Tag Archives: joseph

Render to Israel

The Joseph story is several things at once — things in addition to being an account of something that happened way back in the days of the patriarchs. It is probably a story comforting to Israelites during or after the exile in Babylon. It is a story with foreshadowings of Israel’s later tribal relationships. But the thing that interests me the most is how the Joseph story is an example of God’s covenant blessing through Israel to the nations, who in turn bless Israel, and how this blessing becomes a mutual thing. Soulen called it “mutual blessing.” It is a pattern not only for Israel and the nations, but is a way of life that repairs the world. “Bless and curse not . . . do not return evil for evil.”

-Derek Leman
“The Meaning of the Joseph Story”
Messianic Jewish Musings

When I read the above-quoted paragraph, it struck me as an excellent summary of the relationship between Israel and the nations of the world, particularly the people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:12). It’s the relationship between Israel and the people of the nations who have come to faith in God through the merit of trusting in the accomplished works of Moshiach ben David, Yeshua (Jesus).

Last Spring, I wrote a multi-part review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant beginning with Part One here. Starting over two years ago, I initiated my own personal investigation into the New Covenant which extended into the following Spring. The upshot of all this was the discovery that only Jewish Israel is the object of the New Covenant and that it takes some work to figure out how anyone who isn’t Jewish can be blessed.

I’ve already posted enough links for the interested reader to follow my investigation and my reviews of this material, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that it’s not easy to find the linkage between the New Covenant and the people of the nations. It’s there, but it’s elusive.

But Derek’s wee article about the story of Joseph captured a key part of understanding how the nations benefit from Israel and conversely, how Israel benefits (or should benefit) from us.

In one of my numerous reviews of the Rudolph and Willits book Introduction to Messianic Judaism, it was also well documented by more than one contributor that Jews and Gentiles in Messianic Judaism are mutually dependent. In spite of my stated support for exclusive Messianic Jewish communities, it becomes impossible to fully isolate all Messianic Jews from all Messianic Gentiles or the non-Jewish believers in Jesus. While the covenant and community distinctions remain, we are two populations united within one body or ekklesia through Messiah. After all, God’s Temple is to be a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7) and not the Jewish people only.

But look at how the blessings flow as described in Derek’s paragraph. The blessings from Israel to the nations come first and only afterward do we bless Israel. Israel was always meant to be a light to the nations, to attract the nations to the God of Israel by being a special, set apart people.

So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:6-8 (NASB)

He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Isaiah 49:6

lightThis isn’t to say that the nations in coming to God would co-opt Israel and her unique relationship with God through the covenants and the mitzvot, but it is not a mistake to believe that God has always intended to bring all the nations to Him, as it is written, “every knee will bow” (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).

But the relationship is complementary. Consider marriage as we understand it from the Bible. While a man and a woman become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8, Ephesians 5:31), it obviously doesn’t mean that all physical and behavioral distinctions between a man and a woman vanish on their wedding day. The man remains male and the woman remains female. They enter into a single “body” or “assembly” if you will, by accepting upon themselves a mutually beneficial and complementary set of roles in relation to one another. So too it is with Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia of Messiah.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Such an understanding makes the above-quoted verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians a bit more comprehensible. Being “one in Christ Jesus” is like being “one flesh” within the context of marriage. It doesn’t mean a total fusing of identity and physical characteristics. It means that even though we have different and distinct roles and identities, we all receive the blessings and benefits of abiding within the Messiah’s assembly.

In the story of Joseph, Joseph, representing Israel (and literally Israel’s son), blesses the nations of the world by saving the world, starting with Egypt, from starvation during a terrible seven-year famine. The ultimate consequence of Israel blessing the nations is that Egypt returns the favor by taking in Jacob and his entire family (representing national Israel), and giving them Goshen, the choicest portion of Egypt, as their own.

Of course, this foreshadows more sinister events, but if we stop the story right here, we have a good example of how Messianic Jews and Gentiles should relate to one another. It is through Israel that we Gentiles even have an awareness of the true nature of the Messiah and how our faith in him attaches us to God and allows us to benefit from many blessings of the New Covenant without actually being named as covenant members. We become equal co-participants in the ekklesia of Messiah, breaking bread, so to speak, alongside our Jewish brothers and sisters at the same table.

There are many Gentiles (such as me) who do not have local access to a Messianic community of Jews or even Messianic Gentiles, and yet, we are a part of a larger assembly, standing alongside each other in our mutual faith and trust in Hashem through devotion to Messiah. In that sense, we are never alone, though we may not, for months or even years, meet with another person who shares our conceptualization of the workings of the New Covenant and the continued validity of the mitzvot for the Jewish people as their obedience to covenant and King.

I recently read a blog post asking “How do you KNOW the will of God” for your life? In Judaism, one studies Torah not for the sake of knowledge, but in order to do Torah, that is, to perform and fulfill the mitzvot. This is somewhat different if you’re not Jewish and, for example, the wearing of tzitzit and laying of tefillin are not practical indicators of a Gentile’s righteousness.

ForgivenessI’ve written quite a lot lately on the topics of repentance, atonement, and forgiveness, and from my point of view, this is a full-time obligation to God for all of us. Beyond that, obedience to God is not a matter of selling your house and moving to some far away land to become a missionary to an isolated people, at least not for most of us. Obedience to God permeates every aspect of our lives and is involved in each decision and act we take in our every waking moment, regardless of who we are and what sort of work we do. Do we treat others with respect and fairness? Do we talk about people behind their backs? Do we take every opportunity to act with kindness, showing compassion, offering friendship?

