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The point of it all

Here we are once more, our scroll rolled back to the start and the well-worn path of the history we seem to know so well starts up again. These early verses are so enigmatic; it’s almost as if we’re called to dig deep to understand the broad sweep of the truths contained therein. All of our history is contained in these few verses – and for what? Just what is the point of it all?

Many have wondered and many answers have been put forward, particularly in relation to the outworking of sin that has so gripped humanity, especially in man’s inhumanity to man. Not only did Job question the ultimate justice of God in an apparent righteous universe created according to the heart of God, but others did too, including Kohelet as he considered the ways of man and the oppression of others weaker and less able to defend themselves, a pattern of inhumanity that has for too long and too often been the bedrock of human experience. How can it be that something as wonderful and ‘good’ as creation, including mankind, could go so dreadfully wrong? What is the point of it all?

We need to understand the nature of the God who creates. The answer highlights one of the deepest paradoxes we can find, that of living life as a spiritual entity in a physical world. Exodus 34:6-7 shows us how simple it is: God is love. Love is the beating heart of God. Every act that He does, every word He speaks is motivated and driven by love, an all-conquering creational force that marks out who God is. God seeks those who will love Him, because love demands a relationship and cannot be shown in a vacuum. But there’s another even more crucial element to this love and the other characteristics of God’s nature: it is not so much that He wants us to love Him, but that He wants to love us. All His attributes recorded in the Exodus passage have one thing in common: they don’t and cannot exist and have meaning unless there is a physical stage upon which to demonstrate them.

It is impossible to show love on a purely spiritual level, or be merciful, or be anything on that list. How can you show mercy or offer forgiveness if there is no chance of sinning? In the spiritual world of pure spirit, unadulterated and untainted by sinful volition, no mercy ever needs to be shown. The dilemma for the Lord in fact predates our own dilemma, for to show His love He actually needed a stage in which He could actively demonstrate what love is and what it means, as well as mercy and so on. Because of the internal nature of God, creation was an inevitable event, a physical matter-filled, ‘stuff’ orientated and time constrained thing. And because matter is not eternal (it is created and will fade away, or atrophy, as all matter does), death and decay would also be the ‘almost’ inevitable outcome (I say almost because I believe that had the first couple not chosen to rebel and sin, they could have, indeed would have gone on to choose life and eat of the tree of eternal life, thus returning the creation to its spiritual form. To have chosen life at that point and not death would have been a love reaction towards God, played out on the stage of creational and physical substance. We can even argue that the whole of creation was in fact a physical, time-bound, material orientated demonstration of who God is and always has been: love.

Love cannot be shown in pure spiritual form, even the recipients of that love needed a physical housing to both receive it and give it. Love and mercy are not just thoughts, even the thoughts of God; they are concrete actions and events that shape human history, if you show them.

But here we reach the human paradox: there was always going to be a risk involved in creation. The paradox of the physical necessity to demonstrate who God is opens up the danger of the flesh wanting to operate in a different way to the spiritual rules of the created universe. Last year I talked about the problem of the eyes and hands, the physical connectors to this physical world. The same could be said of any of our senses, the sheer fleshly physicality of the immediate world dominating us and demanding attention, while the deeper spiritual life of mankind is suppressed as ethereal or unreal. In this context, the inevitability of sin, of rebelling against God and trusting self for the answers to human life and just to live, was there from day one. The paradox then comes down to the need for the physical to show love, but which holds within itself the seeds of its own inevitable tragedy. What was God to do? Creation, the establishing of a physical realm to show love HAD to happen because of His nature, yet the very creative drive set up a world in which redemption would also inevitably be needed!

The internal logic of the creative order dictated that God would have to have His own counterpoint in the physical order of things. For Him to show love and mercy, He would also have to appear as a player, an actor in human form upon this physical stage that had represented so much of His own love investment, despite the tragedy of sin, to demonstrate what love is. The brilliant story-line denouement in all this is that the final act rolls this incarnational event into a negating of the tragic inevitability of sin and the dominance of the flesh. Yeshua Mashichanu came, lived amongst us to show God’s love in a real, practical and physical way, ultimately dying due to our sins and thus reversing the earlier judgement of death.

Only God could enter into this physical world of flesh and blood ‘reality’ to redeem it, only He would avoid the inevitability of a sinful fleshly response to God created order. He would not see this as the ultimate reality but rather what it actually is, a temporary physical existence created solely to show God’s love and pass that on. Am I downplaying the physical world? No. This is no spiritual escape clause or flight of fancy. It is an absolute necessity and we should, must engage with it, as Judaism has always taught through tikkun olam. If the stage is set for a redemptive action to bring restoration, then how much more should we also demonstrate through physical acts the very real love of God?

It was a risk to create flesh and blood, a physical home, but it was a risk that had to be taken due to the nature and imperative of God. It is also His nature to redeem, and so despite the tragedy of the inevitability of sin, He is able to launch a rescue mission inside His creation to restore order. We can do no less, once our spiritual eyes are opened to the ultimate reality.

