Tag Archives: Beshalach

Beshalach: Traveling to Meet God

train-october-expressAround the turn of the twentieth century, Vladimir, an illiterate and unworldly Siberian peasant, struck it rich. One day he was offered a very lucrative business proposition. Closing the deal, however, required his presence in Moscow.

Moscow. He was pretty sure that a horse—even the sturdiest his village had to offer—would not be able to make the trip of several thousand kilometers . . . Some of the more sophisticated residents of the town came to his rescue, advising him about the existence of a new mode of transportation, a “train.” If he were to travel to Novosibirsk, the closest large city, he would be able to catch a train to Moscow.

Thus, one fine day found Vladimir in the central train station of Novosibirsk. When he informed the lady behind the ticket counter of his intended destination, she asked him what sort of ticket he wished to purchase. Observing his confusion, she told him that he could purchase a first-, second- or third-class ticket. A third-class ticket, she explained, offered absolutely no amenities, and didn’t even guarantee a spot on the train. If the arriving train was already filled to capacity, he would have to wait for the next one. A second-class ticket offered a greater chance of a spot on the train, along with more comfortable accommodations. A first-class ticket came with a guaranteed seat, and all amenities necessary to ensure a luxurious and comfortable journey.

Money was hardly an issue, so first class it would be. The ticket lady explained to her consumer that the ticket was non-refundable, and should be guarded carefully…

-Rabbi Naftali Silberberg
“First-Class Stowaway”

At this stage of reading the Rabbi’s fable, I was anticipating disaster at any second. While Vladimir had certainly done well for himself in a material sense, anyone who didn’t know what a train was and needed one as a mode of transportation was certainly bound to get into trouble. I guess that’s what happens when you have too much of one thing but not enough of another. Money minus common-sense or experience equals what?

But before getting to the answer, you may be asking yourself what Vladimir’s predicament has to do with Torah Portion Beshalach?

That’s a very good question.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread for you from the sky, and the people shall go out and gather each day that day’s portion — that I may thus test them, to see whether they will follow My instructions or not. But on the sixth day, when they apportion what they have brought in, it shall prove to be double the amount they gather each day.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “By evening you shall know it was the Lord who brought you out from the land of Egypt; and in the morning you shall behold the Presence of the Lord…

So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat; for when the sun grew hot, it would melt. On the sixth day they gathered double the amount of food, two omers for each; and when all the chieftains of the community came and told Moses, he said to them, “This is what the Lord meant: Tomorrow is a day of rest, a holy sabbath of the Lord. Bake what you would bake and boil what you would boil; and all that is left put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered; and it did not turn foul, and there were no maggots in it. Then Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath of the Lord; you will not find it today on the plain. Six days you shall gather it; on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.”

Yet some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found nothing. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will you men refuse to obey My commandments and My teachings? Mark that the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you two days’ food on the sixth day. Let everyone remain where he is: let no one leave his place on the seventh day.” So the people remained inactive on the seventh day.

Exodus 16:4-7, 21-30 (JPS Tanakh)

I suppose the Children of Israel couldn’t be blamed. After all, no one had ever seen or heard of such a thing as manna before. I mean, food that rained out of the sky? C’mon! And once they got used to the idea that they could gather food that had rained right on the ground every morning, they had to get past the idea that it would be there tomorrow and the next day. They didn’t have to save up. But then, on top of all that, they had to get used to the idea that a double-portion would fall on only Friday morning, and that double-portion they could save overnight, so that they’d have food for Shabbat. No food was going to rain from Heaven on Shabbat.

waiting-for-mannaToday, it is typical that we have jobs, earn money, and go to the store when we want food. We don’t expect, nor has God promised that our food will literally fall out of the sky and into our backyards. And yet, we are expected to know when to make an effort in order to meet our needs as God provides, and when to wait for God alone to fulfill our requirements.

It’s not easy.

Part of it has to do with experience. The Children of Israel eventually became quite accustomed to manna and how to manage it, including its “gathering schedule.” But at first it was quite awkward and difficult to figure out, even after Moses told them what God had to say about manna. That takes us back to Vladimir and his predicament.