It’s the answers to these questions that tell us if we are obeying God, not whether or not we put on particular “religious” clothing.

One should study Torah and do mitzvos even if not for their own sake, for doing so will eventually result in study and performance for their own sake.

-Pesachim 50b

This Talmudic statement has given rise to questions by the commentaries. Why is the Talmud condoning study of Torah for ulterior motives? What happens to the emphasis on sincerity in observance of Torah and mitzvos?

Acting “as if” can be constructive. If a person who suffers from a headache goes on with his or her activities “as if” the headache did not exist, that headache is more likely to disappear than if he or she interrupts activities to nurse the headache. “Rewarding” the headache by taking a break only prolongs it.

Study of Torah and performance of mitzvos require effort, may be restrictive, and may interfere with other things one would rather do. Under such circumstances, there may not be great enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos. However, if one nevertheless engages in Torah and mitzvos “as if” one really wanted to, the resistance is likely to dissipate. The reasoning is that since one is determined to do so anyway, there is no gain in being reluctant, and true enthusiasm may then develop. On other hand, if one were to delay engaging in Torah and mitzvos until one had the “true spirit,” that spirit might never appear.

It is not only permissible but also desirable to develop constructive habits by doing things “as if” one really wanted to.

Today I shall…

…try to practice good habits, and do those things that I know to be right even though I may not like doing them.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
Growing Each Day for Kislev 23
Aish.com

While Rabbi Twerski is writing for a Jewish audience, I think the rest of us can take something away from his message as well. It’s not like the majority of the mitzvot don’t affect us in some way. Feeding the hungry is the same for a Gentile as a Jew. So is visiting a sick friend in the hospital, respecting your parents, honoring your spouse, teaching your children about God.

These are the blessings we receive from Israel, the knowledge that there is the One, Unique God of Heaven who made us all, and that He is personally involved in the lives of each and every one of His human creations.

JerusalemOur response needs to be both to God and to Israel, offering devotion to the Almighty and honoring Israel in her special and unique relationship with God. Paul asked his Gentile disciples to take up a collection for the poor of Jerusalem and that’s one way we can pay back Israel for her blessings to us. Another particularly important way we can bless Israel is to recognize her covenant relationship with God as belonging exclusively to the Jewish people and as established at Sinai. We need to realize and acknowledge that all of the covenants we read about in the Bible are between Israel and God including the New Covenant. It is only through Israel and the grace of God that we are saved and redeemed (John 4:22).

Jesus said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17), but I say, render unto Israel what is Israel’s and thereby bless those who have blessed us.

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Choosing Your Prison

It is worthwhile to elaborate a bit on this important concept of free will, which the Rambam calls “an important principle and a pillar of all Torah and mitzvos.”

He states: “Do not let the thought cross your mind, that which the foolish ones among the nations and even ignorant Jews claim, that Hashem predetermined and decreed upon every person what he will be — a righteous person or a wicked one. It is not so — for every single person can be either a tzaddik like Moshe Rabbeinu, or a wicked man like Yeravam. There is no one pulling him in either direction. It is each person’s own choice to pick the way of life he will follow.”

-from “A Mussar Thought for the Day,” p.14
Commentary for Monday on Parashas Vayeishev
A Daily Dose of Torah

So much for Calvinism. We can’t claim that God preselected us to be good or to be evil. We get to choose who we are and we get to make different choices over time. That’s miserable and encouraging all at once. It’s miserable because we human beings all by ourselves are prone to willfulness, weakness, and error. But it’s also hopeful in that we can strive to overcome our faults and to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday.

One of the recurring themes in the various incarnations of “Star Trek” is that mankind continually works to improve itself, with the presupposition that humans have the moral framework and ability to do so independently. However, both Judaism and Christianity maintain that we are unable to elevate ourselves spiritually to any degree at all without relying on God. This does not negate free will, since we must choose to either obey or disobey God in the different and varied areas of our lives.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (NASB)

Maybe that’s the answer to this sometimes frustrating statement of Paul’s. It may seem like temptation is irresistible, but the circumstances tempting us are the same for a lot of people, even if we’re only aware of our own individual experience. We can either rely on ourselves and fail or rely on God and have the hope of success, and God is faithful.

It’s when we assume that we’re helpless victims, either of God’s “Divine Plan” to choose only some for salvation and to let the rest burn, or of our own “sin nature” or “evil inclination” that the following happens:

So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

1 Corinthians 5:4-5

Joseph the SlaveNot that God necessarily gives up on us, but He certainly can give us enough rope to hang ourselves with, if we so choose. Then, when swinging in the breeze, if we’re still alive, we can call out to Him.

But even resisting temptation is no guarantee of an easy or good life.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.

When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”

When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger. Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.

Genesis 39:11-20

Joseph resisted the repeated temptation to have an illicit affair with his master’s wife. He was blameless and still ended up in prison. How much more so do we, who are not blameless, risk “prison” of one form or another, even after we cry out to God and begin to learn to resist our own temptations and to strive to be better servants of Hashem.

The worst prison is when G-d locks you up. He doesn’t need guards or cells or stone walls. He simply decides that, at this point in life, although you have talent, you will not find a way to express it. Although you have wisdom, there is nobody who will listen. Although you have a soul, there is nowhere for it to shine.

And you scream, “Is this why you sent a soul into this world? For such futility?”

That is when He gets the tastiest essence of your juice squeezed out from you.

(Likutei Sichot vol. 23, pp. 163–165; Shlach 5732:1; 5th night of Chanukah 5720:4.)

