Consequences of a Violated Relationship

Nadab-and-Abihu-killed-by-God-for-making-an-unLawAcharei Mot

Traditionally, Leviticus 16, which deals with the proper protocol for the High Priest during the special Yom Kippur service, is read in the synagogue on the morning of Yom Kippur. The Torah introduces the Yom Kippur service immediately following the death of Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu. This demonstrates that there is a direct connection between this tragedy and the instructions of Yom Kippur described in our Torah portion.

According to the Sages, part of the transgression committed by Aaron’s two sons is that not only did they offer improper offerings, but they entered into the Holy of Holies, which only the Kohen HaGadol (the High Priest) is allowed to do. Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah (First Century) comments that either sin would have been enough to warrant their death. As a result, the entire rest of the chapter deals with the proper protocol of Yom Kippur and the order for the High Priest to enter into the Holy of Holies.

It is taught that Moses’ long process for seeking forgiveness on behalf of the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf ended on the tenth day of Tishrei (Yom Kippur) when he returned with the second set of tablets. That day became associated with forgiveness.

The rest of our Torah portion goes on to describe the Yom Kippur sacrifices and proper sexual relationships.

Often we might not think that God cares that much about protocol and how we live our lives. It seems Nadav and Avihu took this for granted as well. The problem with Nadav and Avihu is they knowingly and intentionally violated the mitzvot God clearly commanded them to obey.

I don’t believe HaShem is out to “zap” everyone the moment they stray. Instead, throughout our Scriptures we often see a loving and merciful God who is always willing to offer second (and more!) opportunities to do teshuva, and re-orient ourselves spiritually. But as with being a parent or a spouse, or in other types of relationships, there are certain lines one does not cross without severe repercussions – adultery, lying, stealing, cheating. It seems that we too have certain protocols and commitments we expect one to follow in certain types of relationships.

The same with HaShem. Nadav and Avihu violated their intimate relationships with HaShem. As priests who were consecrated to serve and devote themselves wholly to God, they took advantage of that relationship. It seems, based on the following commandments of our Torah portion, they may have even violated other intimate relationships as well.

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Divine Presence

Parashat Terumah

What is the connection between the construction of the Tabernacle, its furnishings and the Presence of G-d among the people of Israel?

This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Terumah, centers on the instructions concerning the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) and its furnishings. This raises an interesting question. For if the Bible’s overall theme is about G-d’s relationship with humanity through the Jewish people, then why is so much attention given to the details of objects? The answer is deeply connected to the purpose of the Mishkan, its services, and the manifest presence of the Divine.

The Torah states, “They shall make for me a Sanctuary, so that I may dwell among them (25:8).” The Hebrew name for the Tabernacle is mishkan, which means “to dwell” or “dwelling.” As such, even the word mishkan denotes HaShem’s presence that would dwell among the people of Israel.

Ibn Ezra comments that “while Moses was still on Mt. Sinai, G-d commanded him concerning the tabernacle so that it would be a permanent place among the people for the glory that had rested on the mountain.” Further, Rabbi Samson R. Hirsch notes that the key to the Tabernacle is directly related to Israel’s calling in verse 8. The Sanctuary represents Israel’s obligation to sanctify itself in its personal life. When the nation carries out that primary responsibility, G-d responds by dwelling among them.

G-d has always desired to tabernacle among His people. And the purpose of the Mishkan was to be a constant reminder of G-d’s presence residing among the Jewish people. The mishkan represents G-d’s shechinah (from the same word as mishkan) – G-d’s manifest presence on earth.

The author of Revelation writes that this continued presence of G-d among the Jewish people will continue beyond the second coming of the Messiah and even into the “New Jerusalem.”

“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of G-d is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. G-d Himself will be with them and be their G-d (Rev. 21:3).’”

This promise echoes passages from the Torah in which G-d promises that He will be Israel’s G-d, and that they shall be His people. This promise of Israel’s unique relationship will continue into the Olam HaBa – the World to Come. May we, as followers of Yeshua, our Righteous Messiah, continue to live personal lives aware of G-d’s manifest presence, and may we continue to work to bring that Presence to the rest of the world – thereby affirming our calling to be a Light to the Nations.

