Tag Archives: Bamidbar

In the Merit of Jewish Torah Observance Revisited

Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to comment on this that just as those who support Torah study financially have the merit of the Torah study of those they support, so too anyone who influences another person to study Torah shares in the merit of that person…

…Parents who influence and enable their children to study Torah have this merit, as do wives who enable their husbands to study Torah.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Influence others to study Torah,” p. 309
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar
Growth Through Torah

NOTE: It was brought to my attention that the previous incarnation of this blog post contained erroneous information. I have re-edited the text, images, and links to remove those errors.

Yes, I know this is midrash. I have an interesting relationship with midrash. I think of it as not so much literal fact or even a hidden spiritual truth, but rather as metaphor, a way to communicate something about people and their relationship to each other and to God.

As I write this, it’s Sunday morning and the first full day of Shavuot. Yesterday, my wife went to synagogue for Shabbat services and last night she returned for a study on the Book of Ruth, which is a traditional study for Jews on Shavuot. Not long from now, she’s leaving for shul again to help with the food preparations for the Shavuot gathering (all this will be over by the time you read these words).

As I mentioned a few days ago as well as on other occasions including this one, it is not only important to me as a general principle to encourage Jewish return to Torah study and observance, it’s important to me personally as a husband.

Rabbi Pliskin, citing Rabbi Shmuelevitz, commented that parents who encourage their children to study Torah, and wives who encourage their husbands to study Torah receive the merit of studying Torah themselves, even if they never actually do so in any regard.

in the merit of our forefathersYes, that’s midrash. We don’t really know through Biblical exegesis (at least those of us who lack a traditional religious Jewish education) how God views these “merits,” or if they represent some objective reality. However, I prefer to take this metaphor as an encouragement.

Of course, Rabbi Pliskin is writing to a Jewish audience and is not presupposing a non-Jewish husband married to a Jewish wife, but I believe there is some merit, even if it only exists inside my heart, in me encouraging and supporting my wife in Torah study and observance, even in the smallest degree. No, it’s not that God expects or requires me to observe Torah in the manner of the Jewish people, but I do think He expects and requires all non-Jewish disciples of the Master to recognize that we only receive the blessings of the New Covenant, such as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection, through the merit of Israel. After all, the New Covenant was made only with Israel and it is only through the mercy of God and the faithfulness of Messiah that we Gentiles can receive any of those blessings at all.

In return, what shall we do? Claim the Torah for ourselves as if we too stood at Sinai (which we didn’t)? Only the Jewish people can make that assertion. However, we can do the next best thing. We can encourage, support, and promote the Jewish return to Torah study and observance since it is the Jewish heritage and inheritance.

For nearly twenty centuries, Christianity has made a concerted effort to separate Jews from Torah, Talmud, and synagogue. Today, even the most enlightened churches continue to believe that the only way to “save” a Jew (or anyone else) is to have them exit Judaism and surrender any vestige of Torah study and observance, and instead to take on the traditions of the Gentile Christian Church.

But the Biblical record is clear that God has repeatedly urged the Jewish people, from Moses to Paul and beyond, to observe and obey His Torah, and when they don’t, the consequence is exile or worse.

burning talmudMistakenly, for the past two-thousand years, the Church has promoted and encouraged the Jewish people to disobey God, further exacerbating Jewish exile. By God’s grace, He has overridden our futile efforts to further damage the Jewish people and Judaism by re-establishing national Israel and beginning to return His people to their Land, all in preparation for the time of the Messiah and the completion of the New Covenant promises.

He has also drawn some few of we Gentiles to a greater knowledge of the Torah and specifically our esteemed and valued role as supporters of the Jewish people and their return to the mitzvot.

Hashem said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their clothing. Let them be prepared for the third day, for on the third day Hashem shall descend in the sight of the entire people on Mount Sinai.”

Shemos (Exodus) 19:10-11 (The Kestenbaum Edition Tikkun)

As Moses obeyed Hashem in directing the nation of Israel to be sanctified before God in preparation to receive the Torah, we Gentiles can take our cue from this lesson and, not direct, but rather clear the path for Jewish return to the Torah.

I’m in a rather unique position as a Yeshua-believing Gentile husband being married to a non-believing Jewish wife. I have a built-in opportunity to support her involvement in Jewish community and in Torah study and observance. Many of you don’t have that specific opportunity, but I believe many of you have others of which you can take advantage.