The train arrived. After his initial shock at seeing such a monstrously large caravan of cars, Vladimir regained his composure and scanned the terminal to see what to do. As it was early, most of the passengers had not yet arrived, but he noticed three passengers boarding the very last car on the train. He followed them into the car, and when each one climbed beneath one of the benches in the car, he did the same. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fully familiar with proper stowaway protocol, and his feet jutted out across the aisle of the third-class car.

It was dark and lonely beneath the bench, and Vladimir quickly dozed off. He didn’t feel the train start to move, and didn’t hear the conductor entering the car. He did, however, feel a sharp kick to his shins, and the startled peasant was expertly hoisted out by the burly conductor.

“You moron, you think this is a free ride?” he bellowed. “You need a ticket to ride this train!”

“What’s the problem, sir,” Vladimir meekly responded. “I have a ticket.”

The other travelers on the train car burst out laughing at this ludicrous claim. Their laughter only intensified when he started peeling off layer after layer of clothing, starting with his expensive fur coat and ending with his undergarments. But, much to their astonishment, he pulled out a ticket—a first-class ticket, no less!

After verifying that the ticket was indeed authentic, the conductor, in a distinctly humbled tone of voice, asked the obvious: “Sir, you have an expensive first-class ticket; pray tell me why you are lying under a bench in the third-class car?!”

“Because that’s what the others were doing . . .” was the embarrassed response.

What is it about being a Christian that’s so difficult? Lots of things. What is it about being a person who hasn’t been a Christian for very long that’s so difficult? Lots of things. Like Vladimir, we have been given a tremendous gift, something of great value, but we have no experience with it.

In some ways, this is a very enviable position, because we don’t come with years or decades of dogma riding on our shoulders and getting in the way. It’s just the new Christian and God. Probably some of the most honest prayers a person will ever utter will be when he or she has just come to faith.

But there are liabilities attached. When you don’t know much about the God you’re supposed to have a relationship with, you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know how to act, you are like a person who has a ticket for a first-class train ride, and you’ve just seen your first train that morning. So, when you don’t know what to do, you do like everyone else is doing, even if they’re exactly the wrong people to emulate.

transcendenceBut how do we know who to imitate?

I could get on my soapbox about mentorship and discipleship and the responsibility of experienced believers to help teach “newbies,” but I suppose you’ve heard all that before. Vladimir learned an embarrassing but not disastrous lesson (he didn’t lose his expensive ticket as I imagined when I read just the first half of the tale).

But what about you and me?

I suppose Vladimir eventually learned the ins and outs of rail travel and probably became quite good at it, but the moral of this particular story is that we will be held accountable by God, not for just what we did in the first days and weeks after becoming a believer, but what we did with our “first-class ticket” for our entire lives. Experience is only valuable if we learn from it and let it modify our behavior. We have to grow spiritually or we get stuck doing the moral equivalent of sneaking on board a train for which we have a ticket. We waste what God has given us (reminds me of Matthew 25:14-30). This too is the lesson of the manna. We can use it wisely, learning when to gather and when not to, when to save and when to use it all in the evening, or we can waste what God has provided.

The Children of Israel were on a journey to go and meet God. So are we. The manna was just one of the lessons they needed to learn along the way in order to get ready to encounter God. What lessons is God giving us that we need to learn before our encounter?

When God calls for an accounting of what you did with your first-class ticket, your life as a believer, what will you say?

Good Shabbos.

Silent Faith at the Sea

exodus-reed-seaWhen the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his courtiers had a change of heart about the people and said, “What is this we have done, releasing Israel from our service?” He ordered his chariot and took his men with him; he took six hundred of his picked chariots, and the rest of the chariots of Egypt, with officers in all of them. The Lord stiffened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he gave chase to the Israelites. As the Israelites were departing defiantly, boldly, the Egyptians gave chase to them, and all the chariot horses of Pharaoh, his horsemen, and his warriors overtook them encamped by the sea, near Pi-hahiroth, before Baal-zephon.