Shabbat Bereshit (In the beginning)

Our Father the Rock

Parashat Ha’Azinu

In Devarim 32 we read Moshe’s song of deliverance. This lyrical, sung format is meant to be learnt and sung to each new generation, a wonderful song of redemption amidst rebellion, a song of hope and prophecy, of gloom and the ultimate hope of salvation. It’s a song of possibilities, riven with the anguish of a prophet who loved G-d and His people, yet knowing the end from the beginning too. Moshe was shown that after his death Israel would fall away badly and depart from truth and Torah, invoking the judgement of G-d. How must Moshe have felt? Knowing that all the teaching and hard work would still not prevent catastrophe?

This is a song which according to Yochanan will be sung in the future too, when all is finished, see Rev 15:3-4. The song finds its ultimate dimensions of salvation in Yeshua Mashichanu. The song predicts that G-d will do a number of things at the end of all things: read Dev 32 verses 39-43. It will be clear that only He is G-d, that He will repay evil done against Him (including by proxy to Israel), He will include those from the nations in the final blessing (those that choose to follow the G-d of Israel) and also He will provide atonement. Note not atonement as regards the regular sacrifices which the priests and people provided, but G-D will provide for atonement for His people, total redemption, in the way He provided the sacrifice instead of Yitzchak.

There are 2 clear themes: He is our Father and our Rock. Both speak of who He is, tender and merciful, constantly looking out for us, loving us and desiring our good and blessing as well as discipline to grow into spiritual maturity with Him. As Rock He is steadfast, secure, strong, durable and powerful, He transcends generations and ages, and has an eternal quality, from a human perspective. In love and steadfastness He has covenanted Himself to Israel. G-d will keep His covenant with His and our people, the Jewish people; Moshe even invokes 2 witnesses to this effect Heaven and Earth. G-d will visit us again to keep faith with us. He will return us to the Land He promised.

Yet there is something very strange and different about Israel and her history, a history woven into the song both past and future. Have you noticed that history is told from the ‘winners’ perspective? History seems to revolve around conquests and battles won not lost? To the defeated is given the right to disappear of the stage of history, a story untold and often unbelieved, after all, we all know the good guys win all the time. Yet with Israel we have a history of successes and failures, battles lost and won, highs and lows recorded for us for posterity. Why so? Why do we have even in this song the prediction of lows and defeats, of times of judgment? Because with Israel we have true history, a history of G-d’s dealings with His people. This is no sanitised or censored history. G-d is covenanted to Israel, the highs and lows have nothing to do with military prowess or even bravery, just how obedient they were to Him. Read verses 45-47, Life was to come to them by following the commandments of G-d. Israel stands as a witness and a light, as well as a warning.

So what caused the falling away? Read verse 15. The generation then and those that followed would scornfully esteem salvation. What G-d would and did offer as HIS way of salvation, fully dependent upon Him alone, would be rejected. The only way possible to be truly obedient (in faith through Yeshua) was rejected in favour of a different way. But some will say surely salvation is a foreign concept to Judaism? No, in Abraham we find the pattern, he believed and it was counted to him for righteousness. Other forms of Judaism are still rejecting G-d’s own way. This Torah passage makes it quite clear that HE will provide atonement, not that the sacrifices were of no effect, but the only way to keep Torah is through Yeshua and His salvation, by faith; an atonement equal to our sins.

We have been given a choice: Life or Death, we do have the power of choice, G-d has given us free will, but He also knows where He wants to get us to. We can choose to cooperate or experience the disciplining anger of G-d, but He will get us there!

Salvation through Yeshua is the only answer to these issues of falling away from G-d. Hear what the Spirit says! Give ear!

Rabbi Binyamin

Be Strong

Moshe’s whole life’s work and calling was about to conclude. His concern to the bitter end was for the future of his people and God’s faithfulness to them and to us. Both he and Joshua are called to go before the Lord in Deuteronomy 31, where they hear some unpleasant things:

  • V.16: “go astray or play the harlot”. The Hebrew is strong here and refers to sexual immorality tied to idolatry.
  • V.20: “grown fat”. This is not about diets or obesity but rather about laxity, taking God for granted. Prosperity is good but if you get ‘fat’ on it, it can cause you to fall away. Prosperity is to be used to continue the cycle of blessings on others, not just yourself.

Moshe knew that given our inner disposition and tendency to sin and rebel that the inevitable righteous judgement of God would follow through (Deuteronomy 31:27, 29). Torah is not a book written by humans. Human hands were instrumental in the actual writing but the words belong to HaShem. No other texts contain words that condemn the very people to whom they are given.