One of these things is not like the othersI believe that individual Christians and the Church as a whole has the opportunity to change its narrative from being anti-Torah and anti-Judaism to just the opposite. No, I’m not encouraging Gentile believers to take up the Torah as such, but they/you/we can start preaching and teaching the extreme value of Jewish Torah observance in God’s plan of global redemption. We’ve tried to take God’s gift of the Torah away from the Jewish people for untold centuries. It’s time we repented of this sin and made amends. It’s time we got out of Judaism’s way, including Messianic Judaism.

Without the Jewish Messiah King and without a Torah observant Israel, there are no blessings to radiate out to the nations. Ironically and tragically, by Christianity’s efforts to separate the Jewish people from Torah, we have been cutting ourselves off from the Savior of the World, the Church’s beloved Jesus.

According to Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman, it was on the festival of Sukkot each year when seventy oxen were sacrificed for the sake of the seventy nations of the world, that is, the global population of non-Jews:

Thus our Sages taught, “You find that during the Festival [Succot], Israel offers seventy oxen for the seventy nations. Israel says: Master of the Universe, behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, in the place of my love, they hate me (Psalms 109).” Further, they remarked: “If the nations of the world would have known the value of the Temple for them, they would have surrounded it with a fortress in order to protect it. For it was of greater value to them than for Israel [instead, they destroyed it]” (Bamidbar Rabba 1).

If it is true that the ancient Roman armies, in destroying the Temple, were destroying Israel’s ability to offer atonement for the Gentiles before God, how much more so has the Christian Church, in striving to separate the Jewish people from Torah, been destroying the New Covenant salvation offered to us by Messiah, by Christ?

We can change this. There’s still time. Do what I do for I believe what I’m doing is right. If nothing else, at least get out of the way of Jewish people, both those in Messiah and otherwise, in returning to the Torah. If you have Jews in your church, encourage them to light the Shabbos candles, listen to podcasts on Torah study, read fine commentaries on Torah such as those published by Rabbi Pliskin. Encourage them to become more observant as Jews.

sefer torahMost importantly, if they are willing, encourage them in learning of how Jewish Torah observance and devotion to Messiah not only go hand in hand, but are absolutely necessary to fulfill and complete the redemptive plan of God for all Israel, and through Israel, the entire world. Then we Gentiles may be able to say that we have earned, however metaphorically, the merit of Torah study and observance, not by doing so ourselves, but by being part of the Messianic plan to return the Jewish people to their Torah and their Land.

Bamidbar: Desperately Loving a Prostitute

hosea-and-gomerOn the face of it, the connections between the sedra and the haftarah of Bamidbar are slender. The first has to do with demography. Bamidbar begins with a census of the people. The haftarah begins with Hosea’s vision of a time when “the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand on the seashore, which cannot be measured or numbered.” There was a time when the Israelites could be counted; the day will come when they will be countless. That is one contrast between the future and the past.

-Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth
“Love as Law, Law as Love”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar

It’s not often that I write about both the Torah and Haftarah portions of a weekly Torah reading, but in trying to decide on my sources, both seemed to tell the same story: the story of God’s love. I know most Christians read the beginning of the Book of Numbers and mentally shut down the instant the census begins, but this is why the Torah is not just any other book. This is why the Bible is to be discovered and explored like a lost continent, like a prehistoric forest, like the ruins of the grand halls of the antediluvian Kings.

Because the words on the surface are deceptive and only the superficial person sees merely black text on white paper.

So Moses and Aaron took those men, who were designated by name, and on the first day of the second month they convoked the whole community, who were registered by the clans of their ancestral houses — the names of those aged twenty years and over being listed head by head.

Numbers 1:17-18 (JPS Tanakh)

When the census was taken in the desert, families were recorded by the names of their fathers. Now that’s unfair! Who insisted on having these children in Egypt over their husbands’ protests? Who defied Pharaoh’s decree and risked their lives to carry, give birth to and nurse these children? Now that the children are to be counted, the mothers are no longer noteworthy? (See Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 38:8)

In truth, no one needs a census to identify his mother. Every child knows his mother. Every child knows his mother. She raised him, nursed him, nurtured and loved him. The question is, who is the father? How many children can answer that question with certainty? For that we need a census.

-Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
“The Jewish Father”

Rabbi Gurkow goes on in his commentary to discuss how each child of a Jewish mother naturally knows his mother and then links this to the census and the importance of the Jewish father. He “smooths out” the apparent dissonance introduced by the “black and white” sense of the census and then says…

Children need both. They need to know that curiosity is normal and that answers are available to those who seek them. But they also need to know that moral standards are not negotiable. The young cannot expect to understand everything. Even adults don’t understand the reason for every moral standard. That is why we call them imperatives, not philosophies. On the deepest level, we don’t embrace morality because we understand its importance, but because we know it to be the right path.