As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites caught sight of the Egyptians advancing upon them. Greatly frightened, the Israelites cried out to the Lord. And they said to Moses, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, taking us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us be, and we will serve the Egyptians, for it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness’?” But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.

Then Moses caused Israel to set out from the Sea of Reeds. They went on into the wilderness of Shur; they traveled three days in the wilderness and found no water. They came to Marah, but they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; that is why it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses…

Exodus 14:5-15; 15:22-24 (JPS Tanakh)

The miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea is the culmination of the Exodus. One week after the calamitous plague of the First Born, once again Pharaoh is chasing after the Jews to enslave them. As he advances, the Jews are trapped between the sea and the advancing Egyptian army.

Groups of Jews suggest a variety of responses to the impending disaster. God tells Moses to cease praying and travel toward the sea. In a heroic act of faith, Nachshon, prince of the tribe of Judah, throws himself into the sea, and it splits. (Talmud – Sotah 37a)

-Rabbi Dave Rudman
“Chumash Themes #11: Splitting of the Sea”
Commentary on Torah Portion Beshalach

One of the arguments I sometimes hear (though fortunately, not lately) about how Christians are ultimately superior to the ancient Israelites, has to do with faith. Basically, I’ve heard that Christians have an abundance of faith in God through Jesus Christ and the Israelites had none. The “proof” of the latter has to do with the continual grumbling of the Israelites (as I’ve tried to illustrate above) and how it seems to be a characteristic of them for the next forty years. That first generation out of Egypt never seems to get it right. It appears amazing after all, since they witnessed miracles of God that would stagger the senses. They saw the plagues against Egypt. They saw the parting of the Reed Sea. The entire population of Israel directly encountered God at Sinai and received the Torah “as one man.”

How could they not know that God is was with them?

The response to that question is much bigger than I’m able to answer, particularly in a blogging format, but through metaphor, midrash, and a little Chasidic mysticism, I want to use a tiny bit of the Exodus narrative to tell a story about us…about you and me…about people of faith.

When the Jewish people left Egypt, they were the spiritual equivalent of children. Their active participation in the Ten Plagues and the Exodus was negligible. The plagues were accomplished in a completely miraculous way through the agency of Moses and Aaron. The Exodus itself was predicated on the covenant that God promised Abraham to redeem his descendants from slavery. (Genesis 15:13-14)

Therefore, the Jewish people needed to mature and interact with God on their own.

-Rabbi Rudman

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:13-20 (ESV)

sower-seedThe full “Parable of the Sower” can be found in Mark 4:1-20 and I find it an interesting parallel to what Rabbi Rudman said about the Children of Israel being “spiritual children” at the point when they’re leaving Egypt. They were a people but not yet a nation. Their bodies had been freed from slavery but not their minds and hearts. They moved forward with joy but were terrified at every setback.

Here’s another way of looking at the choices we make as cited in a more “mystic” source:

A king had lost a costly pearl. He sent his three sons to look for it. The first son was of the opinion that his father did not need him anymore, and he did not return to him. The second son did not think about the pearl at all, he only wanted to be back home with his father. The third son understood that he had been sent out for this purpose: to become completely independent. So he searched for the pearl and found it and brought it to his father.

It is very much like that with humanity. One person is deeply involved in this world. For him it would have been better if he had never been born. Another strives his whole life to get back home to his Source, to his Father; but he is thereby thinking only about himself. Still other men seek after and find the precious pearl. They return the holy sparks of God which have been scattered in the world back to their original Source again. Such men are the true redeemers of mankind.

Paul Philip Levertoff
“Repentance and Redemption”
Religious Ideas of the Chasidim
Chapter 1, Sections 12 and 13
as quoted from Messiah Journal, Issue 112 (Fall 2013/5773), pp 79-80

Now how does all that compare to us?

young-levertoffYou may have been a Christian for so long that you’ve forgotten what it was like to be a brand new believer. You may have initially come to faith as a child within the context of a Christian family, so you may never have encountered God without the support of a church and loved ones, just you and Him alone and unfiltered. Taking the Master’s parable as a model, and given all that I’ve just said, you may have never faced nurturing a new and fragile faith that just about anything could blow away if you let it…like when the Adversary comes to take the word back out of your heart, or when you don’t allow the word to take root, or when you let the problems and worries of the world around you distract you and choke your faith to death. The challenge of letting faith and the word grow in good soil is to protect it long enough to become strong.