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Holiness, Justice and Reaching Out to Others

OutreachParashat Mishpatim

What can this week’s parasha, and the Torah as a whole, teach us about reaching out to others and drawing them close?

Our Torah portion begins:

Exodus 21:1

א  וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם.

1 These are the ordinances which you shall place before them.

The Torah then describes instructions for becoming a people of the covenant. But what does that mean exactly? To better understand, we’ll need to dig deeper into the Torah.

Justice as Holiness

Mishpatim is actually a continuation of last week’s parasha, Yitro. Therefore, we must go back to where Yitro leaves off … at the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The point is that the commandments of this week’s parasha are a continuation of those same mitzvot on Mt. Sinai. What, then, follows are primarily matters of justice:

  • The ethical treatment of slaves
  • Crimes of murder and kidnapping
  • Personal injuries
  • Damages through neglect or theft
  • Unfair business practices …

Such seemingly civil and tort matters are further mixed with commandments of social justice …

Exodus 22:20-23:

כ  וְגֵר לֹא-תוֹנֶה, וְלֹא תִלְחָצֶנּוּ:  כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם, בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.

20 You shall not taunt or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
21 You shall not afflict any widow, or orphan.
22 If you dare to cause them pain – for if they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry–
23 My wrath shall blaze, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives will be widows, and your children fatherless.

So, again, what is the purpose of these seemingly juxtaposed mitzvot? Mishpatim provides an important insight into Judaism, and into Biblical thought: To G-d, there is no separate realm between ritual and spiritual matters (unlike within Western thought which separates the two). All areas of life are intertwined and holiness potentially binds them together. According to the Torah, concern for justice is a concern for the Holy.

Holiness is not some mystical, esoteric state of being. Rather, it is a way of life and a pattern of action. To “do holiness” is to partner with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. For example: The Torah considers the treatment of strangers a matter of justice, and repeatedly calls us to stand up for the downtrodden. WHY?  Because every person is created b’tzelem Elohim – Created in the image of G-d (Genesis 1:26-27).

Therefore, We must recognize justice as essential to holiness. Before we can attain deeper levels of holiness within ourselves, we must be able to recognize holiness within others.

So what does this teach us about Outreach?

Bringing people into our community requires seeing the reflection of HaShem within them, and welcoming them into our community.

A Lesson from Avraham Avinu

One of the greatest examples of hospitality in the Torah is Avraham Avinu … our great Patriarch, Abraham.

Genesis 18:1-8 describes the story of “Abraham’s tent” and his welcoming of the three strangers. According to Jewish tradition, his tent was open on all sides, meaning it was open and welcoming to all. The rabbis are quick to point out that Avraham’s hospitality is not passive. He was looking for guests! And not only was he looking for guests … the Torah tells us that Avraham RAN to not only meet his guests … but he ran to meet their needs as well:

“(v. 2) On seeing them he ran from the door of this tent to meet them.”

“(v. 6) Avraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‘Quickly, three measures of the best flour. Knead it and make cakes!”

“(v. 7) Avraham ran to the herd, took a good, tender calf, and gave it to the servant who hurried to prepare it.”

According to the Talmud, hospitality is a great mitzvah. It is considered more important to show hospitality than to attend classes or to greet HaShem in prayer (b. Shabbat 127a).

A young person once visited the famous teacher known as the Chofetz Chaim. The guest had arrived at the synagogue just as Shabbat had begun after having been on the road for many long hours. He was hungry and very weak from having walked so far. After the service he was invited to the home of the Chofetz Chaim for Shabbos dinner, who noticed how weak and hungry his young guest was.

To the surprise of all his guests, the famous Chofetz Chaim skipped singing Shalom Aleichem (a prayer where we welcome the angels) and after quickly reciting Kiddush and HaMotzi began to eat.

“Why did you skip singing Shalom Aleichem,’ the young man asked his host. The Chofetz Chaim replied, “I could see that you were very weak and hungry. A hungry person should be fed as soon as possible. The angles can wait to be greeted.”