Some seek ‘hidden’ things in Scripture: we don’t need to do that. Just taking the Torah at face value is enough to learn from. Our historical triumphs, mistakes and errors, our sins and their results are all meant to be salutary lessons for us. We are meant to learn from what we do wrong and then seek God to set it right. Our lives should become templates not of avoiding the wrong but naturally and instinctively choosing the right. There are enough forms of Judaism that have built fences to avoid the wrong; in Messianic Judaism we focus on choosing positively to do the right. Each time we go round those familiar loops of sinful behaviour in our lives, we see the power of God to overcome our sins, weaknesses and finally be victorious in our lives. God has always provided a way.

At the end of his life Moshe shows a depth of confidence and trust in the Lord which is inspiring, and his words to Joshua are telling (Deuteronomy 31:6). Nevertheless, he says “be strong and courageous”. These words point to the ability to stand in the face of disaster and yet look forward to the future. What doesn’t break you will make you stronger.

God is just so much bigger than the problem of human sin. These words of God’s complete faithfulness ring out as a clarion call during this time of deep introspection, despite our sins, despite our feelings of complete inadequacy and sense of righteous failure before God, we trust that He WILL NEVER LEAVE US OR FORSAKE US. Yeshua echoed the same sentiments in Yochanan 18:9 (I have not lost one…) and His last words in Mattityahu 28:20. God will never fail you or abandon you; Yeshua is with us to the end of the age. What He has started, He will finish, even if your sins be as scarlet, they will be as white as snow. You are not as perfected today as you will be in a year’s time. And you are further on now than last year – and I don’t mean the areas YOU want to see changed; God has His own agenda and timescale. You WILL arrive.

The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 13 verses 5-6 says this: “Keep your lives free from the love of money; and be satisfied with what you have; for God himself has said, “I will never fail you or abandon you.” Therefore, we say with confidence, “Adonai is my helper; I will not be afraid — what can a human being do to me?”” His presence with us is sure and without doubt. With clear reference back to this portion the writer calls for a trusting of God for all the needs we have, and not to trust our own wealth or prosperity for success. The one area he highlights is that we should therefore trust Him in the financial issues of our lives. God DOES know what we will receive from Him. We may not know, but He does and so we are exhorted to trust Him for this. To trust even in this area is to show that you genuinely believe and have the faith to operate in the reality of His ‘never forsaking us’.

Deuteronomy 31:17-18 may seem to contradict this but the language is one of His eternal covenant with us. He turns away His face for a moment, as if the sun of the universe, the real light, is for a second dimmed and we feel it. The prophet Yeshiyahu puts it like this: Isaiah 54:7: “Briefly I abandoned you, but with great compassion I am taking you back.”

Did God forsake us? No. Eternally He never will, nor will He lose us. So, let us hear the words of the Lord too today in these days of awe: “Be strong and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you.”

Parashat Vayeilech

Behind the veil

Psalm 19:7-11 tells us that the Torah of God is without defect, restoring the soul. Torah itself lays the answer to all our deepest needs and spiritual hunger and to all our ‘life’ questions.  Torah points the way forward to solutions; as we approach the autumn High Holy Days with the Days of Awe and the deep introspection demanded of us, it is good to remind ourselves where to look for the answers to our questions of self and our personal inadequacy to stand blameless before God.

When we turn to this week’s portion, we find the whole parashah is dedicated to returning to God (shuv in Hebrew). It seems as if Torah screams at us ‘TURN BACK’! Torah is perfect, without defect, always telling us the truth and revealing righteousness in undiluted form. However, despite everything God has done for us, we threw it back in His face, we despised His teachings and thus suffered under His righteous judgement down the ages.  This too has to be accepted as true, Torah, without defect.

Deuteronomy 30:1-3 predicts a worldwide dispersion or galut where persecutions of a horrific nature can be expected, followed by a return to the Land of our forefathers.  The physical return began in 1948 but the second part is yet to happen in its fullness – although the spiritual revival of our people has begun. It would be true to say that pretty much since the first century, there have never been as many Jews who follow Yeshua Mashichanu as there are today.  The Messianic Jewish movement is the spearhead for Jewish revival and we are part of it, the ancient remnant that is being preserved.  Judaism needs reformation, renewal and rejuvenation and through Messiah we are seeing it happen.  Mashiach is the means to bring Life to our people.

These short verses predict with absolute and devastating certainty that a time will come when Israel is away from the Land and not walking with Adonai.  A time when the Judaism she professes to live out is not actually what the Lord demands and a spiritual blindness has come upon us.  We shall be pursued by the ‘curses’ of Torah – and we have been for the last 2,000 years.

To put it in terms used by Rav Shaul, in our rebellion we have drawn a veil over our hearts (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). However, it does not say that God has placed a veil over our hearts, as some attempt to maintain; this is a veil that we have allowed to settle there, a barrier to understanding caused by our rebellion and hardness of mind. This veil has brought a collective spiritual blindness over us as Israel, the historic Jewish people. We have been unable to see Mashiach for who he is: our own deliverer and salvation sent by God to release us from our sin. As a result, we have developed forms of Judaism that have not been faithful to the original Torah given by God at Sinai. Yet the verses are equally clear that the veil can be removed: if you trust the atonement given through Mashiach, you too can reach out to God and have the veil removed. Returning to the Land is only the first step in the full redemption and salvation of Israel.