I suppose that’s one of the advantages I have in coming to faith later in life, although it comes with many disadvantages as well. Faith is something I’ve had to fight for within myself and it remains a struggle, sometimes between me and God.

Therefore, the Jewish people needed to mature and interact with God on their own. This was the purpose of the second phase of the Exodus, the splitting of the sea. In order to bring the Jews to this degree of independence, God directs them on a specific journey…

-Rabbi Rudman

I frequently refer to a life of faith as a journey taken along a path and I think the metaphor serves quite well. I sometimes feel that the first generation out of Egypt were never meant to enter the Holy Land of Israel, and that the trial of slavery in Egypt was just too much for them to overcome on the journey, even though God was with them.

But what was Egypt to them and why would it have left such an indelible brand on its slaves, at least as certain “mystic” viewpoints in Judaism see it today?

Mitzrayim (Egypt) expresses constriction, limitation. The spiritual Egyptian exile is the animal soul’s restricting and concealing the G-dly soul so severely that the G-dly soul is compressed to the degree that it is diminished and obscured. “Exodus from Egypt” is the removal of the constriction and bounds; i.e. the intellect in the brain illuminates the heart, bringing about fine character traits translated into actual practice.

“Today’s Day”
Sunday, Sh’vat 4, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

They had been slaves all their lives, their parents, their grandparents, and all of their people had been slaves in Egypt for almost as long as their collective memory could recall. I sometimes feel as if they existed to prepare their children to inherit the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But I’ll never know, I suppose. That’s just my imagination. I’ll never know if the journey was for the sake of the children who left Egypt and the children who were the first generation of Israelites born in freedom after several hundred years of enthrallment. The journey had a purpose, but it may not have been the one that we think of when we read of the forty years of wandering.

But what about us? It would be an immense tragedy to try to apply the forty years of wandering and the ultimate death of that first generation as a metaphor of us as individual believers. It would mean that the lives of some Christians who don’t quite make it in their faith are only illustrations for the witnesses to their lives. That sounds unfair to them and maybe I’m being unfair to the first generation to leave Israel as well. I don’t know.

But I do know that the journey has a purpose, even when it doesn’t appear that such a purpose exists. Each miracle, each tragedy, each meal of manna, each harsh encounter with Moab or the Amalakites…all of that shaped and molded the journey and shaped and molded the Israelite faith in the presence and purpose of God who was among them.

It is just the same with our journey as well. In reading and re-reading the Torah cycle each year, we are witnesses to the Israelite journey and as witnesses, we can try to learn the lessons their path is teaching us about our own trip through life. As we see their struggle, it is one of human beings contending with God. Can God save them from the latest calamity or must the Israelites take matters into their own hands and return to Egypt? Can Moses and Aaron be trusted to lead the people, or should Korach and his associates take over?

As far as we’re concerned, when difficulties happen to us, who should we trust and what should we do?

Sometimes you see that things have been taken out of your hands and are following a supernatural order. At this point, just do your best at what you have to do—and stay out of G‑d’s way.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Getting Out of the Way”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

WateringThis doesn’t mean we have no responsibility to act on our own behalf or on the behalf of others as circumstances require, but on the other hand, it doesn’t mean we have license to always drive ourselves into each problem as if God doesn’t exist, either. There is a time to act and a time to let God act and have faith that, even though things seem hard or even impossible, He will prevail.

Moses said to the people, “Do not fear. Stand still, and see the salvation of G-d that He will show you today: for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again. G-d will fight for you, and you shall be silent.”

