s presence, and yet should come forth uninjured by the trial. Yet no gold is ever injured in the fire. Stoke the furnace as much as you may, let the blast be as strong as you will, thrust the ingot into the very center of the white heat, let it lie in the very heart of the flame; pile on more fuel, let another blast torment the coals till they become most vehement with heat, yet the gold is losing nothing, it may even be gaining.”

If she is innocent, the woman is physically and legally protected. The ceremony removes the judgment from society, the gossiping tongues, the overbearing husband and puts it all in the hands of the Creator.   It has been stated that this is the only test and command that HaShem is personally co-involved in.  It literally takes a visit from the devine.  Which means the wife is placed in a uniquely intimate relationship with the Lord.   Walking away from this test of fire would bring honor to her life, joy to her heart and a special encounter with Heaven that few have enjoyed.

Don’t let the tests of this life overwhelm us.   Our King will always use it to be glorified and to honor His name in our lives.

The Talmud comments that "goes astray" (i.e., tisteh: תִשְׂטֶה) is written so it can be read as "goes insane" (i.e., tishteh: תִשְׁטֶה).   Haha….  I like that.