Yeshua’s Final Instructions

Yeshua commands us to “make talmidim” (Matttew 28:16-20). One of the roles of a talmid, according to Jewish thought, is to make other talmidim for their Rebbe.

In Luke’s version of this event, Yeshua tells his followers he is to begin in Jerusalem and then go out to the nations. They are to continue the work first among our own people, and then spread the message to the rest of the world.

Conclusion

In continuing that commitment, I feel it is vital to step-up our efforts at attracting other like-minded individuals and families to our communities. But we need new and creative ideas for how to reach out to,  and bring-in other Jewish and intermarried people. It’s time for fresh, out of the box thinking.

I might not have all the answers for how to do that, but what I do know, is that it must begin with recognizing justice and the way we treat others as an extension of holiness. Like Avraham, we need to run to greet those we feel would be a welcome addition to our congregation and to our movement … and draw them near to our Messiah.

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What does God expect of us?

Parashat Yitro

This week’s Parasha tells us that “Moshe went up to G-d, and then HaShem called to him from the mountain.” This phrase begins the retelling of the powerful story of G-d giving the Torah to Israel, and of the experience we had as a people standing before the presence of HaShem.

This interesting point is made before G-d actually gives any of the mitzvot. That point is simply that G-d expects something from us. All the blessings, mitzvot, and covenants rely on action from our part. The Torah specifically tells us that Moshe went up to G-d, and then HaShem called down to him. The giving of the Torah rested on Moshe taking the faith initiative to seek out G-d. To climb up the mountain in an expectancy to encounter the manifest presence of the Divine. It was an action, an action of faith. That is what all of the mitzvot really are – lessons in faith. Or as one rabbi once put it, the 613 mitzvot are actually 613 different ways to connect to HaShem.

Moshe did his part, so that G-d could do G-d’s part. And the response was just as tremendous. Before we as a people even had an opportunity to hear all of the mitzvot, G-d required that we first make a choice, by faith, to follow in His ways before we even knew what would be expected. And by faith, we the Jewish people accepted the Torah before it was even given:

All the people answered as one, ‘Everything HaShem speaks, we will do (Ex. 19:8).’

Judaism teaches us that we are partners with G-d in bringing redemption into the world. Of course G-d could have done it without our help. However, the most exciting thing is that HaShem gives us the opportunity for Kiddush HaShem, to sanctify the Name of G-d in the earth. We have been given the ability to see the world through a different set of lenses. Instead of viewing everything as either “holy” or “secular,” our mission as Jews is to see things as “holy” and “not yet holy.” We can either see the world as mundane, or take simple everyday acts and elevate them to a level of holiness.

G-d gives us the privilege of partnering with Him in bringing redemption into the world. To do our part, so that G-d can do G-d’s part. G-d stands at the door and knocks (Re. 3:20). HaShem beckons us to be faithful to the mitzvot and faithful to the covenant. Through obedience to Torah, and the pursuit of G-d’s presence, it is possible to engage and change the world, and prepare the way for the coming of our righteous Mashiach Yeshua. Bimhera v’yamenu – May it be soon and in our days!

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The Road Less Traveled

Parashat Beshalach

Parashat Beshalach is unique in that it begins by telling us what God did NOT do.

God did not guide them to the highway that goes through the land of the Philistines, because it was close by – God thought that the people, upon seeing war, might change their minds and return to Egypt. Rather, God led the people by a roundabout route, through the desert by the Sea of Suf. -Exodus 13: 17- 18

Rather than guiding the Jewish people quickly down the well-traveled highway to present-day Gaza, God chose the less obvious route, leading to an eventual entry to the Land (forty years later) over the banks of the Jordan River. The text says that the children of Israel departed Egypt “fully armed,” and yet God led them away from battle. Why is this? It seems that before the people even began their journey out of Egypt, God already knew they lacked fortitude for the challenges ahead.