Exodus 14:13-14

Talmud Yerushalmi – Ta’anit 2:5 explains:

  • One group felt they could not win this battle. So rather than be captured alive, they wanted to commit suicide by casting themselves into the sea. To this, the response was “stand still.”
  • Another group of Jews desired to return to Egypt and surrender. To them, the response was, “the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you shall never see them again.”
  • A third group desired to go to battle. But Moses told them, “God will fight for you.”
  • For those who wanted to pray, Moses said, “Be silent.”

I told you midrash would be involved.

Listen to God and do what you are required, as best as you can comprehend, to address your life as it exists each day because it is faith in God that gives us courage to act. This helps us to mature and interact with God on our own. But remember that it is also faith and courage to “stand still” and to “be silent” and let God take care of you as well.

Is It Better to Rule?

This week’s reading describes the miracle of the Mahn (Manna), the miraculous bread which G-d gave to our ancestors to eat in the desert. The people said they were hungry, they complained, and they were given an open miracle in return — along with instructions. They were told to gather only what they needed for the day, except on the sixth day, when they were told to gather a double portion for the Sabbath. So almost everybody did exactly what they were told to do. But the Torah tells us that “they didn’t listen to Moses, and men left it over until morning, and it became wormy” [Ex. 16:25]. Who didn’t listen? The Medrash tells us: Dasan and Aviram.

You just have to ask, who were these guys? In modern language, what was their problem?

We first meet Dasan and Aviram much earlier. Moses goes out and sees an Egyptian beating a Jew, and in order to protect his brother from death, he kills the Egyptian. The next day, he finds Dasan and Aviram fighting with each other, and he says to the attacker, why are you hitting your friend?

He answers back, “who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you saying you’re going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” The Medrash says that what Moses found so frightening about this exchange is that there were wicked people, informers among the Jews.

-Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Director, Project Genesis – Torah.org
Challenging Authority “for its own sake”
Commentary on Torah Portion Beshalach

Some people just aren’t satisfied with what they’ve got. That seems to be the premise of the midrash for Dasan and Aviram, according to Rabbi Menken. I have a tendency to give the newly freed slaves of the Egyptians a break because after centuries of servitude to a corrupt and idolatrous kingdom, they are suddenly thrust into a world they could hardly have imagined and after all, learning to wait for God’s provision isn’t something they really understood. But Dasan and Aviram are a different case. Midrash states that they questioned authority, not because they didn’t understand and desired to comprehend the will of God, but just because they could.

But they weren’t simply informers, they were troublemakers at every opportunity. They finally met their end during the rebellion of Korach, which they joined. Korach was jealous of Moses and Aharon for the honor they received. But if Korach had become the leader instead, Dasan and Aviram would still have been simply members of the tribe of Reuven. What did they stand to gain from getting involved in the argument?

They were obviously sincere to a certain degree, because they merited to be part of the Exodus. But they could not get over their desire to challenge authority, apparently simply for its own sake. Even on something so trivial as gathering extra Mahn, they couldn’t resist seeing if they could find a flaw in the orders Moses gave them. And that was the same trait that eventually led to their deaths in Korach’s rebellion.

But that’s not really relevant to us today, is it? I mean after all, we don’t find people today, apparently well-meaning in some way, but acting out, against authority, just “because,” do we? Or perhaps it is more common than ever.

Rabbi Menken’s last paragraph obviously communicates more than a little irony, and he points to last time we see such rebellion against authority from these two Reubenites, just because they were jealous and had a desire to rebel.

Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth — descendants of Reuben — to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” –Numbers 16:1-3 (JPS Tanakh)

The two same malcontents who insisted on disobeying Moses in regards to the manna are also backing up Korah in his opposition against Moses and Aaron. They are nothing if not persistent, but as the subsequent verses in this chapter and Rabbi Menken’s commentary tells us, they finally came to a bad end.

Unfortunately, as Rabbi Menken suggests, discontent within the community of faith isn’t exactly a rare occurrence. In fact, it seems to happen all the time. Jewish blogger Shmarya Rosenberg even suggests (incorrectly) that Jesus broke from the traditional sects of Judaism in the late Second Temple period, and formed his own branch because he too was rebelling against religious authority which, in that place and time, had become corrupt and laden with many superfluous, man-made rulings.