The need for a mother and a father in parenting may contradict certain recent news stories addressing parenting and gender identity that we’ve all been hearing about, but in traditional Jewish (and Biblical) values, both are necessary and required for the proper raising of children. Both a mother and a father are necessary to teach children how men and women uniquely understand the world and in illuminating the different aspects of God. This is one way we learn to love, not just what it’s like to love and be loved by our parents (and others), but how to love and be loved by God.

The Sages tell us these were no ordinary censuses. Each time the Jewish people were counted, it was an expression of G‑d’s love for His people and His concern for every individual…

Yet this great power that the stars possess is not at all obvious. To us on earth, looking with the unaided eye and perhaps not thinking too much about the matter, the stars seem tiny and insignificant. Yet in fact, each star is a powerful and unique force.

So too is the case with each individual. In the context of the big wide world, he or she might feel insignificant. Yet, in truth, within each one of us there is an inner source of tremendous spiritual power, tailored to the unique and essential task we must carry out in the course of our lives.

-Dr. Tali Loewenthal
“Numbers and Stars”

Under heavenThe Prophet Isaiah said of the stars that God knows each individual one by its name and counts each one as it rises and sets which, for a human being given the vastness of the stars of heaven, would be an insurmountable task. But it is also said that God knows each one of us by our names and “counts” us, and we too are precious to Him. Like a child with many brothers and sisters, it’s easy to fell “lost in the crowd, but this isn’t how God sees us. Though our numbers are legion, still God, our Father, loves each and every one of us with a love that is unique and special to each of His sons and daughters.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from [the will of] your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Matthew 10:29-31

But what of the Haftarah Portion for Bamidbar? Rabbi Sacks states quoting Hosea 1:16, 17:

The second goes deeper. The sedra and the book that bears its name are called Bamidbar, “in the wilderness.” The book is about the wilderness years in both a physical and spiritual sense: a time of wandering and internal conflict. Hosea, however, foresees a time when G‑d will bring the people back to the desert and there enact a second honeymoon:

. . . I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her . . .
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
As in the day she came out of Egypt.

It’s important to understand something here. It’s important to understand the relationship between the Prophet and his wife, Gomer.

The story of Hosea is one of the strangest of that great chain of visionaries we call the prophets. It is the story of a marriage. The prophet married a woman called Gomer. He was deeply in love with her. We can infer this because, of all the prophets, Hosea is the most eloquent and passionate on the subject of love. Gomer, however, proved faithless. She left home, had a series of lovers, was serially unfaithful, and was eventually forced to sell herself into slavery. Yet Hosea, caught between anger and tender longing, found that he could not relinquish his love for her.

The love of Hosea for his wife Gomer, who “whored” herself after many lovers and finally who sold herself into prostitution is like God’s love for Israel, who “whored” herself after many “gods” and was equally faithless to her husband Hashem.

What man could embrace such a wife after this awful betrayal? No one (except God) would have blamed Hosea if he totally abandoned Gomer and pursued a more righteous wife (and how many other women were less righteous?). No one would have held it against him if he, the victim, would have walked away from Gomer and left her to the consequences of her decisions. But if he did so, if Hosea had cast Gomer aside, does that mean God should have done the same to Israel?

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

Romans 11:25-32 (Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 [see Septuagint]; Jer. 31:33,34)

Wayward SonIf we know how to read the Torah and Haftarah properly, they tell us a tale of love that is immense and beyond human comprehension. The Torah is the Law of Love, not condemnation. We shouldn’t forget the timing either. Rabbi Sacks points out that Hosea is the portion from the Prophets always read on the Shabbat directly preceding Shavuot, which is the festival celebrating the giving of the Torah at Sinai.

The fact that tradition chose this of all prophetic passages tells us something deeply moving about how the Jewish people understood this festival, and about the Torah itself as the living connection between a people and G‑d.

I wrote yesterday about the relationship between love and the Bible and it seems like there is no escaping that theme as Shabbat approaches. We see that in spite of all rationality and reason, God loves Israel, and that such love is inescapably linked to Jewish love of God and the Torah. What is it then that God has done by giving us the Bible? What is the message beyond the simple words on the page? How does the very existence of the Bible mean Good News for the Jews, that the love of God can never be lost?

And what is the Good News for the Gentiles?

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only [unique] begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

John 3:16 (NASB)

I know that last verse is terribly over-quoted but how else am I to say what needs to be said?