And yet… the story gets more complicated. To understand fully the final turning to God for revival, we have to consider an aspect of Rav Shaul’s teaching on the Olive Tree.  (Romans 11:11,25). He is expounding on how all Israel will finally be restored to a living relationship with the one true God. And this restoration hinges at least partly on how the nations respond to Him too. As Israel is provoked to jealousy, so redemption comes. Believers down the ages have rarely, if ever, provoked Israel to jealousy; in fact just the opposite is true. As our sages and rabbis have said consistently during the last 2,000 years, what has been created from Mashiach appears to be ‘avodah zarah’: strange worship or heresy. Thankfully it is faith that saves, not form but we cannot ignore the challenge.

The key to national Jewish revival is hinged upon one word: ‘fullness’ (v25). It seems that this cannot happen until the ‘fullness’ of the nations have responded. Most commentaries go with the explanation that this is numerical but then one wonders, just how many is enough? It effectively and conveniently kicks the issue of Israel’s redemption into the long grass. This is not good enough.

The Greek word used here is related to other words which have been translated by words such as fulfilment, completion or being made whole. If this definition is used, then a different image begins to emerge. The ‘so’ of verse 26 seems to make this ‘fullness’ dependent on Israel’s final redemption, caused by a provocation caused by the nations responding to the God of Israel and also receiving salvation according to the Jewish pattern laid down from Abraham.

Seen from a Torah perspective, with a broken relationship with God we have become paltry reflections of our full human greatness as imitators and images of Adonai, as we were created to be. Restoration to that relationship however is a wholeness, a completeness and fulfilment and all this is kept in the Torah, perfect and without defect, the message of a deliverer and redeemer from the outset. To be ‘fully’ Jewish is to be restored to God again, living in obedience to Torah and enjoying the fruit of the Land. The same message is for the nations too; come and join us, convert to Judaism in Mashiach and you too can be completed, whole, fully reflecting that image again. The model of sin-redemption-righteousness is a Jewish message.

From this angle, conversion to the God of Israel and making Jewish converts is a provocation indeed – especially as this happens through Mashiach Yeshua. Once Messianic Judaism (including conversion) is thoroughly established, provocation will begin and according to Rav Shaul, SO all Israel will be saved! It’s not about numbers but about restoration – a lifting of the veil and a return once more to God. These are the times we are now living in!

Shabbat Nitzavim (You are standing) 


Who wants to prosper? I could guarantee that if that question ‎was asked of anyone they would put their hands up. Who ‎doesn’t want to prosper? You’d be mad not to. It seems so ‎simple doesn’t it? G-d will bless you if you walk in obedience to ‎Him, in the Torah He has given. We know of course that we ‎have to know what the commands mean and how to apply them, ‎whether in faith or legalistically, but the bottom line is clear. We ‎are blessed if we walk in obedience, and the nations around are ‎meant to see that blessing. We are ‘cursed’ if we walk contrary to ‎G-d.‎

Yeshua Mashichaynu approaches the Torah in a similar way ‎with His ‘Woes’ talk in Matthew 23, linking together with the ‎‎‘Blessed are you’ comments He taught on. Yeshua was saying ‎to His people this or that will happen if covenantal disobedience ‎occurs. The very terms ‘Blessed and Cursed’ (or ‘Woe to you’) ‎are covenant terms that only make sense if you understand the ‎covenant to which they refer. A blessing is the outcome of ‎obedience, not just a random act by a ‘god’ who is looking for ‎likewise random acts of kindness (however you define ‎kindness). Equally, a ‘curse’ or woe is covenantally related and ‎defined. That’s why it was so important for Israel to not follow ‎idols, the world needed to know who (the true) G-d is. ‎

It says exactly this in Devarim. The nations of this world are ‎meant to look at Israel, us, and know that G-d exists! Why do you ‎think that Jerusalem is unmissable? Barely a day goes by where ‎at some point Israel or Jerusalem or the Jewish people don’t get ‎a mention. That was G-d’s intention. We are a light to the ‎nations, everyone could see what the G-d of Israel was like, and ‎see how His faithfulness was received. Either through the ‎blessings given or through the cycles of discipline, the world was ‎meant to take note. ‎

The Torah says He will establish us as a holy PEOPLE. And ‎what is the hallmark given of this people? If you walk and keep ‎the commandments we shall be called by His name. This is us. ‎We are to be seen and known as the people of the G-D OF ‎ISRAEL. We belong to Him and so our obedience points to the ‎G-d we serve and us as His special people. We follow Him ‎because of what the One true G-d has done and no other ‘god’. ‎

What you do, say, think marks out which god you serve. You ‎may not see it this way, but the people around you certainly do. ‎In Hebrew the word for serve and worship are linked, by our ‎serving G-d we worship Him. The tithe for instance, mentioned at ‎the beginning of this portion, just by giving it we serve and ‎worship G-d. Doing can be and is worship. We’re just used to ‎thinking of worship as ethereal and spiritual, more a subjective ‎emotional reaction than acts of obedience. But actually how we ‎live dictates which god we serve. If we say that the G-d of ‎Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has redeemed us, then we had ‎better start living that way.

