GIVING GOD OUR VERY BEST!
In last week’s Parashah (Ki Teitzei, “When You Go Out”) something remarkable is found, wherein 74 of the 613 commands of the Torah are listed, dealing with moral obligation, character and Israel’s calling to covenant relationships. Continuing, with this week’s Parashah (Ki Tavo, “When You Go In”), Moses finishes his legal discourse by establishing the law of “Bikkurim” (firstfruits), where in the “firstfruits” of the harvest is to be taken to the cohanim for their care in the work of God in the holy Temple in stating,
“When you have come to the land Adonai your God is giving you as your inheritance, taken possession of it and settled there; you are to take the firstfruits of all the crops the ground yields, which you will harvest from your land that Adonai you God is giving you, put them in a basket and go to the place where Adonai your God will choose to have his name live.” (Deuteronomy 26:1-2, CJB)
In context, to fulfill this mitzvot (command), at the time of the harvest, the head of the household was required to travel and go up to Jerusalem and the holy Temple with not just the first of his harvest, but also the best of its fruits for Adonai. According to Jewish halacha and tradition, these firstfruits of the crops were known as the shivat ha-minim (the seven species [of the fruit of the harvest]) consisting of wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates (cf. Deuteronomy 8:8). When the Jewish farmer would discover the first sign of his ripening fruit, he would construct a reed around it and designate it as a “Bikkurim.” From this he would select the best elements of his harvest, place it in a basket that is woven in gold and silver (or for the poor, in willow) and offer it to God’s appointed cohanim.
For us as Messianic-believers, the imagery of the firstfruits of Bikkurim is two-fold - first in reminding us of Yeshua, who himself is the firstfruits of the resurrection in stating, “... that the Messiah has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have died,” (1 Corinthians 15:20) and in our calling to bring to God, not the “left-overs,” but instead to surrender and give back to him our very best!
When Messiah came and bore our punishment, he came in perfect sacrificial love, in giving us all for the sake of our redemption. This is not something that began 2,000 years ago with the incarnation, but instead has been God’s purposes for us, his people from the very beginning.
Because God has given us so much and pour out upon our lives - grace upon grace, should we not want to give him in everything our very best? Whether it be in our devotion to pray, how we handle our finances for the things of God, in the service of other, the building of God Kingdom or even in our service to Adonai here at Beit Hallel - it is our very best, yes, our FIRSTFRUITS that we must bring to the Lord every moment of every day.
Let’s give God all that we have - for in Messiah, the Lord has certainly given us more then we could ever deserve!
In this week’s Parashah of Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) Moses continues to elaborate on God’s commands regarding the family and how healthy familial relationships not only affect the individual, but society as a whole. Within Ki Teitzei, emphasis is placed on private matters concerning both the individual and one’s household, while in other previous Parashiot, emphasis is surrounding more tribal concerns and in addressing public officials and matter relating to the Children of Israel as a whole.
From this perspective, we are reminded that the redemptive work of the Torah and God’s instruction in our lives is all inclusive and is designed to transform every aspect of our human existence. For us in Messianic Judaism, this is highly significant when we consider that the Good News of the Kingdom of God, should affect and transform every area our lives. Insightfully, the commands of God in the Torah were never given to Israel for constraint, but instead as an act of Liberation and Freedom whereby the individual and the people as a whole could be restored and enabled to serve God in every area of their lives and to be a viable witness to the nations.
Part of this calling however is seen in the opening words of our Parashahand specifically, God’s concern for women in society and most importantly, our treatment of them. Despite misguided outcry of feminist extremism and the voice of hate from the radical-left, the truth still remains that from the beginning of modern civilization and before, humankind has been plagued with a spirit of misogyny (the hate and abuse of women). Today, when the events of spousal abuse and human trafficking assault our consciousness and headlines, it is still the Torah that calls us back, and reminding how all of us should be treating one another.