A student of one of Hillel’s students attacked these rabbis’ extremism: “You blind guides!” he said, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

That student, fed up with the growing halakhic extremism that dominated Israel from the last few years of Hillel’s life until the Destruction, did what many other disgruntled Jews did with regard to the rabbis or to the Temple cult – they walked away and formed their own version of Judaism or joined one of the many sects that began at that time.

His sect, known in history as the Jerusalem Church, grew. An offshoot from it – one the student’s brother, who was then the sect’s leader, opposed – is Christianity.

This is a completely distorted view of Jesus and the early formation of Christianity, but it does illustrate that when the Messiah walked among his people as a man, there were many branches of Judaism in existence which often zealously disagreed with each other on many basic tenants of Jewish belief and practice.

Progressing only slightly forward into history, we are keenly aware that the Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah would eventually turn against their Jewish mentors and by the second and third centuries of the Common Era, would create a religion that was completely distinct from and excised of any traces of its Jewish origins. This could be viewed as a historical extension of a “Dasan and Aviram” type of rebellion against the Jewish authority which was established by God through the Messiah.

Why do we have people like this among us? As Rabbi Menken previously pointed out, it wasn’t as if Dasan and Aviram were completely evil and beyond redemption. After all, they merited leaving the “enthrallment” of Egypt along with the rest of the Israelites, so they couldn’t be “that bad,” could they? This example may tell us that the “rebels” in the community of faith today aren’t necessarily “all that bad” but then again they aren’t necessarily all that good, and can still be really annoying nudniks. Maybe they’re just people who will never be satisfied with anything that even slightly disagrees with their own personal desires.

In the past couple of days, the Messianic blogosphere has been alive with passionate discourse about one such “extremist nudnik.” In an opinion piece at the Huff Post called Eddie Long Is Not a King, Rev. Wil Gafney, Ph.D, an Associate Professor of Biblical Hebrew and Jewish and Christian Scripture, posts a commentary on the extremely controversial YouTube video of “troubled pastor” Eddie Long, of the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta GA, being “apparently crowned king with the ritual use of a Jewish Torah scroll.” The real “nudnik” of this sad and sorry tale though, is a fellow named Ralph Messer, as Rev. Gafney states:

The unidentified man who, (in the YouTube video to which I had access he is identified subsequently as Ralph Messer), represents himself as a Jew. He may well be some sort of Messianic Jew, a person who claims Jewish heritage and recognizes Jesus as the Son of God, but who is not part of one of the major Jewish movements: Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Reform, Renewal. He does not, however, represent recognizable Jewish thought or practice in his (mis-) representations of the Torah and other Jewish sancta — or for that matter, New Testament and Christian biblical interpretation and theology.

I won’t present any more details about this story since I would end up just duplicating what’s been thoroughly covered in much more worthy blogs, such as the one maintained by Dr. Rabbi Michael Schiffman, however, I would like to suggest that one of the motivations for such bizarre and unBiblical behavior on the part of men like Long and Messer is the same motivation Dasan and Aviram had in rebelling against the authority of Moses, Aaron, and ultimately God. This desire lead them, like Nadab and Abihu, to offer, “unauthorized fire” or in this case, to misuse a holy sefer Torah for unholy purposes.

Some people just have a problem with legitimate authority and having such a problem, do what Korah did and rebel by attempting to recreate that authority within themselves. This is at the heart of the theological arguments that have supported supersessionism in the ancient and modern church. I can’t truly say that the Christian church stands in total opposition and rebellion against the authority of God, since it is abundantly obvious that God has been using His Christian church to perform His will for centuries. I can say that the seeds that were planted 2,000 years ago which resulted in the weed that opposed the Jerusalem Council and denied the Jewish foundations of the church, were born of rebellion, but it was perhaps a “necessary” rebellion (Romans 11) so that the Gentiles could find a place within their Messianic covenant relationship to God.

That doesn’t make it any less painful or harmful and I believe the time for that “rebellion” is coming to a close.