Parashat Ki Tavo‎

Living in the Kingdom

This portion is all about the principles of government in Israel, ‎how to rule yourselves. In Devarim 16 we are told to appoint ‎judges and officers in our gates/towns. The portion also includes ‎the crucial section on ‘a better prophet’ and how/when/if a king is ‎to be appointed. It teaches us about justice and righteousness, ‎the need for witnesses who are unbiased and truly neutral, how ‎evidence needs to be collected and assessed, who may do the ‎judging and its implications for submitting to the rulings handed ‎down. This was a recipe to avoid anarchy in the Land; Torah ‎needs to be interpreted to the people and applied if it is going to ‎bring Life! Without the rule of Law there would never be justice ‎and anarchy would prevail.‎

The role of the king in Israel, mentioned in the middle of this ‎passage, is enigmatic and some would say controversial. Why ‎put it here? It feels out of place, disrupting the flow. Some say ‎Moshe didn’t see a real reason for having a king, so he placed ‎the section here which was as good as anywhere! I don’t think ‎so. This ‘kingly’ passage actually draws the whole piece ‎together. This portion defines justice and who may administer it. ‎The priests had their part to play, but the King too.‎

Many have misunderstood the Kingdom of G-d. Yeshua ‎Mashichaynu told us to pray ‘Your Kingdom come’ not take me ‎to your kingdom. We should be active in making room for the ‎Kingdom now, here, firstly in Israel as the actual basic core ‎focus of the Kingdom and its borders, but also reaching the ‎influence of that Kingdom far beyond its borders. The Talmidim ‎in the book of Acts were concerned about when the Kingdom ‎would be restored to Israel. One thing is for sure: the Kingdom of ‎G-d is not in Heaven (alone). Mashiach was far more interested ‎in seeing the Kingdom and the rule of its King established on ‎earth. His comments that the Kingdom is ‘within you’ have sadly ‎been misconstrued. The Kingdom has never resided in the ‎hearts of man. The Torah, the constitution of Heaven, is written ‎there, but His Kingdom resides outside. It is of no use if the ‎Kingdom merely operates in our hearts, it has to impact outside ‎of us too. Yeshua meant that with Him standing there in front of ‎them, the Kingdom was truly in their midst (a much better ‎translation). He was and is King of Israel and therefore rules in ‎the Kingdom. That is why Yeshua says in Matt 6:25-34 (verse ‎‎33) seek first the Kingdom and righteousness. He wasn’t saying ‎search your hearts! This passage makes it clear too that ‎Kingship and righteousness belong together just as Yeshua ‎said. But only with Him as King!‎

In the Kingdom justice and righteousness work together. The ‎priests and those appointed would judge Israel using the Torah ‎as the guide book, the book of Law. We must follow after His ‎justice. Devarim 16:20 is the key verse for us, in Hebrew it says ‎‎‘Justice Justice follow after it. The Hebrew is strong, not just ‎follow but ACTIVELY pursue it. Torah justice and righteousness ‎is NOT just going to come to you, that’s a sign of our society, ‎bring it to me, feed me. Torah says SEEK IT OUT. It doesn’t ‎come naturally to us. If we don’t pursue what is right and just and ‎true we shall not find it. If we don’t seek, we won’t find. It’s a very ‎simple equation. G-d rewards those who dig deeper and actively ‎pursue Him, He looks for our response. We live in a laid back ‎society where we have forgotten how to single-mindedly pursue ‎something, and TWICE in this portion G-d says ‘not to the left or ‎the right’ the road is narrow and straight. Things will try and tie us ‎up to take our eyes off what is true, just and right, we have to ‎train our hearts and minds to pursue G-d wholeheartedly.‎

The Kingdom is based on us living in the rulership of our King ‎Messiah, Yeshua. It will also return to a geographical reality too ‎in the future. In His rule there is justice and righteousness, ‎because He is just and righteous. But we need to pursue ‎wholeheartedly this Kingdom, only those who push in will truly ‎see it.

Parashat Shoftim

Parashat Re’eh

Mountains of Blessing

This portion begins with ‘Behold’, or possibly, ‘See this, look at this’. G-d had put before the Israelites the blessings and the curses, a choice, decisions to be made. In Hebrew the concept of ‘seeing’ is tied to understanding, as it is in English too, I see it (understand it). What was the concept the people were to see or understand? Quite a simple one really, if you follow G-d then you shall be blessed; if you don’t then you will inherit a curse (a withdrawing of blessing in fact).