Much has been said about the generation of Jewish people that participated in the exodus from Egypt. Ibn Ezra discusses at length the “slave mentality” that left a generation of liberated slaves psychologically incapable of facing direct combat with their enemies. After all, it is this generation that later believes the bad report of the ten spies, and is prohibited from entering the Land as a result of their lack of faith in God’s promises. Later in this very parasha, these former slaves doubt God’s ability to meet their most basic needs – for protection from violence, water, and food – despite repeated miracles demonstrating God’s power.

Maimonides argues that God chose an indirect route in order to toughen the people and prepare them to enter the Land. In his Guide for the Perplexed, he says, “Ease destroys bravery while trouble and concern about food create strength. This strength that the Israelites gained was the ultimate good that came out of their wanderings in the wilderness.” (3:24) This would make sense, but for the fact that this generation of Jews never had the opportunity to exercise their supposed bravery. It was their children(who did not witness the miracles of Beshalach) who entered and conquered the Land.

It seems that God chose this route in order to demonstrate something fundamental about the way He works through the Jewish people and through history. It is not human ingenuity or warfare that produces redemption. Indeed, the people of Israel are given their freedom without the need to lift a single sword. It is God who turns the seabed into dry ground, who turns bitter water sweet, who rains manna and quail from heaven, and who routs the Amalekites’ attempt at blood sport. God admits that this choice has a didactic purpose when he explains to Moses that, “I will win glory for myself … and the Egyptians will realize at last that I am the LORD.” (14:4)

It often strikes the reader as a shame that the generation that witnessed awe-inspiring plagues and miracles struggled so vocally with their ability to rely on God for basic provisions. But it is not for our own satisfaction that the Torah itemizes their every complaint. Instead, the Torah reminds us that, regardless of our current position (whether it be characterized by relative affluence or relative deprivation), we remain dependent on God for our every need. Even those who are unburdened by a “slave mentality” are ultimately unable to accomplish anything of significance without God’s direct intervention. And that ultimately, God is working out His plan to redeem all creation through the trials and challenges faced by the Jewish people. By continually redeeming us, God tells the nations of the world that He is the LORD. Our highest calling as a people is not to toughen our own hides, but to place our trust in God. Paradoxically, it is through our uniquely vulnerable exercise of faith that God demonstrates His might.

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A Modern Day Prophet

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

I have always admired Dr. King’s life and work. And of course, his words have always motivated and inspired me. In fact, Dr. King (in a very roundabout way) even played a role in how my wife and I got engaged. However, recently it truly hit me what lies at the root of his great legacy. Dr. King was more than a great figure, a great leader, or a great orator. Dr. King was also more than a visionary.

There was something much deeper which caused people to either admire or despise him. Dr. King was a prophet. He was one of our generation’s greatest prophetic voices in the line of the great prophets of the Tanakh – along with such modern giants as Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel (see our post, Praying With Their Feet).

If we look at the prophets of the Tanakh, their role was to call Israel back to covenant faithfulness, and rally against injustice and oppression. For more on this you can read my post, Justice as Holiness, Part II: The Prophets.

In today’s Charismatic Christian circles, people are all too quick to throw around the labels of “prophet” and “prophetic” without understanding what the role and message of a biblical prophet truly was. Often people get caught-up in the sensationalism of the prophet as a messenger of G-d. However, what does it really mean to be a messenger of G-d?

Let’s not forget … Dr. King was a radical and not so different from the prophets of old. Jeremiah was considered a nudnik … Hosea married a harlot … they too were often considered eccentric and controversial.

One of the cardinal lessons of a prophet is that they are not motivated by social protocol, but by the leading and prompting of G-d. They will proclaim their message despite praise or persecution. And that was certainly the case with Dr. King. Many who praised him at one point often despised him at others. His stance on an issue was based on his true convictions, not because he sought to be popular. And what many do not often discuss is the fact that Dr. King was clearly motivated by the voice of G-d.

Dr. King was a great visionary, a great leader, a great man … and a great prophet to our generation. And like the prophets of old, in his own time many heeded the call … yet many more were repulsed. It is only after his death that he is truly appreciated.

Reverend Dr. King was only 39 years old when he was assassinated.

In closing, I’ll just end with a few of the most memorable quotes of Dr. King:

-“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

-“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

-“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

‎-“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.”