Israel will not be lost! The Jewish people will never be abandoned. To believe otherwise is to completely misunderstand the Scriptures. And if we from among the nations who are called by His Name cling to Messiah and to the promise of his life and resurrection, then by the grace of God, neither will we.

Good Shabbos.

138 days.

Bamidbar and Shavuot: Souls in the Desert

“Numbers” may be the name by which the fourth of the Five Books of Moses is commonly called, but in the Hebrew original it is known as Bamidbar, or “In the Wilderness.” It is interesting to note that this parsha is always read immediately before the festival of Shavuot, “the season of the giving of the Torah.” What is the connection?

The Sages teach that it is not enough for G-d to give us the Torah, we have to be ready to receive the Torah. What makes us worthy recipients of this most precious and infinite gift from G-d? This is where the “wilderness” idea comes in. A wilderness is a no-man’s land. It is ownerless and barren. Just as a desert is empty and desolate, so does a student of Torah need to know that he is but an “empty vessel.” Humility is a vital prerequisite if we are to successfully absorb divine wisdom.

-Rabbi Yossy Goldman
“Wisdom from the Wilderness”
Commentary on Torah Portion Bamidbar (Numbers)

When the day of Pentecost (that is, Shavuot) arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?”

Acts 2:1-8 (ESV)

I’m not sure what I’m supposed to write about. On my “morning meditation” for Fridays, I usually create a commentary on the weekly Torah Portion, which this week is the beginning of Numbers. However, we are also on the cusp of Shavuot and the two cannot be neatly divided and separated. In my quote from Rabbi Goldman, he even asks about the connection between the two. Fortunately, he also gives us an answer.

However, for those of us who are disciples of the Jewish Messiah and devoted to Jesus Christ, there is an added dimension to offering the Torah to the wilderness within all our souls. There is the giving of the Spirit and God. This isn’t to say that Jews do not have access to the Spirit of God. Far from it. But in accepting the Messiah into our hearts and recognizing that it is Jesus who is Lord of life and firstborn from the dead, we enter into a covenant that not only preserves us in the present world, but one that will endure beyond the next and into all eternity, even as Heaven and Earth pass away (Matthew 5:18).

But we are still here and we exist in what we call “now,” which is approaching Shabbat and a day later, Shavuot. We look to the past, to Mount Sinai and the Torah and to that room in Jerusalem and the Apostles being filled with the Spirit, and we rejoice. But it’s not all about the past.

Unlike Passover or Sukkos, or even the minor Rabbinic holiday of Purim, Shavuos comes with no special observances, no unique Mitzvos to be performed on that day. The “only” thing that sets Shavuos apart is that it is the day when G-d gave the Torah, His most precious gift, to the Jewish people.

Each year, we don’t merely revisit or even relive that experience. Kabbalistic sources teach that the unique spiritual powers of each holiday return to this world every year on that same day. On Shavuos, we have a special power to take our portion in Torah, each and every year.

Every year, many of us skip out on this unique opportunity. We deny ourselves the closeness to G-d which is within our grasp. And there is a fascinating Medrash concerning the giving of the Torah, which hints that this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Rabbi Menken doesn’t say this explicitly, but the reason we study Torah, observe the festivals, and remember the holy acts in the lives of the Apostles is to not just relive them today, but to experience them as new, fresh, living events that are happening to us for the very first time. Many Christians speak of a need for renewal in the church and yet Judaism has built into its calendar multiple times of renewing each and every year. Jews and Christians are at such a time now. Before our awareness of God, we existed as a wilderness, empty and barren in our soul. This is especially tragic for Jews since they are members of the Covenant and a chosen people, even if they acknowledge God not at all. We who are Gentiles, if we are without God, we are as Paul described us; far off and without hope (Ephesians 2:12).

The Jews were joined with God at the foot of Sinai in the desert, where the Torah was given to them. We who were once far off were offered the opportunity to also draw close to God at the foot of the cross and in that room in Jerusalem, when we were washed by blood and filled with Spirit. We were made alive and spiritually aware of God through Christ.

Rabbi Goldman concludes his commentary on Numbers and Shavuot by saying:

May we receive the Torah with joy and earnestness so that this important festival will be both memorable and meaningful.

Paul says in Ephesians 12:22 (ESV):

And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Open your minds, your hearts, and your spirits to God. Today we become new again.

A Happy Shavuos and Good Shabbos.

(Shavuot begins Saturday evening right when Shabbat ends, so my next “morning meditation” will be posted online Monday morning. Blessings).