But surely, you may think, that’s no contest, we all want the blessings, don’t we? How bizarre to even suggest that we would choose to be cursed! But a choice it was and is. G-d knows the human heart, it is fickle and ego driven, selfish and stubborn. How often do we hear the cry nowadays, ‘no one can tell me what to do’? The choice is to do what you want to do, what seems right, or to follow G-d and be told what to do. Everything we hold to be right in our days says, do what you want, that’s freedom, why give up being ‘free’? Even for the blessings…? So the choice becomes muddied by selfish interests and personal inclinations.

But it is often muddied by something else too. Read Devarim 12:1-6. Note that a place has been stipulated where to meet with G-d and how to approach Him, and more importantly that we are not to copy or syncretise the beliefs or systems around us. We were always meant to ‘utterly destroy’ the remains of anything pagan or worldly or that which would pull us away from genuine faith and a godly, righteous lifestyle. We were meant to approach G-d with the sacrifices He stipulates, not our own versions as we see fit. Only by that route could we come into fellowship with Him. It has always been so. Even when it comes to the sin sacrifice there is only one way. ‘No one comes to the Father except through Me’ said Yeshua Mashichanu, why? Because that is the way G-d set out. There is no other way. You just can’t invent it for yourself.

It looks so easy, we say. Is it? Just consider for a moment that the mountains in chapter 11, Gerizim and Ebal were meant to signify the blessings and curses, yet they were actually very close together. Attempt to get to the mountain of blessing in the fog and you could easily end up on the wrong one. Sometimes the choice between right and wrong just doesn’t seem that easy or obvious, and the distinctions seem quite close at times too. The difference between the ways of truth and deception, right and wrong seem dangerously close at times. Who can tell? Look at the history of Israel, of the many competing forms of Judaism. All claim to standing on the mountain of blessing!

Our history is littered with sub-groups of Judaism standing on the wrong mountain. It seems like it should be blessing, but it isn’t. Read Dev 13:2-6. False Prophets may even do miracles to prove their blessing and on what mountain they stand. But it proves nothing. You need to check harder than that. And so, the choice is not really that easy after all. We all want to do what is right, but knowing what that is is hard. And ‘all’ we had to do was to ‘choose’ to obey!

The key here is to move to where G-d is not to get Him to move to where you are. The Torah is very G-d centred as we also should be. The world screams at us, please yourselves, put yourself first/be yourself, develop your own level of spirituality, do what works for you. We have got so used to adapting our faith to the world around us we have forgotten that G-d demands the opposite! Our lives revolve around Him, not Him around us. We can only know for sure that we are on the right mountain if we are doing what G-d wants us to do in His way. That is why we need Torah on our hearts and minds. To follow after Mashiach 100% is not just a nice idea to nod at, but a fundamental truth to be lived out.

To conclude, we all want to have the blessings. For the wandering empty human heart there is only one response to G-d. Read Is 55:1-5.This is a call to all who thirst to get the real living water from the source. The empty human heart without G-d cries out for living water to quench the hollow echo of modern life and deception. In fact the pursuit of material gain at the cost of spiritual peace and rest has become a hallmark of today’s world. We have a restless society not a restful one. Only G-d can satisfy that deep cry, to know and be safe, to be able to enter His presence with security and confidence. Stand on the mountain you want and need to stand on. Know that through Yeshua Mashichanu you will be able to see it clearly and be secure in the truth.

Seeking and finding?

HEAR O Israel, listen to who your God is! Listen to what He teaches you, and then do it! We are the people who hear God and obey (or at least should do) and it is this idea of obedience, doing what God says and wants and the consequences if we don’t, that frames this weeks’ portion.

However, the depth of God’s love shines through in Deut 4:29-31: despite our sins which were great, we were never beyond finding God again, as long as we sought Him with all our hearts and souls. To seek God is to seek His righteousness, and to seek to reflect that righteousness into this lost and broken, and it seems, increasingly globally corrupt world. And yet it seems today that so few in our Jewish communities actually seek Him, the One from whom we take our national calling and our very existence.

However, the Torah contains truths that we sometimes have to dig for. And today there is one. Having established that if you seek God you will find Him we are presented with a conundrum. What makes it worse is that it hinges on, or seems to hinge on the nature and character of God. Read Deuteronomy 3:23-27. As far as I am aware, this is the only time God ever speaks like this to Moshe. The answer is abrupt: enough already, my answer is no. But don’t we read that the prayer of a righteous man avails much? Moshe was supremely righteous, he stood before God, spoke to Him and heard His voice like no other man before or since. In the Hebrew Moshe ‘implored’ God to let him into the Land or ‘pleaded for grace’ (v’etchanan has the root chen, grace).