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“The Invisible Prison”
Chabad.org

If God puts us in “prison,” isn’t it what we deserve? Why should we complain (although we invariably do)? In sin, we are slaves but slaves who have deliberately put ourselves in the hand of our master. In choosing to not sin, we are deciding to be slaves of a different Master, one who loves our soul, one who desires the best for us. As Rabbi Freeman suggests, the prison God incarcerates us in is designed not to confine and demoralize us, but to drive us to be the very best we can be.

PrisonWe can either choose the evil prison where we trap ourselves and reap only what we deserve, or allow God to “imprison” us and have the hope of being led to a better life.

And David said to Gad, “I am exceedingly distressed. Let us fall into Hashem’s hand, for His mercies are abundant, but let me not fall into human hands.”

II Samuel 24:14

This verse is the opening line of the Tachanun prayer. Dovid HaMelach had sinned by taking a census of the Jews in a manner contrary to that prescribed by the Torah. Hashem, through the agency of the prophet Gad, gave Dovid HaMelech a choice of three calamities, one of which he and his people would have to suffer in atonement for his sin: seven years of hunger, three months of defeat in battle, or a deadly three-day plague. Dovid chose the last, because that one would be inflicted directly by God, Whose mercy is ever present even when His wrath is aroused. His choice proved to be the correct one, for God mercifully halted the plague after a duration of only half a day.

-from “A Closer Look at the Siddur,” pp.15-16
Commentary for Monday on Parashas Vayeishev
A Daily Dose of Torah

Joseph’s incarceration is recorded in this week’s Torah Portion but not its resolution. Joseph was made a slave and then a prisoner in order to accomplish God’s plan, not just for Joseph or even just for Egypt, but for the entire world. No doubt you already know how the story of Joseph continues, how he was released from prison to interpret a dream of Pharaoh’s, and as a result, how Joseph was made a ruler in Egypt second only to Pharaoh. From prisoner to prince in one stroke.

Very few of us will have such an experience, yet it would be enough if God were to judge us and not human beings. God is incapable of treating us with malice and His rulings are truly impartial and fair, though they can be harsh.

When you look at that imperfect and sinful wreck in the mirror each morning, are you not much harder on yourself than God would be? Doesn’t God look at us with pity and compassion when most people, even those closest to us, react out of hurt and anger?

A basic Torah principle is that when correcting someone, we need to do so with a sense of love and compassion. When you speak in a blaming manner, the message you give is not a loving one.

If there is a specific person you tend to speak to in a blaming manner, be resolved to speak to more pleasantly.

(For a series of probing questions on this topic, see Rabbi Pliskin’s “Gateway to Self Knowledge,” pp.135-7)

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #189: “Replace Blame with Compassion”
Aish.com

Would that other people or even we ourselves were as merciful and compassionate as God when we fail and seek to make amends.

compassionBut coming back to the matter of free will, our actions and the consequences rest on our shoulders. No one else is to blame, though we can hope and pray for mercy. In the end, people are not always merciful, but even when we do not deserve it, God is compassionate.

The Tzemach Tzedek writes: The love expressed in “Beside You I wish for nothing,” (Psalm 73:25) means that one should desire nothing other than G-d, not even “Heaven” or “earth” i.e. Higher Gan Eden and Lower Gan Eden, for these were created with a mere yud…. The love is to be directed to Him alone, to His very Being and Essence. This was actually expressed by my master and teacher (the Alter Rebbe) when he was in a state of d’veikut and he exclaimed as follows:

I want nothing at all! I don’t want Your gan eden, I don’t want Your olam haba… I want nothing but You alone.

from “Today’s Day”
Wednesday, Kislev 18, 5704
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

Whatever prison you find yourself in, seek God alone. Everything else will take care of itself.

Shemot: Jewish Survival and the Promise of the Torah

The death of Pharaoh's sonThen the Lord said to Moses, “You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from his land.”

Exodus 6:1 (JPS Tanakh)

No other people have ever gone into exile and survived for thousands of years to come back to re-establish a national homeland. The return of the Jews from exile to the Land of Israel was nothing short of a miracle!

What does it all mean?

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot (Exodus)
Aish.com

If you follow the annual Torah readings as I do, you might be tempted to just blow past all of the miracles of God in the land of Egypt and the liberation of millions of Jewish slaves. After all, you know the story. Even Christians who only occasionally read the “Old Testament” are familiar, at least in general, with Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh, King of Egypt to demand the release of the Israelites so they may worship Hashem their God. But Shemot (Exodus) tells a very important story that is highly relevant to all of Jewish history and a story important to every Jew alive today.

It’s a story of survival against all odds, survival in the face of hardship, slavery, and even certain destruction. It’s a story of God’s extraordinary love for the Jewish people and the lengths to which the Almighty will go to rescue them from every type of harm. This doesn’t mean that individual Jewish people won’t have hardships or even that large numbers of Jews won’t suffer, but the Jewish people, Israel will survive and ultimately thrive.

The Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath…

Deuteronomy 28:13 (NASB)

This doesn’t mean that Israel will be the head and not the tail just within their own nation, and it doesn’t just mean Israel will be the head in their general region of the earth, it means, in the Messianic Era, when Moshiach returns all the exiles to their land and restores Israel with honor and power, the nation of Israel and the Jewish people will be ascendant over all the other nations of our planet, and Messiah will be King of all.