Noteworthy, in this week’s Parashah, Moses begins in stating,
“When you go out to war against your enemies, and Adonai your God hands them over to you, and you take prisoners, and you see among the prisoners a woman who looks good to you and you feel attracted to her and want her as your wife; you are to bring her home to your house, where she will shave her head, cut her fingernails and remove her prison clothing. She will stay there in your house, mourning her father and mother for a full month; after which you may go in to have sexual relations with her and be her husband, and she will be your wife. In the event that you lose interest in her, you are to let her go wherever she wishes; but you may not sell her for money or treat her like a slave, because you humiliated her.” (Deuteronomy 21:10-14)
From our modern culture we can easily question and even judge what appears here to be a forcible act of making this woman of captivity to marry an unknown man (vs. 10-13). Equally, most would feel uncomfortable with the idea that once the husband has lost interest in his foreign wife, that would conclude by casting her off. (v. 14)
Yet through all of this, we must choose to see in these passages the heart of God in the simple phrase,
“…you are to let her go wherever she wishes, but you may not sell her for money or treat her like a slave, because you humiliated her.” (v. 14)
Here, we find that the woman of Deuteronomy 21 is not just as a “thing” to be bartered or sold, but instead an individual deserving of dignity and respect because she is made in the image of God.
To reinforce this reality, A midrash by Rabbi Joshua ben Levi in Deuteronomy Rabbah 4:4while elucidating on Genesis 1:16-17 states,
“A procession of angels passes before each person, and the heralds go before them, saying, ‘Make way for the image of God’.”
Here, we are reminded that all of humankind (both women and men alike) are all precious, holding infinite value and uniquely made in the image of God! Thus, in Judaism, when we harm our neighbor - we are in fact attacking the very image of God itself.
While looking at these events historically, Rabbi Jeffrey H. Tiguy in his commentary on Deuteronomy strengthens our midrash by noting Parashah Ki Teitzei that,
“Most women captives in the ancient world became slaves, but in some cases a soldier found one whom he desired to take as a wife or concubine … This law [from the Torah thus] requires a soldier who wishes to marry a captive woman to show consideration for her feelings … [The most] significant aspect of this law is its respect for the personhood of the captive woman.”
Such compliments last week’s Parashah (Shoftim) in its opening exhortation “Justice, only Justice, you must Pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). From the context of Ki Teitzei, we are reminded that if justice is truly justice, then it must first reach in grace and loving kindness to the weakest and most vulnerable around us.
From this, what lessons can we learn as a Messianic Jewish community and of our calling to be used of God in bringing about the Restoration of Israel and the Body of Messiah? Also, as we declare the Good News to the lost and wayward, how does Ki Teitzei and the woman of Deuteronomy 21 instruct us in fulfilling God’s will in our lives and for Messianic calling? …
It is demonstrated that our greatest calling is seen in our willingness to favor those amongst us who are in need, hurting and less fortunate. It is by following the admonition and command of the B’rit Chadashah in being like Yeshua who came as a servant to all (Mark 9:35; Matthew 23:11-12) and in our call to care for the widow and orphan and those who are in distress (James 1:27).
In the end, we cannot simply speak of our faith in Messiah, … we must FIRST live it out sacrificially for all who are in need by the guidance, direction and discernment of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit). In knowing that our calling is to be as wise and serpents and gentle as doves (Matthew 10:16), our feet and hearts should be tuned by the Spirit of God to be swift and deliberate in caring for those in the moment who need the comfort, healing and restoration that only Yeshua can give.
Beloved let us all lay down our lives or one another!
At the beginning of Parashah Shoftim, we find some of the most profound words in all of the Torah, if not that of the whole of Scripture,
“Justice, only justice you must pursue; so that you will live and inherit the land Adonai you God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20, CJB)
In giving instruction in the appointment of judges over Israel, it is justice and justice alone that permeates the heart of Adonai and that of Moshe Rabbienu(Moses our Teacher).
As a word, justice (tzedek) and its derivate “tzedakah” is central to the whole of the Torah, and as a wave of truth, engulfs and permeates throughout the whole of Scripture. Yet, despite what one may think, “justice” from a biblical point of view is not limited to merely juris prudence or a Court of Law, but instead something that must engulf every aspect of human life. In his article entitled “Tzedek: Justice and Compassion,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks insightfully affirms this point in stating,
“Tzedek/tzedakah is almost impossible to translate, because of its many shadings of meaning: justice, charity, righteousness, integrity, equity, fairness and innocence. It certainly means more than strictly legal justice.”