The reasons for God’s intransigence on this are interesting. God was angry ‘on account of the people’. Why so? Because according to Numbers 20:12, Moshe did not make God holy in the sight of the sons of Israel. Because Moshe didn’t do exactly what the Lord had said, the image of who God is was distorted before the people. They learnt what they saw too, and Moshe was a particularly visual and visible leader. God was made small in Moshe’s actions, he didn’t give the glory to God; in fact in his anger he said ‘must WE bring forth water…’ indicating that in some way he had something to do with the miraculous provision of water.

Because of this, God said He would not let Moshe into the Land and He tied this punishment to His nature and character of holiness. In other words, had God then later relented of this spoken word made before the people, then the initial wrong teaching illustrated by Moshe would have been compounded by God again. He would therefore be shown to be not holy, unreliable in word and deed, unpredictable, inconsistent and ultimately unjust too. God sticks to His word. There were consequences and Moshe had to take them to fully redress an otherwise impossible position, a place where the people would begin to think that God wasn’t faithful, or even worse, was partial and biased because of who Moshe was.

This is why Job, and later King David in the Psalms, were able to conclude that despite living in what many then and today conclude is an unrighteous world and universe with no moral compass, we CAN be sure on the basis of this refusal to change His mind, that God is just and He will judge, even if for a moment His mercy holds. Seek God, yes, but you cannot expect Him to act in ways that undermine who He is, or that make Him small, or that fail to grant Him the glory and majesty due to His name.

But there is another we need to consider in this overview: Esau. Again, a man who seems to beseech God and his father for a blessing yet is rejected. We know Esau was no Moshe, the two men are like chalk and cheese morally and in terms of righteousness, but there are parallels too. Firstly a recap of Esau; he casually and lowly esteems that which belongs to him by right, the first-born status and all its priestly inheritance, by giving it away for the sake of a meal, and then according to Torah he also goes on to join himself to Canaanite women knowing that it would offend his father and God. He apparently seeks repentance for his deeds and God rejects this, despite the tears.

God was not made large in Esau’s life. Far from it, his heart was far from God at all times. And this pattern is the first connect point: if in our actions before men we make God small, do not glorify Him and reflect who He is in a genuine way, then we can expect that God will not listen to us. Esau’s rejection of God made God small. God was not interested, enough already! Later on when Esau and Jacob met once more, Esau appeared to be welcoming, yet his words revealed even here his true intent: ‘let me walk before you’, i.e., ‘you recognise me as the real head of the house once more’. Esau just wanted his status back; he was not willing to submit to God or his brother.

Both Moshe and Esau had to learn that sin has consequences, and these are inevitable for a just God who keeps His word.

Shabbat V’etchanan (and I besought) 

Tisha B’Av

We’re starting to read from the final book of the Chumash: Devarim. The words of God are repeated for us again, summarised and the eternal truths spelled out in a fashion that we’re meant to learn from. This is Torah stripped down to the essentials, what we’re meant to know and do: the core of our faith. Moshe stands up to start speaking; according to tradition, he speaks for 36 days in total.

The journey from Horeb to Kadesh-Barnea takes 11 days normally. Of course, it took our people 40 years. Verses 27 and 32 of Deuteronomy 1 stand out as unsettling: we didn’t believe God. Why? Because according to verse 27, we thought to ourselves: ‘God hates us’.

Nowhere in the Torah do we ever read that God hates us! It is amazing how often people conclude that God feels anything other than love towards them, bearing in mind that He has always pursued us even when we have run contrary to Him, eventually sending the ultimate expression of His love, Yeshua Mashikainu, as a sacrifice of complete atonement. Yet the enemy of our souls has determined that we should not trust in, believe in or have confidence in God at all. Even better from his perspective if we end up convinced that God must hate us. Despite all the bad things that happen to us, it is important we do understand that He is in control and that as Kefa concluded (1 Peter 5:7) ‘He cares for you’.

Ironically, one of the ways that we know that His love is real and that He is trustworthy and faithful is drawn from the Haftorah portion today. Isaiah paints a grim picture of what would happen in the future, if no repentance was brought. Isaiah was a man who was ‘blessed’ with seeing the future inevitable consequences of the actions of Israel. We see the raw consequences unfold before our eyes, no punches are pulled and there is no deception in sight. God tells us as it is warts and all, and then ensures that our dirty laundry can be washed forever in public down the ages by having the words written down for posterity. The covenant was clear; as Israel, we failed to meet God’s standards of righteousness and we failed to be the light to the nations that we were, and are, meant to be. God’s love and discipline in our failing was equally clear; this was no sign of hatred but covenantal correction. Severe? Yes, absolutely, but dare we say we weren’t warned? And so, as Isaiah said, the Temple would be destroyed, all of which sad ‘prediction’ brings us to Tisha b’Av.