But what stands in the way of that accomplishment? After all, amazingly, there are Jewish people after thousands of years of concerted effort expended by various nations to exterminate them. Not only do Jewish people survive, but identifiably Jewish culture, religion, literature, art, music, and the Torah have all survived, continuing to set the descendants of the ancient Israelites apart from all the other nations and people groups in our world. God has always preserved them and He will always preserve them.

The Torah tells us, “And Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that entire generation” (Exodus 1:6). Why is it important for us to know that the whole generation has passed on?

The Ohr HaChaim explains that the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians occurred in three stages: First, Joseph died and the Israelites lost their power. Second, the bothers (sic) died. As long as even one of the brothers was alive, the Egyptians still honored them. Third, everyone from that generation died. Until that happened — as long as the members of the first generation were alive — the Egyptians considered them important and were not able to treat them as slaves.

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, the Mirrer Rosh Hayeshiva, commented that there are two aspects here. One is on the side of the Egyptians. They were unable to treat the Jewish people as slaves as long as they considered them important. The other aspect is on the side of the Jewish people themselves. As long as they were considered important and worthy of respect by themselves, the Egyptians were not able to treat them in an inferior manner. Only when they personally considered themselves in a lowly manner could they be subjugated by others.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Based on Growth Through Torah

ShoahThis commentary on this week’s Torah portion also speaks to both Jewish and non-Jewish people in the present. Jewish survival is dependent upon how the Jewish people regard themselves and how the rest of the world regards them. Like Joseph and his brothers and their entire generation, as long as the rest of us understand the relationship between Israel and God and treat the Jewish people accordingly, they will continue to survive, because we can not bear to make “slaves” of such a people who have been lifted high by God. But when we denigrate the Jewish people, as we often have done across history, then we get Shoah, The Holocaust.

It takes great courage to come back and stand out after six million of your people have been starved, tortured, and exterminated. The natural tendency would be to hide, to go underground, to blend in, disappear, fade from history as a people, just in order to not be in a position where you, your children, or your grandchildren will ever again be taken from their homes and put in the camps. As Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary states, it’s not just how the rest of the world treats you, it’s how you consider yourself.

If the Jewish people don’t stand up for themselves as proudly Jewish, the rest of the world won’t respect them, and again, we get Shoah.

Am I contradicting myself? Earlier, I said that Jewish survival is dependent upon God’s great acts, and so this is true. But the Jewish people had to cry out to God, a leader had to be willing to rise up from the people to shepherd them, as Moses did. The Jewish people had to, and still have to willingly accept God, accept the fact that God chose them, that they are still chosen, and to “hear and obey” the Word of God that uniquely signifies their called out status.

When we look at Jewish history, we see a history where the Jewish people have defied the laws of nature and the laws of history! We have survived and impacted this world though we have been thrown out of our land not once, but twice! We have impacted the world perhaps more than any other people in history — the concepts of the value of human life, universal education, justice and equality, the importance of and goal of world peace (as opposed to glorifying war), the importance of a strong stable family as a basis for a moral foundation for society, individual and national responsibility for the world — though we were beaten, killed and exiled from one nation to the next. Though few in number and spread to the four corners of the earth, we survived as a people, never assimilating into anonymity. Even our land, the Land of Israel, defied the laws of nature, only fertile when the Jewish people inhabited it.

Coincidence? Good luck? A roll of the dice? Perhaps — except that each and every phenomenon was prophesied and predicted in the Torah hundreds and thousands of years before the events. Does it make you think that perhaps something is going on here? That perhaps there is a special relationship between the Almighty and the Jewish people?

The Almighty, the Jewish people and the Torah are intertwined. In the past 3,300 years there has been effort after effort — from within as well as from without — to redefine and redirect our people. Each and every one has failed. If you wonder why, then perhaps the time has come to read the Torah and find out. The Torah is not only our heritage, it is the game plan for the Jewish people and the world!

-Rabbi Packouz

rabbi_child_and_sefer_torahPeriodically, my Pastor asks what I think the role of Jewish obedience to Torah is in today’s world (although I think Rabbi Packouz answered that question very well in the above-quoted statement), especially in light of Christ and the Church. Why would a believing Jew continue to observe the mitzvot when (from his point of view) they were clearly eliminated by Jesus and they, like the rest of us, now live by the grace of Christ?

Being “Messianic” doesn’t make a Jew not a Jew. All of the conditions for survival I outlined above still apply to them, just like they apply to any other Jewish person alive today. For a Jewish person to find, recognize, and acknowledge the Messiah is the answer to a prayer and the culmination of a dream.

He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Moshiach, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Yonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 16:15-17 (NASB – adjusted)

I made a few minor changes to the translation above to make it clearer that Simon Bar Yonah was a Jew realizing that his Master, the Rabbi he has been following, is indeed the Moshiach, “the Son of the living God.” Peter didn’t stop being Jewish, immediately start munching on a ham sandwich, burn a Torah scroll, and join the local Baptist church because he became a Christian. He didn’t change into something else besides being Jewish, he received a revelation that at the core, all Jewish people want and need to receive. The revelation of the arrival and presence of Messiah, Son of David, King of Israel, who will save his people, not just from their sins and certainly not from the Torah, but from the centuries and centuries of persecution, pogroms, inquisitions, and genocidal efforts of a hateful and disbelieving world.

Peter recognized Jesus as who he was and is without a New Testament in hand and especially without the last two-thousand years of Christian theology, doctrine, dogma, and history, including the reformation, muddying up the waters to the degree that neither Jew nor Gentile can recognize Jesus as Moshiach any longer.

Peter recognized the Moshiach because he was there, he knew what to look for, not in spite of the Torah but because of it.