-‎”Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

-“I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

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Responding to Calamity

Parashat Bo

Last week’s Torah portion, Va’era, introduced the first seven of the ten plagues. This week, Parashat Bo identifies the final three plagues and records the mitzvot concerning Passover.

Each of these plagues are devastating enough on their own, but added up together you can see why the result was the dramatic climax of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Each plague is a demonstration of HaShem’s might and omnipotence. And what most people miss in the story is that each plague carries its own unique message, as each plague was meant to bring a direct assault against a different Egyptian deity.

“… and I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, I am HaShem (Exodus 12:12b).”

The Nile River in Egyptian mythology carries a sacred aura about it. It is the life source of the country. It alone represents life and sustenance in an otherwise dry and parched land. Blood is a symbol of death. Therefore the first plague represented a direct assault upon the Egyptian’s sole source of life.

The Egyptian deity, Heqet (or Isis), is often represented as a frog. She represents fertility and sustenance. As a result, the second plague of frogs was a direct assault against this specific deity, demonstrating that HaShem, the G-d of Israel, was more powerful than Heqet and that HaShem alone is the source of all life.

The ninth plague, darkness, was a demonstration against Egypt’s primary deity Amen-Re, who is often represented as the sun. Three days of darkness so thick it could be felt (Ex. 10:21) established that the G-d of Israel was even greater than Egypt’s primary deities.

So, you get the idea … each plague directly correlated with a particular deity or central tenet of Egyptian mythology. But the final plague – the death of the firstborn – was the most catastrophic. Pharaoh would not have let us go on his own. Sadly, it took ten deadly and disastrous plagues to get Pharaoh to let the Jewish people leave Egypt. Although the result of these plagues would be our exodus from tyranny, slavery, and oppression; we do not rejoice over the suffering of the Egyptians or the havoc brought upon them.

Wine is a symbol of joy. So during the Passover Seder, when we recall the ten plagues we deplete the wine in our cups by placing drops of wine onto our plate. When havoc is wrought upon any people – be they helpless victims or our enemies, we do not rejoice over their fate. Our tradition teaches us that their suffering decreases our own joy.

So although we do not rejoice over the fate of the Egyptian people, we do commemorate our redemption from Egypt. We also look forward to our ultimate redemption – when our Messiah, Yeshua, returns and ushers in the world to come. The Messianic Age will bring with it not only our redemption as a people, but a permanent end to oppression, disease, and the suffering of others.

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A Stranger in a Foreign Land

Parashat Shemot

Shemot is the first Torah portion in the book of Exodus and contains the narrative of Moses’ early childhood, his flight to Midian, his encounter with the Divine, and his return to Egypt.

Early in the narrative, Moshe kills an Egyptian and flees to Midian. There he marries Tzippora and becomes an attendant to the flocks of his influential father-in-law, Jethro. These years of exile in Midian give us a glimpse into the character of Moshe while he is still “a work in progress.” We see a vulnerable Moshe, lacking confidence, unaware of his true potential, and clearly wrestling with his identity. Early in the parasha he is not yet the great leader of the Exodus from Egypt. This is most vividly portrayed in the birth of Moshe’s first-born son:

“Moshe was glad to stay with [Yitro], and he gave him his daughter Tzippora in marriage. She gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, declaring: ‘I have been a foreigner in a foreign land’ (Exodus 2:21-22).”

It is interesting that Moshe does not say, “I am a Hebrew in a foreign land.” Nor does he say, “I am an Egyptian in a foreign land.” Instead he states clearly, “גר הייתי – Ger hayyiti – I am a foreigner, a stranger, in a foreign land.”