Traditionally we read from Megilat Eicha, the Book of Lamentations at this time.  It makes sober reading too. But notice that even here the lament turns to a cry for salvation and deliverance too, ending with the words we all know so well: ‘Hashivenu Adonai eleycha v’nashuvah’ – cause us to turn and return to you. In other words, we have no power in ourselves to repent; we can only do so if He makes a way, does it all. According to the tradition, it was Tisha B’Av on which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed, sending our people into exile and completely changing the fabric of Jewish life. It was also the day, according to Taanit 29a that the Israelites refused to enter the Land, an action that, as Moshe recalls in this portion, meant 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Some other events that have occurred on Tisha B’Av:

  1. First Crusade, 1095
  2. Expulsion of Jews from England 1290
  3. Spanish Inquisition 1492
  4. WW1 starts 1914
  5. The start of the mass deportation of Jews from Warsaw ghetto 1942

Fundamentally it has been our inability to obey God and keep the commandments that has brought destruction: lack of faith and trusting. But read what Isaiah said in chapter 61:1-10. In the midst of national suffering He will bring deliverance and salvation. God will make a way. Where we have failed to walk righteously before God, He will ensure that we do! And the nations will see it too!

Hashivenu Adonai elecha v’nashuvah. Amen.

Shabbat Devarim (Words)

On the Move

To the untrained eye, this portion like so many appears to be a ‎humdrum list of places and movements with some arcane ‎references to cities of refuge. In the middle of this we find that ‎Moshe is commanded to recap the journey so far, mentioning in ‎detail the 42 places or stages of the journey that has unfolded ‎before them as we wandered in the wilderness. How quick we ‎are to forget that each step taken was only done as the Lord led ‎us to move on, the pillar of cloud and fire by night marking out ‎the route we were to walk. Putting it another way, each step we ‎took, each slot of time we spent in each place was allocated, ‎pre-planned and determined by G-d. How often do we read in ‎the Scriptures that ‘in due season…’, just as with Mashiach’s ‎birth and death. How quick we are to forget right now today that ‎this is true for us too. What may appear as a life out of control to ‎you is nothing other than a difficult navigation around a rocky ‎outcrop in the wilderness. Yes you might have a few bruises and ‎cuts to the knee but when the open vista appears before you ‎once more the legs are stronger and the trust greater. Our lives ‎are in His hands so we need not fear. His Spirit guides us each ‎and every day, if we can be bothered at times to look up from ‎the terrain we’re walking on.‎

Recounting the past journey is core to our own spiritual ‎development. Here the Lord wanted to reiterate the facts of His ‎guidance and leading, but also His judgement on the Egyptians. ‎We so quickly forget what He has done in the past! Frail human ‎memory coupled with the pounding insistence of present reality ‎corrupts memory and leads us to question our view of past ‎events. When the serpent challenged Adam and Chava’s ‎memory he knew that doubt could be sown.. ‘did G-d say…?’. ‎Sadly we had as a nation begun to forget what life had been like ‎‎(because let’s not forget that the vast majority of the generation ‎who had left Egypt were now dead…). Most had never known it ‎and so doubt could be sown too. The corporate memory of a ‎nation is born, the narrative of walking with and trusting G-d ‎starts to form us as His people, we believe and trust what has ‎been told to us by those who were there. ‎

Memories and the life walked to date is critical in building our ‎confidence and trust in what is yet to come. And what is yet to ‎come will almost certainly be more challenging than what has ‎gone before! Our previous track record of a life lived in faith ‎needs to be reviewed and pondered afresh to be in a place ‎where you can move on to fresh spiritual challenges. Will we ‎personally feel inadequate? Yes. That is good because in our ‎weakness He alone can be our strength.‎

Yet in our modern world we are told to have self-belief. We have ‎bought into the Eastern lies of self – inner strength and power, of ‎finding oneself within and knowing that you possess all the ‎power you need to self-actualise and fulfil your potential. Well, ‎those things are not true. And if you read it carefully, the Lord ‎doesn’t say those things either. Thankfully it’s not about us ‎digging up unknown or undiscovered wells of inner ability, the ‎Lord says ‘I am with you’. Our ability to go and fulfil what G-d has ‎called us to do is built upon the unchanging and eternal, solid ‎foundation of the nature and character of G-d. If He is with us, ‎who can be against us? Can any situation or event, person or ‎unclean spirit ever have the power or authority to override such ‎promises and sure foundations? No. We are instead directed to ‎trust in G-d once more, to turn our eyes to Him who CAN deliver ‎and release, set free and bring us to the point of freedom. You ‎don’t have the inner ability to overcome things, you have more ‎than that, you have the living G-d of Israel with you every day, ‎second and step you take. In a target driven culture where self-‎motivation and willpower achieves results, this message of ‎reliance upon G-d seems out of step with reality, but actually it is ‎this world that is out of step. ‎

Remind yourself of what G-d has done for you, recap the route ‎taken as here today in the portion. Then, don’t give excuses as ‎to why you think you’re not ready for the next step, trust G-d for ‎it. Fear Him, not the situation. His ability is far larger than your ‎own, so lean on Him.‎

Parashat Masei