Therefore, from the perspective of Torah, “justice” must be an action that is pursued and a power that encompasses our very being for the sake of mercy and grace. It cannot be limited to a blind scale of right or wrong, but instead must be marked by compassion, understanding and deliberate and willful identification with the other in the light of Torah commands. It is for this reason Deuteronomy continues,
“You are not to deprive the foreigner or the orphan of the[tzedek] justice which is his due. And you are not to take a widow’s clothing as collateral for a loan. Rather, remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and Adonai your God redeemed you from there. This is why I am ordering you to do this.” (Deuteronomy 24:17-18, CJB)
Because this is of such importance, the judges in Parashah Shoftimwere commissioned to judge in righteousness, to never pervert justice, to not show favoritism and to never accept a bribe. (vs. 18-19) The reason for this is simple in that the foundation of biblical justice is that of mercy, compassion and redemption!
The reason that God required the children to not exploit the orphan, foreigner or widow who sojourned in their land was because they too were exploited and abused for four-hundred years under the whip of Egyptian slave masters, from which God and God alone redeemed them from!
For us as Messianic-believers, this has profound significance when we consider the great work that was done for our redemption in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.
For although God did not overlook our sin, he nevertheless sent us our Messiah to redeem us from it and give newness of life to all who would make teshuvahand turn from their sin and follow his ways! It is for this reason that we must take every opportunity to walk in compassion and mercy toward our neighbor, in remembering the greatest act of love that, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that the Messiah died on our behalf while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8, CJB)
Beloved - Let's walk in justice, charity, righteousness, integrity, equity, fairness and innocence this week, and above all things may we pursue justice for one another and all the peoples of the world, in Yeshua’s holy name!
Shalom Chaverim (dear friends),
This week’s Parashah is Re’eh (See) in Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17, God gives Israel very explicit instructions that are quite applicable to us today. First, in the opening verses of the Parashah, Adonai tells us,
“See. I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse - the blessing, if you listen to the mitzvot (commandments) of Adonai your God that I am giving you today; and the curse, if you don’t listen to the mitzvot (commandments) of Adonai your God, but turn aside from the way I am ordering you today and follow other gods that you have not known.”
Now if you remember our blog from last week, you will see a repeat in the passage above, where God is reminding Israel to “Listen Up,” to all that God is calling them to do and how they should live. As noted last week, we should “… return to the Fine Art of Active Listening and give our full attention to the voice of Yeshua our Messiah.” By doing this we are in fact taking every effort to listen to and do all that God is directing us to do, in the moment he us calling us act!
Yet in this week’s Parashah, the Lord takes the argument to a whole new level warning us not to just pay attention to God, but to make him the absolute priority in your life. In this, our Sages speak of the sin of “avodah zarah,” and God command throughout our passage on not going after and worshipping other “gods.” So important, Israel is commanded in Deuteronomy 12:2-3 stating,
“You must destroy all the places where the nations you are dispossessing served their gods, whether on high mountains, on hills, or under some leafy tree. Break down their altars, smash their standing stones to pieces, burn up their sacred poles completely and cut down the carved images of their gods. Exterminate their name from that place.”
From the beginning, after leaving, we all had a problem with idolatry and from the Golden Calf on, when the going got tough, all too often in our history we chose to betray the lover of our souls and run after imitation gods who offered salvation to no one! Although the words of the Shema rang in our hearts, our feet nevertheless took us to places we shouldn’t have been and altars of wickedness.
In reading this though, some of you might be saying, “Yes, that is all very bad and it is sad that our people betrayed God that way back then, but I follow Torah, I attend Synagogue and in Messiah Yeshua, I worship no other God but Adonai. So, Rabbi, tell me what does avodah zarah have to do with me?”
Dear friend, if this is your question, then I am so glad you are wondering …
The truth is avodah zarah is a temptation in all our lives, and is not limited to act of worshipping Molech or other pagan gods of the nations I the times of the Ancient Near East! In fact, avodah zarah can occur any time we, as a believer in Yeshua, choose in the moment to place anything ( … yes, anything) above the Lord!