People like Long and Messer seem to be establishing themselves as “authorities” simply because they can draw a following and they can magnify themselves by creating the illusion that they are “anointed” by God. But what do the people who follow these “rebels” want? Perhaps they are looking for whatever the rest of us are searching for, too.

Where was the knowledgeable one who wove his spell to bring his familiarity with the Atman out of the sleep into the state of being awake, into the life, into every step of the way, into word and deed? Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmans, chiefly his father, the pure one, the scholar, the most venerable one. His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow – but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not, again and again, have to drink from holy sources, as a thirsty man, from the offerings, from the books, from the disputes of the Brahmans? Why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day?

from the novel Siddhartha (1951 U.S. publication)
by Hermann Hesse

This may seem like an odd source to quote within a Christian (and tangentially Jewish) context, but take one giant step backward from your religion and consider what human beings are looking for in general. What does the praying Christian have in common with the Jewish man davening in a minyan or a Muslim kneeling on his prayer mat? What do they have in common with the Buddhist, the Wiccan, and the New Age mystic? Aren’t we all, in our many and diverse ways, seeking God, in whatever way we may conceive of Him (or “Her”)?

I’m not saying that each and every one of these religious paths is equal in its validity or potential to arrive at the true “destination” of God, but the need to strive for that destination is the same in each of us. Some of our paths are legitimate and worthy, and many, many other paths lead to dead ends, darkness, and many ghastly conclusions in the spiritual travels of such seekers.

There are paths that lead people who desire a sincere and simple relationship with God to people like Ralph Messer, more’s the pity. Messer took the true message found in our Bibles and twisted it into a horrible distortion of God, misusing and desecrating the holy Torah of the Jewish people in order to glorify a misguided and selfish man. There is a legitimate path that allows man to understand God through the revelation of Torah, but Messer chose not to take it, perhaps because he would have to become a humble student and not an exalted “teacher.”

Milton, in his classic Paradise Lost, allows the “character” Satan to utter the famous line, “It is better to rule in hell than to serve in Heaven.” That seems to sum up anyone who would usurp the authority of God and the Bible (and Torah) for their own purposes rather than submit to the legitimate authorities God has established and to humbly serve under them. Jesus taught the exact opposite (John 13:1-17)  of Milton’s “adversary” when he washed the feet of his disciples and explained that “a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (v. 16). It is terrible to forget the words of the Master and to seek to rule over yourself and others, thinking you are better than those who came before you.

It is better to serve in Heaven than to rule in hell. Seek out those who are truly appointed by God and repudiate those who aren’t, so that the others who seek God just as you do, will be saved. Do not take such actions out of the desire to glorify yourself or whatever group or religion you serve but to glorify God only, lest you become like Dasan and Aviram and surrender to the temptation to serve only yourself. Should you feel that temptation within you, as if being who God made you to be isn’t good enough to satisfy you or Him, consider the parable of the Stonecutter by R’ Abraham Twerski MD. Perhaps it will add some perspective and even a hint of wisdom.

Beshalach: Waiting for the Bread of Heaven

The purpose of the manna was to uplift those who ate it and heighten their spiritual consciousness. As a result of this spiritual boost, the Jews were able to “follow My teaching”—to receive the Torah, as it is indeed stated in the Midrash: (Mechilta ad loc) “The Torah could only have been given to those who had partaken of the manna.” (Sefer HaMa’amarim Melukat, vol. 1, pp. 238-239.)

-From the Kehot Chumash
Chassidic Insights for Parshah Beshalach
Chapter 16
Based on the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3 (ESV)

And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Matthew 4:3-4 (ESV)

It may be strange to think of us today as waiting for our bread from Heaven, but I think that’s exactly what we do at times. Think about what it meant to the Children of Israel in the wilderness to wait on God for their bread. Although they had vast herds of livestock with them, they still have no reliable source of “daily bread,” especially enough to feed millions of people, morning, noon, and night. In this, they were completely reliant on God for their food and drink and without Him, they could do nothing.

