Tag Archives: Shemot

In the Merit of Jewish Torah Observance Revisited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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.

Shemot: Trusting God

trust2In this week’s Torah portion the Torah tells us “There arose a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” There is a disagreement whether it was truly a new king or whether the king (Pharaoh) chose to ignore any debt of gratitude to Joseph and his people for saving Egypt and the world from the 7 year famine. Obviously, trusting in people — especially heads of governments — is problematic. Who do you trust? Who can you trust?

In my youth there was a television show entitled, “Who Do You Trust?” The show was not entitled “Is There Anyone You Trust?,” because, in the end all of us trust in someone or something. People trust in their intelligence, their power, their charm, their knowledge, their connections, their political candidate, and in their wealth. For those who trust (or trusted…) in their wealth, it is ironic that on the American dollar bill it advises “In God We Trust.”

Ultimately, what will help all of us to weather these difficult times is strengthening our trust in God. Trust in God gives a person peace of mind, the ability to relax and to be free of stress and worry. It helps one to deal with frustrations and difficulties.

Like all intelligent discussions, we first have to start with a definition. Trust in God is believing, knowing, internalizing that all that the Almighty does for us if for our good. It is knowing that the Almighty loves us greater than any love one human being can have for another person. He totally knows and understands us and our personal situations. Only the Almighty has the power to impact your situation. He has a track record. You can rely on Him. Everything the Almighty does for you is a gift; there are no strings attached.

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Who Do You Trust?”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot

That sounds fine as far as it goes, but it’s not as simple as all that. Trusting in God does not mean that you are guaranteed a problem-free life. In fact, as we’ve recently seen, Many people suffer horrible tragedy and tremendous loss regardless of their trust, or lack thereof, in God. The hurricane devastates the righteous and unrighteous alike and loss of a child will break anyone’s heart.

However, Rabbi Packouz provides a handy list of 7 Principles for Trusting in God for our review. Here they are:

  1. The Creator of the universe loves me more than anybody else in the world possibly can.
  2. The Almighty is aware of all my struggles, desires and dreams. All I need is to ask Him for help.
  3. The Almighty has the power to give me anything I want.
  4. There is no other power in the universe other than the Almighty. Only He can grant me success and give me what I want.
  5. The Almighty has a track record for giving me more than I am asking for.
  6. The Almighty gives with no strings attached. I don’t need to earn it or deserve it. He will give it to me anyway.
  7. The Almighty knows what is best for me and everything He does is only for my good.

Although Christianity and Judaism are two different religions (with a common root), I think the list above can be applied just as well to the non-Jewish believer as to the Jewish person.

Does God love you more than anybody else in the world can? The New Testament is full of comments about God’s love, the most obvious being John 3:16. Yes, God does love you and He loves me, and He loves all Christians, and all Jews, and all Muslims, and all Buddhists, and all human beings who have ever lived and who will ever lived.

And yet disaster can strike at any moment and human history is replete with tragedies and disasters. The road of our lives and the lives of all who came before us is littered with broken bodies and broken hearts and broken spirits.

Certainly God is aware of all our needs and struggles since nothing is hidden from Him, but point two suggests that all we have to do to be relieved of our pain is to ask Him for help. Does everyone who has a sincere faith and prays to God receive immediate relief from suffering? Ask the parents of those children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary school.

God really does have the power to give you, me, and everyone else anything we want, but that doesn’t mean He will grant us anything we want. In fact, it is very likely that God will not grant us anything we really want most of the time.

From a Christian’s, Jew’s, or Muslim’s point of view, there is only one power in the universe: God. Only God can grant success and comfort. But as I already said, there’s a difference between what He can do and what He will do.

Does God have a track record of giving us more than what we ask for? I’m not even sure how to measure such a thing. I think that’s probably true in some cases, but not in others. Ask six million Jews who died during the Holocaust while praying for God to grant them mercy. Was death the only mercy He decided to give?

no-strings-attachedGod gives with no strings attached. Hmmm. Is that true? Probably in more cases than not, but there’s a presupposition that even in giving, God is trying to get our attention, especially if those receiving His gifts do not have faith. On the other hand, referring back to John 3:16, God is the grand master of unconditional love, so who am I to talk?