It has been prophesied in the Torah that Jews would be exiled from the land and that they would return to the land: “And it shall come to pass when these things shall come upon you, the blessing and the curse that I have placed before you, you will take it to heart amongst all of the nations where God has scattered you; you will return to the Lord your God and you will listen to His voice according to all that I am commanding you today, you and your children with all of your heart and with all of your soul. Then the Almighty will bring back your captivity and have mercy upon you; and He will return and gather you from among all of the nations where he has dispersed you. If your dispersed ones will be even at the ends of the heavens — from there God Almighty will gather you and from there He will take you. And God your Lord will bring you to the land that your fathers inherited and you shall inherit it and He will do good for you and make you more numerous than your forefathers” (Deuteronomy 30:1-5).

-Rabbi Packouz

For a Jew, particularly a Jew in Messiah, the Torah is inescapable. When Paul called the Torah a “tutor” or “child conductor” (Galatians 3:24), we can consider the Torah as a protector, a defender, a preserver of the Jewish people pointing toward the ultimate expression of the Torah. Yes, it “points to Christ” but once a Jewish person has recognized Moshiach and turned to him, it doesn’t mean the “tutor” is useless and tossed aside. It only means that the capstone has been added to the structure to make it solid and permanent. The structure still needs all the pieces. There are many other purposes the Torah fulfills for the Jewish person besides illuminating the image of Messiah. Without the Torah, the Jewish people lose everything it is to be Jewish, to be called out, to be unique among all of God’s Creations.

Rabbi Isaac LichtensteinThis is our mistake in the Church. We demand that when a Jewish person becomes a disciple of Moshiach, they consider Paul’s words as meaning that all of the purposes of Torah have been extinguished and that the Torah is not only useless, but actually a detriment to the believing Jew. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Jewish people such as Paul Philip Levertoff and Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein did not stop being Jewish when they discovered the identity of the Messiah. Especially in Rabbi Lichtenstein’s case, the Torah became more important, more enlightening, not less. Performing each mitzvah was given a new dimension in Messiah.

This is something the rest of us don’t understand. This is something we were not only taught to disregard, but to actually disdain. We’ve been taught to shun and even fear the Law of Moses, but we fail to understand the joy and fulfillment that an observant life can be for a Jew. For a Jew in Messiah, the meaning of a Torah observant life is amplified. Torah and Messiah are complementary, not oxymoronic.

Messiah and Torah preserve and sustain the Jewish people, for both will be present in the age to come. If they didn’t, then how could the gospel of Messiah be good news for the Jews?

Good Shabbos.

Vayigash: Are You Willing to Save Someone’s Life?

joseph-and-pharaoh“Now when the news was heard in Pharaoh’s house that Joseph’s brothers had come, it pleased Pharaoh and his servants.”

Genesis 45:16

Pharaoh was delighted when he heard that Joseph’s brothers had come to Egypt. He immediately made provision to bring the entire family to Egypt so they could survive the famine in safety and comfort. He provided wagons for the move. He promised them the best of the land of Egypt.

Pharaoh’s warm welcome of Joseph’s brothers reveals an important detail about Joseph’s time in Egypt.

“What Pharaoh Heard”
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayigash
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

This commentary from FFOZ comes with the following “Thought for the Week:”

When we are wronged by someone, it is natural to tell others about it. We want to tell others about how it happened to garner their sympathy and support. Somehow it makes us feel better to know that others are aware of the injustice committed against us. We seek out sympathy and commit a small act of retaliation.

It’s very human that when we feel we’ve been wronged by someone, to want to get even in some way. Usually, we get even by doing the same to them as we believe they’ve done to us (whether the damage the other person has done to us is real of just perceived makes no difference apparently).

I write periodically on something called Lashon Hara or the Jewish concept of wronging someone in speech (which can be spoken, written, or any other form of communication). I’ve even based the Comments Policy for this blog on that principle.

As the FFOZ commentator writes, what we say and how it is perceived can have hurtful and even dire consequences:

Joseph loved his brothers and his family so much that he could not bear the thought of having them defamed. He did not want Egyptians saying to one another, “Did you hear about the nasty thing that Joseph’s lowlife brothers did to him?” Joseph kept the entire episode to himself. The only thing he ever said about his past was the vague explanation, “I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews” (Genesis 40:15). His love for his brothers compelled him to protect their reputation.

Instead of emulating Joseph, who was concerned about protecting the dignity of his loved ones, it seems we do just the opposite. A husband and wife are eating out at a restaurant when the husband drops his cup, spilling his beverage on the table. Embarrassed, the wife rolls her eyes and says to the stranger sitting at the next table, “He is such a klutz.” A man is out with his friends when they begin discussing the foils of marriage. All in good fun, the man complains to the guys about his wife’s bad habits. Everyone laughs. Why would we sell out the people we love like this? The wife shows more concern for the opinion of a stranger in a restaurant than she does for the dignity of her husband. The husband has higher regard for a few laughs from his buddies than he does for the reputation of his wife.

It’s one thing to read about a “Bible principle” and another thing entirely to behave out of that principle with unerring consistency. Reading about Joseph and his brothers makes a nice story, but most of the time, we don’t think to apply what we’ve learned to our day-to-day living. Reading the story of the wife casually defaming her husband in public brings the principle home. If anyone you’ve loved has embarrassed you in front of your friends, family, or strangers, even if what they said is true about you, then you know what I mean.