In the end, idolatry can be one’s job, the ministry, one’s hobbies, your family or even your spouse! We might try to rationalize that we do not bow down to false deities, but do we at any time give supremacy to anything in our lives that is not Yeshua?
With this ever-looming threat beloved, we must continually be on guard of the subtle temptations of the Adversary that would lure us aware from our first love. True, we serve a God that is all loving and will forgive all sins, but we forget so easily in our day that Adonai is also a holy God who will not share his glory with any other. This is why in Deuteronomy 12:2-3, Israel is commanded to destroy the idols and false places of worship because (1.) he is holy and alone Adonai, and also (2.) he knows that as humans we are weak and so easily tempted and lead astray. It is so this reason that God in the beginning of the Parashah gives us a choice for blessings and life, and that of curses and death.
In our arrogance we can insist to do it our way, or worse yet deny that avodah zarah has no effect on us, or we can be real and run to the safety of the arms of our loving Father, who along can protect us from all falsehood, deception and lies.
Dear ones, as we soon approach our High Holy Days, may we rededicate our lives to Adonai and his commandments and may we choose life and blessings and never the alluring sights and sounds of falsehood.
In a recent study on Information Technology , Artificial Intelligence and its impact on humankind researchers noted,
“The advent of social media and online social networking has led to a dramatic increase in the amount of information a user is exposed to, greatly increasing that chances of the user experiencing information overload!”
Where, only a generation ago, interpersonal communication was for the most part as it had been in all previous eras, now, for the most part, social media has fully replaced authentic communication and true relationship building. Although we are continually under a barrage of endless, non-stop information overload from our iPhones, Tablets and Laptops, we nevertheless turn to these devices countless times a day to read a newest pop-up, article or post which cyberspace choses to throw our way. In the end, we as a culture compulsively stop whatever we are doing to “listen up,” regardless of whether the information we are being given is helpful or even good for us!
When I think of this reality we find ourselves in, my mind goes our Parashah (Eikev) and its beginning verse,
“Because you are listening to these rulings, keeping and obeying them, Adonai your God will keep with you the covenant and mercy that he swore to your ancestors.” (Deuteronomy 7:12)
In stating, “Because you are listening to these rulings…,” (i.e. Adonai’s commands to his people Israel), Moses draws from the root word, “Shema,” found in Deuteronomy 6:4 in stating,
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יְהוָהאֶחָֽד“
Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God, the Lord He is One.”
Not just to listen or merely pay attention, the word שְׁמַע more accurately is defined as our call to “LISTEN UP.” Here, the word comes, not as a soft reminder but instead with a shout to rise, to pay attention and to stop what we are doing and give Adonai our full and complete attention!
Sadly though, today, this is usually our last response!
If at dinner with our spouse or significant other, and the mobile devise makes that familiar sound, we instinctively reach and grab it to look without thinking! Instead of seeing that our information overload is pulling us away from authentic relationship, we nevertheless hurl head first into this abyss of technology that has been created for us! And of God and his voice calling out to us, our culture only has time to שְׁמַע listen if it is nicely packaged into a convenient sound bite, but not too long that it distracts us from the next post, tweet or informational pop-up!
When identifying this obvious problem, as the people of God, we can only have one response -
To turn to hear God’s voice and do what he is calling us to do!
We are constantly being inundated with a sea of information, but in the hardness of our hearts, we have lowered the voice of God to be on par as with all lesser voices and our call to שְׁמַע “listen up” is drowned out over the cacophony of unnecessary “white-noise!”
Does this mean that we should take all of our electronic devices and toss them in the garbage dumpster just outside of the Synagogue, NO!
But, what it does mean is that we should take every effort to stop, to listen to and do to all that God is directing us to do in the moment!
With our High Holy Days coming, lets return to the Fine Art of Active Listening and give our full attention to the voice of Yeshua our Messiah, knowing that when we do, God will not only bless us, but as with the Children of Israel, he will keep his covenant with us and will show is his mercy!
Stop and Listen! If you don’t, you might miss the most important thing ever spoken to you! .... שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל
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