God knows what is best for me. I can’t argue against that and this seventh point could be used to explain the other six. We may ask for something and not get it and then conclude that we didn’t get what we wanted because it wasn’t good for us. On the other hand, the parents of 26 murdered children only want this all to be a bad dream and for their precious little ones to be restored to them. Is that not “good for them?”

No, I’m not trying to be a downer and “diss” trusting in God, but such an abiding trust is difficult to come by.

Blessed are You, O God … Who has provided me my every needs.


One of the great tzaddikim lived in abject poverty, yet always had a happy disposition. He was asked how he managed to maintain so pleasant an attitude in the face of such adverse conditions.

“Each day I pray to God to provide all my needs,” he said. “If I am poor, that means that one of my needs is poverty. Why should I be unhappy if I have whatever I need?”

Tzaddikim are great people and we are little people who may not always be able to achieve the intensity of trust in God that would allow us to accept adversity with joy. But even if we cannot attain it to the highest degree, we should be able to develop some sincere trust.

When our children are little, we as parents know what they need. They might prefer a diet of sweets, but we give them nourishing foods. They certainly despise receiving painful injections that immunize them against dreadful diseases, but we forcibly subject them to these procedures because we know what is good for them.

Some people do not believe in God. But to those that do, why not realize that He knows our needs better than we do, and that even some very unpleasant experiences are actually for our own betterment?”

Today I shall…

try to bear adversity with less anger and resentment, remembering that God is a compassionate Father, and that He gives me that which He knows, far better than I, that I truly need.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 20”

The Hebrew word bitachon is typically translated as “trust” in English, but that hardly does it justice. Trusting God isn’t about God always giving us what we want or us experiencing God as always doing what we think of as good. It’s the realization that God is always good regardless of our experiences.

Consider any of the “holy men” you may admire and revere from the Bible. From Abraham to Paul, they all led less than perfect lives. Yes, God granted them many gifts, but He also allowed much hardship. Abraham and Sarah were childless and without an heir for most of their lives and into extreme old age until God granted them Isaac. Jacob was hated by his brother Esau, kept in virtual slavery by his relative Laban for twenty years, his daughter was raped and held captive, his favorite son Joseph was lost and presumed dead. Another son Judah married outside of the Hebrews and two of his three sons died. Joseph was a slave and a prisoner for years in a strange land before being elevated to great power, but only on the condition that he conceal his identity, even from his own brothers. When Joseph died, every one of his descendants for generations was kept as slaves in Egypt. Even their rescuer Moses was unable to lead his people into Canaan and instead wandered with them in the desolate wilderness for forty years until finally dying with almost everyone else in his generation without walking in Israel for himself.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe “saints” of the New Testament fared no better. Consider the stoning of Stephen, the harsh life of Paul leading only to death in Rome, and the martyrdom of Peter and every other Apostle. No, trust and faith did not result in comfort of life.

No, trust in God cannot be based on experience with God because if it were, none of these people would have been able to trust Him. In fact it seems that one must trust God in spite of our life experience. Rabbi Packouz’s list does little good, since God does not perform good on command. Knowing that God can spare us pain and suffering doesn’t help and is a bitter irony when God doesn’t spare us pain and suffering. Job’s most famous line (for me) illustrates what it is to trust in God.

Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Job 13:15 (ESV)

This gives us a picture of the Jewish method of trusting God, since it doesn’t preclude telling God how we feel about what’s happening to us.

Rabbi Twerski tells us that only a great tzaddik, a very holy and spiritual person, can truly trust God at the level I’m talking about here. But he also says that it’s not impossible for we “ordinary folk” to trust God, either. In his own declaration on the matter, Rabbi Twerski states, Today I shall try to bear adversity with less anger and resentment, remembering that God is a compassionate Father, and that He gives me that which He knows, far better than I, that I truly need.

In our own times of hardship and anguish, maybe this is the best we can do as well.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 (ESV)

Good Shabbos.

Why Are We Needed?

i-need-youThe sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Y. Schneerson, recounted the following story some 64 years ago:

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad rebbe, had a disciple who was also a great philanthropist. Two causes that were particularly dear to him were supporting the Jewish community in the Land of Israel and ransoming captives.

This wealthy chassid had already married off his children and begun pledging dowries for his less-affluent relatives, when the wheel of fortune turned, and his finances suffered.