Here’s another example:

“The Torah ideal is to greet each and every person with a pleasant facial expression.” (Tomar Devorah, ch.2) When you greet someone in a friendly way, you never know what a positive effect you will have. A certain individual who greeted everyone with a smile and kind words was approached by someone and told, “You saved my life.” The person went on to tell how he’d suffered a number of serious setbacks and was contemplating suicide. He felt totally alone and depressed and felt that no one cared about him. Then this fellow greeted him with a sincere smile and a cheerful voice. This immediately lifted up his spirits and he was resolved to continue living.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Quoted from Gateway to Happiness, pg 26
Found at Aish.com

whispererI don’t know what Joseph felt about his brothers or why he didn’t “spill the beans” about their attempt to kill him to Pharaoh, King of Egypt, or anyone else in his sphere of Egyptian companions. Maybe he really did continue to have love for them in his heart, in spite of how they felt about him. Perhaps he just didn’t want the Egyptians to harbor any more disdain for the Hebrews than they already did. Regardless of the reason, even though Joseph would have been telling the truth if he revealed the terrible acts of his brothers to Pharaoh, he chose not to do it, keeping the matter to himself, and even forgiving his brothers, though they hardly deserved it.

When a spouse says something to revealing about his or her “other half,” depending on what it is, the person being spoken of can at least feel embarrassed if not ashamed or humiliated. As we see from Rabbi Pliskin’s example, how we treat another person, even if it’s simply greeting a stranger with a smile, can make a tremendous impact.

There are more than enough “moral police officers” on the web and particularly in the blogosphere who choose to point accusing fingers at others rather than greeting them (virtually speaking) with a “smile.” Especially since we cannot actually face the people we address on the Internet, we have no idea what good or evil we are doing to them and how they will respond. Most of the time, all we know is that they remain silent or they “bark back” at us if we have insulted or embarrassed them in some way.

But like the man in Rabbi Pliskin’s commentary, we don’t know how far we can push someone, especially if they are already on an emotional brink. We can knock someone over or we can pull them back, just by how we speak to them or about them.

James, the brother of the Master, said (James 3:8) that the tongue is “a restless evil and full of deadly poison'” We have been given the gift of speech (and writing, and other forms of communication) to bless and not to curse. Paul said (1 Thessalonians 5:11) that believers should “encourage one another and build up one another”, and New Testament scholar and author Mark Nanos, in his book The Mystery of Romans said Paul expressed his heartfelt desire that believing Gentiles should support and encourage even the non-believing Jews in the synagogue, rather than denigrate them for being “weak” and “stumbling” in faith.

If it is true that we have a duty to support even unbelievers so that they should come to faith, then what we say and what we do becomes incredibly important. We can not only save someone’s life in this world by how we greet them, we can be an instrument to bless or curse their souls.

The FFOZ commentary for this week’s Torah portion ends this way:

A woman was having a hard time at the Messianic synagogue she attended in the southern United States. She was involved in a heated conflict with some other members. This went on for some time. Frustrated with her congregation, she told her unbelieving friend about the problems she was having. Eventually the leadership arbitrated the situation. She made peace with the people. Some time later, she invited her unbelieving friend to attend a service. Her friend said, “Are you crazy? After the way you talked about those people and that place, I wouldn’t set foot in there.”

Joseph never told the Egyptians about the incident with his brothers because it was none of their business. By maintaining discretion, he was protecting the name and reputation of God in Egypt. Had he told his sad story to everyone, the Egyptians would have had cause to say, “If that’s how the followers of your God behave, I want nothing to do with Him or your religion.”

FallingI’ve heard it said that “you can’t unring a bell.” Once you have said or done something harsh or hurtful to another human being, you can never take it back. Just imagine all of the regret buried within you for all of the things you’ve said and done to sin against other people and against God over the years.

Fortunately, God is in the business of forgiving, but it’s not certain that all of the people you and I have hurt in our lifetimes will be willing or able to forgive us. But while we can’t change the past, we can make a new future starting right now. Have a care what you say and what you do. Greet others with a smile. Withhold a harsh criticism, even if what you could say is factual. Consider that God loves even the sinner and the apostate.

You may never know whose life you may save by either speaking a good word or withholding one that is evil. One day we will all have to give an accounting for how we’ve lived our lives and every action we have committed. What will you say to the King when it’s your turn? Will you attempt to justify hurting others, or be blessed by him for your kindness and compassion?

Vayigash: Will the King Show Us Mercy?

king-davidAnd Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph!”

Genesis 45:3

The Chofetz Chaim comments that from the time the brothers first came to Egypt to get food — when Joseph spoke with them roughly and accused them of being spies — they were puzzled about what exactly was happening and why it was happening. In both encounters with Joseph they had many questions about their experiences. As soon as they heard the words, “I am Joseph” all their questions were answered. The difficulties they had in understanding the underlying meaning of the events — why Joseph accused them of being spies, yet treated them well, accused them of lying and stealing, but gave them a banquet, insisted on bringing the younger brother to Egypt, etc. — were now completely clarified.

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered. The entire matter will be clarified and understood. Everyone will see how the hand of the Almighty caused everything ultimately for our benefit.

Dvar Torah for Torah Portion Vayigash based on
Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Referenced by Rabbi Kalman Packouz
at Aish.com

The brothers of Joseph discover a startling reality. The ruler of the Egyptians who has been treating them harshly all of this time is really their brother Joseph. In an instant, all the cruelty they showed him, including trying to murder him, must have come to the forefront of their conscience.

Before this, the Egyptian ruler had the power to do anything to them, imprison them, make them slaves, even kill them, but “it wasn’t personal.” That is, the sons of Jacob were no more or less significant to an Egyptian ruler than anyone else.