As slaves, the Israelites depended on the Egyptians for their food and drink (and housing and everything else), and even though life was hard and often brutal, they were used to it, as a convict becomes used to a long term in prison. There was a routine. There were expectations that were fulfilled day in and day out. Breakfast would come tomorrow from the Egyptians because it came yesterday, and the day before, and last year, and in the days of their fathers and grandfathers.

But they weren’t used to waiting on God. They were together as a people, but they felt alone. They were free, but they were in a strange and unpredictable environment. The Egyptians were men and the Israelites understood how men could provide bread, but God is not a man and who can possibly understand manna?

So they were afraid, and they doubted, and they complained, and they tested God. This was a mistake, but it was a completely understandable one. But did God understand?

“You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah. –Deuteronomy 6:16 (ESV)

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” –Matthew 4:7 (ESV)

It certainly doesn’t sound that way, but then again, how could God possibly misunderstand His creations? How can He possibly misunderstand us, when we too are waiting for our “bread from Heaven” and we feel alone, and afraid, and uncertain?

It’s even more confusing when God sets up a schedule and then creates an exception:

Interestingly, Moses does not tell the Jews that the manna will not be in the field, but only that they will not find it there. And indeed, the manna was esoterically present on the Sabbath as well. The Sabbath is the source of all blessings, including those of material sustenance. In this sense, the manna of the other six days descended as a result of the “spiritual manna” that was produced on the Sabbath. (Zohar 2:63b, 88a.)

The physical manna gathered during the week “materialized” out of this spiritual manna. It therefore had to be acquired through physical effort: it had to be gathered, cooked, and so on. In contrast, the Sabbath manna was not manifested physically and therefore could not be “accessed” by any physical means.

Similarly, our physical livelihood is spiritually “produced” by our observance of the Sabbath. During the ensuing week, we have to gather the material blessings of the Sabbath by engaging in our weekday work. But on the Sabbath itself, we must refrain even from thinking about our livelihood. (Likutei Sichot, vol. 16, pp. 181-182.)

-Chassidic Insights commentary continued

This is certainly a very mystic interpretation, but it teaches us something beyond the literal telling of the tale of manna in the desert. Whether we believe we provide for ourselves through the work of our hands and our minds, in reality, everything we think belongs to us was produced by and belongs to God. Beyond that, it shows us that in some manner or fashion, the Shabbat rest results in producing what we need from God and ourselves for the other six days of the week. That’s why we give thanks to Him for everything.

But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least right away? But what about when we ask and we don’t receive, at least in the manner we expected to receive? But what about when we ask for a fish and God gives us (seemingly) a snake instead?

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. For which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! –Matthew 7:7-11 (ESV)

There’s a difference between what we need and what we want. God knows what we need, even as He knew what the Israelites in the desert needed. They didn’t ask for manna, but God knew they needed it. At first, they didn’t even know what to do with the manna, but God told Moses and Moses told the people. Eventually, the people got sick and tired of eating manna every single day, but God knew they still needed it on a regular basis and the gift that God gave continued to be His gift, regardless of whether or not it was received with gratitude.

We know that our purpose in a life created by God is not to be served but to serve. Jesus illustrated this very clearly here:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. –John 13:12-17

And yet, we are weak, and we need so much, and we depend on God, or we try to. There are times when we must act in order to receive from God, but there are other times when we are utterly helpless, and we can do nothing but wait.

And waiting on God to deliver His bread from Heaven is very hard. Even when it arrives, we may not recognize it for what it is, since His blessings may not come in a form we will understand. Even when we realize He has delivered His blessings, because they are not as we wanted them to be, we may be ungrateful, or hurt, or even feel betrayed that God didn’t give us what we wanted, when we wanted it, in exactly the way, shape, and form we asked for. But as difficult as it is for us, we must strive to trust God and not to question our Sovereign.

But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!” –Exodus 14:13-14 (JPS Tanakh)

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” –Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

We can trust in God, if only we will wait.

You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. –Psalm 145:16 (ESV)

His hand is opening. He’s about to help you. Wait.

Good Shabbos.