He was forced to borrow money, and at the end he was left penniless. Overwhelmed and pursued by creditors, he did what any chassid would do: he traveled to his rebbe and unburdened his heavy heart.

After listening intently to his complaints, Rabbi Schneur Zalman addressed him: “You speak about what you need, but say nothing of what you are needed for!”

In this week’s Torah portion, the first one of the book of Exodus, we read about the beginning of the harsh Egyptian exile. But with the disease comes the cure: in the same portion we read about the birth of Moses, the man who was to lead the Jewish people out of their bondage.

One of the first things we hear about Moses is that how he helps another person. Emerging from a sheltered existence as a member of Pharaoh’s household, he sees an Israelite slave being cruelly beaten by an Egyptian, and rescues him.

There are times in our lives when it may be challenging to think about anyone other than ourselves, but the message of Rabbi Schneur Zalman to the anonymous chassid rings true: You speak about what you need, but say nothing of what you are needed for!

Often, the best response to adversity is to break out of our comfort zones and extend a helping hand to another person with love and gratitude for all the good that we have.

-Rabbi Shaul Wertheimer
“What Are You Needed For?”
Commentary on Torah Portion Shemot

I’ve recently lamented about the relative significance of our lives to God and His purposes, but I suppose the above-commentary, part of which I’ve read before, provides us with something of an answer. Still, it’s difficult when we have needs, to set those aside and to consider instead what we are needed for. When it is our heart that hurts and our eyes that grow dim, how can we view ourselves as the pilgrim instead of the exile? Yet we see that in God causing Moses to rise up among his Jewish brothers, that He created Moses to become both.

Some time after that, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his kinsfolk and witnessed their labors. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen. He turned this way and that and, seeing no one about, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he found two Hebrews fighting; so he said to the offender, “Why do you strike your fellow?” He retorted, “Who made you chief and ruler over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Moses was frightened, and thought: Then the matter is known! When Pharaoh learned of the matter, he sought to kill Moses; but Moses fled from Pharaoh. He arrived in the land of Midian, and sat down beside a well.

Exodus 2:11-15 (JPS Tanakh)

I can only imagine that after having grown up in Pharoah’s court, becoming a shepherd in Midian was something of a let down for Moses, at least at first. But in my imagination, I think of Moses finally marrying, raising sons, and eventually coming to terms and to a peace with the simple life, tending to his flock in the shadow of the mountain of God.

But then, God had other plans for Moses.

“You speak about what you need, but say nothing of what you are needed for!”

-Rabbi Schneur Zalman

But Moses said to the Lord, “Please, O Lord, I have never been a man of words, either in times past or now that You have spoken to Your servant; I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” And the Lord said to him, “Who gives man speech? Who makes him dumb or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with you as you speak and will instruct you what to say.” But he said, “Please, O Lord, make someone else Your agent.” The Lord became angry with Moses, and He said, “There is your brother Aaron the Levite. He, I know, speaks readily. Even now he is setting out to meet you, and he will be happy to see you. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth — I will be with you and with him as you speak, and tell both of you what to do — and he shall speak for you to the people. Thus he shall serve as your spokesman, with you playing the role of God to him, And take with you this rod, with which you shall perform the signs.”

Exodus 4:10-17 (JPS Tanakh)

Most of us have never been a prince in Egypt or even a wealthy philanthropist and chassid, but I’m sure many of you reading this have been poor (or are poor) and in need and have been focused more on your own desperation than the plight of the world around you. It’s only natural that when we are confronted with our own pain, we direct all our attention to it and ask for help. It is only natural that, when presented with a task or a mission that seems well beyond our capacities, we should try to turn it down or ask that it be assigned to someone else.

But sometimes God asks the most unlikely people to do the most unusual things.

For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.

Acts 9:19-22 (ESV)

micah6-8And what does God ask us to do?

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8 (ESV)

For kindness is Yours, O God, when You compensate each person according to his actions.

Psalms 62:13

In our productivity-oriented society, we tend to place value on the product rather than on the process. Success is praised and failure is condemned, and we have little interest in the circumstances under which others function.

This attitude might be justified in the marketplace, since commerce lives by the bottom line. Still, our preoccupation with commerce should not influence us to think that people’s successes and failures should be the yardsticks for how we value them.

God does not judge according to outcome. God knows that people have control only over what they do, not over the results. Virtue or sin are determined not by what materializes, but by what we do and why.