Now they not only discover that this man has the power of life and death over them, but that he is their brother, who they left for dead, who almost surely has a personal motive for seeking revenge. The brothers knew they had no right to appeal to Joseph for mercy, for they had not showed him mercy. They could only hope that in the years he ascended from slavery and imprisonment to being a viceroy of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power and authority, that he had learned wisdom and compassion and would be willing to offer them something they did not deserve: mercy and the continuation of their very lives.

Now look at what Rabbi Pliskin had to say from the above-quoted text:

Similarly, says the Chofetz Chaim, when the entire world will hear the words “I am the Almighty” at the final redemption of the Jewish people, all the questions and difficulties that people had about the history of the world with all of its suffering will be answered.

How much of the non-Jewish world will tremble at the feet of God when they realize the Almighty has appeared at the final redemption and that He is not at all pleased with how His people Israel have been treated?

Over the long march of centuries since Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, since Joseph confronted his brothers, since Moses, Aaron, and Miriam liberated the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and set them before God at Sinai, and on and on across history, every people, tribe, and tongue throughout the Earth has been seeking to kill the Jewish people, God’s splendorous treasure, the apple of His eye.

This includes the Church of Jesus Christ. How confusing it will be in those days to be a Christian who has harbored hatred toward Jewish people, Judaism, and Israel, and to be confronted by an angry Jewish King. How strange it will seem to many Christians who have loved Israel but continued to deny the validity of the Torah, the Temple, and the adherence of Jewish people to a Jewish way of life for those Gentile believers to be faced with a Jewish King who upholds the “Jewishness” of his people Israel.

“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’ Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not take care of You?’ Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:41-46 (NASB)

Woman in the darkI used to think this was an injunction for believers to show kindness and compassion for all of the needy people around us (and I still think we should), but almost a year ago, I heard a good and kind Christian man in a Sunday school class interpret this statement as the duty we Gentile believers have to take care of all the needy of Israel.

And if that statement is true, then woe be to the many, many Christians past and present who have utterly failed to do so because those needy people were “just Jews.”

In the case of the brothers of Joseph, their kinsman who was also ruler and King over them was merciful after all:

Now do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me hither; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you. It is now two years that there has been famine in the land, and there are still five years to come in which there shall be no yield from tilling. God has sent me ahead of you to ensure Your survival on earth, and to save your lives in an extraordinary deliverance. So, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.

Genesis 45:5-8 (JPS Tanakh)

But was it for Jacob’s sake that Joseph spared his brothers? And for whose sake shall the King of Israel spare those among the nations and particularly those among the Church who have treated his little ones poorly?

…but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:6 (NASB)

Mark Nanos in his book The Mystery of Romans defines the “weak” and “stumbling,” relative to Paul’s letter to the Romans, as the Jews in the synagogues of Rome who had not yet come to faith in Messiah. I’ll write a detailed “meditation” on this topic in a few days, but Nanos understands Paul’s admonition to the “strong,” the Gentile believers, as failing to uphold their responsibility to encourage the stumbling Jewish people, resulting in them stumbling even further away from faith. Paul never gave up on the stumbling, and he would have sacrificed everything for them.

For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:3-5 (NASB)

It was the Master himself who called his people Israel “lost sheep” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24) and who are we to disdain those “sheep,” for it is obvious that even in their unbelief, God loves them with a great intensity and will violently protect them, even from those of us who are so arrogant as to believe their Father has cut them off from His care and compassion.

bk_kotelPaul says that all of Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), though we in the Church cannot fathom this. But though the Jews have always been few in number (Deuteronomy 4:27) and suffered exile and dispersion (Leviticus 26:33), yet they shall be redeemed and live in peace (Micah 4:1-4), for God has declared that Israel shall eternally be a nation before Him (Genesis 17:7, Leviticus 26:43, Deuteronomy 4:26-27, 28:63-64).

It is within the power of the Jewish Messiah King, Yeshua, Jesus, to judge his Gentile Church and to cast out those of us who have failed in our duty to his people Israel in opposition to the prophesies and the commandments. The patriarchs were terrified of their powerful and very human brother for the vengeance he could exact upon them. How much more should we be terrified of an infinitely powerful and eternal King?

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews 10:31 (NASB)

Tremble and sin not, reflect in your hearts while on your beds, and be utterly silent. Selah.

Psalm 4:4 (from the Siddur, nighttime blessings)

Let the world that has always hated the Jewish people learn to repent before it’s too late, and let each Christian who has hated or dismissed the Jewish people lie in his or her bed and tremble and be utterly silent before their King whose hand will always uplift Israel and whose greatest desire is to save his precious nation and redeem her as he has promised.

Good Shabbos.

Vayeshev: The Blessing and the Curse of the Presence of God

Joseph in prison“And it happened after these things that the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and the baker transgressed against their master, the king of Egypt.”

Genesis 40:1

“I have set God before me always…”

Psalm 16:8

Rashi brings the Midrash that the cupbearer was imprisoned because a fly was found in Pharaoh’s goblet of wine; the baker was imprisoned because a small pebble was found in the king’s bread.

Our tzaddikim (righteous ones) never lost sight of being in God’s presence. Everything that transpired was contemplated as to how it applied to their service of God. The story is told of one such tzadik, the Alter (Elder) of Kelm who once found a small chip of wood in his bread. This immediately brought to mind the story of the king of Egypt’s baker who was imprisoned for allowing a pebble to be in the king’s bread. The Alter cogitated, “A defect in a person’s bread is hardly grounds for so severe a punishment. No one will be punished for this chip of wood in the bread, especially since it was totally accidental. Why, then, was the king’s baker punished so harshly?”