Since the Torah calls on us to “walk in His ways,” to emulate God as best we can, we would do well to have a value system so that we judge people by their actions, not their results. This system should be applied to ourselves as well. We must try to do our utmost according to the best ethical and moral guidance we can obtain. When we do so, our behavior is commendable, regardless of the results of our actions.”

Today I shall…

try to be considerate of others and of myself as well, and realize that none of us is in control of the outcome of our actions, only of their nature.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tevet 19”

You and I speak of our needs to God and He desires this. But He also desires that ask Him what we are needed for. The answer is the reason we are all alive today.

Exodus: Challenge in Exile

On one hand, people shy away from challenges. There is a danger of failure were there not, it would not be a challenge and no one likes to fail. On the other hand, we seek challenge, for confronting a challenge lifts us out of the doldrums of ordinary experience.

Similar concepts apply with regard to our Divine service. G-d does not want our Divine service to be merely routine. And so, He presents us with challenges. Some of these challenges are limited in scope, and some are more daunting, forcing us to summon up our deepest resources.

This is the nature of the challenge of exile. During the Era of the Beis HaMikdash, the open revelation of G-dliness inspired Jews to serve G-d with heightened feeling and intent. In the era of exile, by contrast, G-dliness is hidden, and we are presented with many obstacles to our observance of the Torah and its mitzvos. We can no longer rely on our environment to deepen our feeling for G-dliness. Instead, our focus must become internal. In this manner, exile arouses our deepest spiritual resources, and strengthens our connection to G-d.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
In the Garden of the Torah
“Challenge, Growth, and Transition”
Commentary on Torah Portion Exodus
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, 843ff; Vol. XVI, p. 36ff;
Vol. XXVI, p. 301ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5751, p. 240ff

In yesterday’s morning meditation, I wrote about some of the challenges of serving God, particularly in how Christians and Jews differ in understanding such service. I also talked about some of the things a Christian can learn about serving God from a Jew, such as preparing our souls to perform a deed in His Name, and approaching such a deed with awe and fear of our Creator.

In today’s commentary on the Torah Portion, we see that God sometimes presents challenges to our service, so we don’t become lazy and complacent. After all, how many religious people advance just so far in their faith and then “rest on their laurels” so to speak? Probably a lot. Could that describe you for certain parts of your spiritual life? Have you ever suddenly faced inconvenient and troubling problems just when you thought you had your life together? Did you ever cry out to God, “Why are you doing this to me?” Maybe this is the answer.

But what does any of this have to do with this week’s Torah reading and the beginning of the Book of Exodus? Let’s continue with Rabbi Touger’s commentary.

These concepts are reflected in our Torah reading, which describes the successive descents experienced by the Jewish people in Egypt. As long as Yosef and his brothers lived, the Jews enjoyed prosperity and security. But with the death of the last of Yaakov’s sons came forced labor, the casting of Jewish infants into the Nile, and other acts of cruelty. Even after Moshe brought the promise of redemption, the oppression of the Jewish people worsened, to the extent that Moshe himself cried out: “Since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people.”

Nevertheless, the Torah reading also tells how the Jews cried out to G-d, awakening His attention. In response, G-d conveyed the promise of Redemption and His pledge that, “when you take this people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain,” i.e., G-d committed Himself to give the Jews the Torah. This revealed the possibility of a higher and deeper bond with G-d than could have been reached before.

There’s a lot going on here that answers our questions. For the first forty years of his life, Moses experienced relative ease as a “Prince of Egypt” (much like Joseph before him) while his brothers and sisters labored as slaves. The next forty years, he labored as a simple shepherd, but life was still good and without undo complications as Moses married and raised a family and lived a meager but satisfying existence. Then came God and His challenge, and the life of Moses was thrown into turmoil.

Then Moses returned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why did You bring harm upon this people? Why did You send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has dealt worse with this people; and still You have not delivered Your people.” –Genesis 5:22-23 (JPS Tanakh)

While Moses was closer to God than he had ever been in his life up to this point, he was also extremely upset, frustrated, and miserable. Everything he had done to try and help his people had blown up in his face. Things were worse for the Children of Israel than they had been before Moses showed up at the behest of God. When we are serving God, we usually expect things to get better right away. For Moses, they didn’t. They don’t always get better for us right away, either. Even when God says:

Then 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)

In theory, we know we should trust God completely and whatever He says He will do, He will do. On a very human level however, we tend to have doubts, especially when we feel like we’re up to our neck in hot water, or in Moses’ case, up to his neck in angry and beaten down kinsmen. We can feel trapped in such situations and even lost.

One of the unique challenges we have as believers is the challenge that the Children of Israel had in the time between Joseph and Moses. Both of these men are considered “Messianic” figures in relation to their people and the world and during their lifetimes, both provided rescue and safety (though perhaps not in an absolute sense) for God’s chosen ones. Rabbi Touger explains it this way.

The cycle of Jewish exile and redemption is significant for the world at large. The purpose of creation is to establish a dwelling for G-d. This dwelling is fashioned by the involvement of the Jewish people in different aspects of worldly experience. During exile, the Jews are scattered into different lands and brought into contact with diverse cultures. As such, as the challenge of exile brings the Jews to a deeper connection with G-d, it also elevates their surroundings, making manifest the G-dliness which permeates our world.

The saga of exile and redemption is not merely a story of the past. On the contrary, heralds of the final transition from exile and redemption are affecting all dimensions of existence today. To borrow an expression from the Previous Rebbe: “Everything is ready for the Redemption; even the buttons have been polished.” All that is necessary is that we open our eyes, recognize Mashiach’s influence, and create a means for it to encompass mankind.

The Sages liken the times of Joseph and Moses to the time of the Beis HaMikdash; the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Their times are also like the time of the Mashiach. People are able to serve God with great fervor and zeal and experience a particular closeness because both the Temple and the Mashiach, for the Jewish people, act as points of “access” of Jews to God. In contrast, the days between Joseph and Moses and the times of slavery are like the time of the great exile after the Second Temple. These are times when people feel a tremendous separation from God and must summon up great courage to go on and to serve God. We know that during their slavery in Egypt, the Children of Israel did not hear from God at all and felt very much alone. Only when the Prophet Moses was raised up did God speak to His people again.

How does all this relate to us? During the earthly lifetime of Jesus, people began to have a unique access to God in the form of a human being that had never happened before. How this was possible, we cannot say for sure, but Jesus himself confirmed it.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” –John 14:6-7 (ESV)

He also said:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. –John 5:19 (ESV)

When people were able to see and hear Jesus, they were able to experience access to God in a unique and unprecedented manner.

And then he was killed.

And then he rose and was among his people for forty days (Acts 1:3).

And then he left. And we’ve been waiting for his return ever since.

Like the Children of Israel in slavery and after the destruction of the Second Temple, we who are the disciples of Jesus are in a kind of exile. God promised Jacob (Genesis 46:4) He would go down into Egypt and into exile with Israel and He would surely come back out with them. That is also like us. Our Joseph, our Moses, our Messiah is not with us today. We have the Spirit, so God is with us in exile. Many times we speak to God and He speaks to us in some manner, but it is not the same as if the Messiah were present in the world in a physical manner. We know this because he has promised to return and we await his return. It matters if he is in the world because once he comes back, everything will begin to change. It won’t be so much like we will be taken out of our exile but that our exile will be transformed into our home, though this will not occur in its final form until the end of days.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. –Revelation 21:1-3 (ESV)

In Eden in the beginning, God dwelt with man in the Garden until the fall. For a short time, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). God dwelt among His people in the desert (Exodus 40:34-35) and in the Temple of Solomon (1 Kings 8:10-11). God desires to dwell with us again and to that end, we have faith in the promises of the Messiah that when he returns, it will be so.

At the end of last week’s Torah Portion, the readings from the book of Genesis were concluded and this week we begin the readings from Exodus. At the end of the readings in any book of the Torah during the annual Torah cycle, the last reader, by tradition, recites a phrase that we also need to hear as we who are in exile await the return of our King. Let these words be instilled in our hearts and give us courage and hope as we face the challenges of God.

Chazak! Chazak! Venitchazeik! Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!

We also have these words of encouragement.

There are no things. There are only words. The Divine Words of Creation.

The words become scattered and we no longer understand their meaning. Only then are they things. Words in exile.

If so, their redemption lies in the story we tell with them. Reorganizing stuff into meaning, redefining what is real, and living a life accordingly.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Good Shabbos.