Dvar Torah on Vayeshev
based on Twerski on Chumash
by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
quoted by Rabbi Kalman Packouz at Aish.com

A tzaddik is a holy or righteous person who, as Rabbi Packouz states, does not lose sight of being in the presence of God. There’s a reason most of us aren’t tzaddikim or “righteous ones.” It is extremely difficult (forgive me for saying this) to keep our thoughts on being in the presence of God every waking hour. Even if it is our most heartfelt desire, sooner or later our concentration will waver, our mind will wander, and we’ll start thinking and then doing things without an awareness that God is also present with us.

This is what separates someone like Joseph from you and me. Even when he was alone and knew he would not be caught, he still refused to take advantage of very appealing opportunities. For even if his human master was away, he was always in the presence of the Master of the Universe.

After a time, his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused. He said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master gives no thought to anything in this house, and all that he owns he has placed in my hands. He wields no more authority in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except yourself, since you are his wife. How then could I do this most wicked thing, and sin before God?” And much as she coaxed Joseph day after day, he did not yield to her request to lie beside her, to be with her.

One such day, he came into the house to do his work. None of the household being there inside, she caught hold of him by his garment and said, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand and got away and fled outside. When she saw that he had left it in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to her servants and said to them, “Look, he had to bring us a Hebrew to dally with us! This one came to lie with me; but I screamed loud. And when he heard me screaming at the top of my voice, he left his garment with me and got away and fled outside.” She kept his garment beside her, until his master came home. Then she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew slave whom you brought into our house came to me to dally with me; but when I screamed at the top of my voice, he left his garment with me and fled outside.”

Genesis 39:7-18 (JPS Tanakh)

Of course, Joseph wasn’t always a tzaddik.

At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers, as a helper to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought bad reports of them to their father.

Genesis 37:2 (JPS Tanakh)

DescendingAs his father’s favorite son, Joseph could get away with almost anything, so much so, that his brothers learned to hate him and finally conspired to kill him. Thus began the long descent of Joseph from favored son to slave and the finally to prisoner in Egypt.

It is said in some circles of Judaism:

Before a person experiences a miracle – נס – , he is given a trial – ניסיון. There is no ascent (aliyah) without a prior descent (yeridah). The lower the descent, the higher the potential ascent.

And so it was for Joseph.

But what about you and me? Remember, while we have more than a few Biblical examples of people who started out in difficult circumstances only to rise mightily by the hand of God, there is also a certain amount of midrash involved in the commentaries I’m using. Can we say that for every difficulty or misfortune we encounter, we will ultimately spring back with the same force or greater, ascending exalted heights for the glory of God?

Probably not. The apostle Paul, while a highly respected Rav and tzaddik in his own right, died a cruel and unrecorded death among pagan Gentiles in Rome at the hand of Caesar. How many righteous ones, both Jewish and Christian, have suffered and died with no reward in this world? How many never thought of a reward in this present life, but only looked to Heaven?

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8 (NASB)

Paul too was a man who was always aware of being in the presence of God, standing before the Throne of the Master of the Universe. It was being in His Presence that was most rewarding to the apostle, much more than any reward he could ever receive in mortal life. His crowns are in Heaven.

Rabbi Packouz concludes his commentary like this:

The Alter concluded, “It was because when one serves or relates to the king, the standard of perfection is much greater than when relating to other people. One must exercise much greater caution to prevent any defects. In serving the king, even a small defect is a major offense!”

“I am in the service of the King of kings,” continued the Alter. “Is my behavior before Him without defect? Have I been cautious enough to avoid even accidental infractions?”

On the surface, we might wish always to be in the presence of God, but consider this. God watches every move and every mood. You cannot so much as twitch without God noticing. Then too, if you are always in His presence, that includes when you drive to work, when you discipline your children, when you talk to your neighbor, when you talk about your neighbor behind their back, and particularly when you are alone, for no one displays more of who they really are than when they’re alone and they think no one is watching.

The only difference between a tzaddik and the rest of us is that the tzaddik knows he or she is in the presence of God constantly. The rest of us are also constantly in God’s presence, but we aren’t always aware of that fact, or we don’t want to always be aware of it.

Joseph of EgyptJoseph became Prince of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh in power and majesty in that ancient land. But this was only after suffering great trials, and in those trials, always being aware he was in God’s presence. Only when he didn’t succumb to the temptations of lust, anger, and despair was he elevated to great heights, but even then, only for the glory of God and to serve the desperate and the starving…and only to ensure the continuation of Jacob and the Children of Israel.

Nearly two years ago, for Torah Portion Vayigash. I wrote something similar as related to our Master, to Messiah. Jesus also suffered many trials in his mortal lifetime as a humble teacher who could have risen to King, but in the presence of God, allowed himself to be degraded, crucified, and murdered.

But he rose to the most exalted place at the right hand of the Father, to be glorified and with the promise of one day returning as King to defeat Israel’s enemies, restore the Holy Land to glory, return the exiles to their nation, and to rule us all in justice and peace.

Any one of us may be called upon to serve the King at any moment, not in exalted glory, but as a humble and even humiliated servant. How we respond to suffering, hardship, and shame in the presence of God may determine how we will be allowed to continue to serve Him…or if we will be allowed to do so.

When you believe you are living inside of an unobserved and unguarded moment, that is the time to realize the truth. You are never alone. God is always there. You are always before the Throne. That can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you choose to use that moment.

Good Shabbos.