This verse reveals an identity crisis within Moshe. Although he was raised within the palace of Egypt, he was chased out after Pharaoh wanted to kill him. He was no longer a “Prince of Egypt.” Furthermore, Moshe did not yet fully identify with being a Hebrew, and was not recognized as being a Hebrew by his own people. For example, after attempting to break up a fight between two Hebrews, one of them lashed out against Moshe:

“Then he said, ‘Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ (Exodus 2:14)

Not only does Moshe not identify with being Hebrew or Egyptian; but neither do either of the two Hebrews fighting against each other. Their response was basically, “Who do you think you are?” No one, especially a slave, would talk to a Prince of Egypt that way. They would be killed! By this point, Moshe is no longer perceived as being Hebrew or Egyptian. Even Pharaoh wanted to kill him. So what did Moshe do? He ran away! (see Exodus 2:15b)

But G-d clearly had a plan for Moshe in Midian. G-d never abandoned him during those sixty years. Rather, He was preparing him for his ultimate purpose in life. True leadership is developed. And often we must work through our insecurities to build the confidence that is truly necessary. How much more so with us? Like with Moshe, there is a deeper beckoning within our souls. G-d often has to exile us from our places of comfort in order to reach us. After all, it was in the dessert Moshe had a life-changing encounter with HaShem. And it was in the dessert Moshe was called back to his people, and to his role in bringing redemption to Israel.

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Revealing Mashiach

Parashat Vayechi

It can be said that everything written in the Torah concerns Mashiach. As such, how does this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, reveal Mashiach?

Continuing on the themes from last week’s discussion, this week’s Torah portion reveals Mashiach in two primary ways – through our final glimpse of the life of Yosef, who the rabbis identify as a ‘type’ of Messiah (i.e. Mashiach ben Yosef – b. Sukkah 52b), and by tracing the lineage of Messiah through the tribe of Judah.

Yosef personifies Mashiach as one who was despised by his brothers, rejected, and left for dead. Yet despite his trials, was elevated to a position of authority and became the savior of a generation. When reconciled to his brothers, Yosef revealed himself to them, and in this week’s parasha states, “You meant to do me harm, but God meant it for good – so that it would come about, as it is today, with many people’s lives being saved (Gen. 50:20).”

Although Mashiach was despised by some around him, and treated with contempt and left for dead, his elevation through his resurrection has brought many people into ultimate redemption. And one day, Yeshua will reveal himself in all his glory to his people, and proclaim himself Mashiach.

The lineage of Mashiach

This week’s parasha also reveals Mashiach by tracing the Messianic lineage through the tribe of Judah:

“The scepter shall not pass from Yehudah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom obedience belongs; and it is he whom the peoples will obey (Gen. 49:10).”

The text can also be translated as “until Shiloh comes…” The term Shiloh has been understood within Jewish tradition as referring to Messiah. The Aramaic Targum Onkelos, followed by the famous commentator Rashi, render the text as “until the Messiah comes, to whom the kingdom belongs.” Likewise, another Aramaic Targum, Pseudo-Jonathan, paraphrases the verse as “until the time that King Messiah shall come.

The Talmud also confirms that the term Shiloh refers to Mashiach:

“Rabbi Yochanan taught that the entire world was created for the sake of the Messiah. What is His name? The school of Shiloh taught that His name is Shiloh, as it is written, ‘Until Shiloh comes and it is He whom all the peoples will obey (b. Sanhedrin 98b).”

Yalkut Shemoni, a medieval anthology, on this verse states:

“He [the Messiah] is called by the name of Shiloh because all the nations are destined to bring gifts to Israel and to King Messiah, as it is written, ‘In that day shall the present be brought to the Lord of Hosts (Yalkut Shemoni 160).’”

The book of Hebrews reiterates, “Everyone knows that our Lord arose out of Yehudah … (Heb. 7:14).” We have the assurance that our hope in Messiah is based on solid understanding, embedded within a Jewish context. Our Messiah, who descended through Judah, will reveal himself once again, as Yosef did to his brothers, and declare himself Mashiach. And it is through him, that we all have assurance of ultimate redemption!

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Revealing Something Deeper

Parashat Vayigash

Redemption, divine mediation, and messianic hope. These are just a few of the themes gleaned from this week’s Torah portion. However, there are two particularly profound incidents that are worth exploring in greater depth – the emotional telling of Judah’s willingness to substitute himself for his brother, and of Joseph’s later revelation of himself to his brothers.

The rabbis teach us that everything in the Torah reveals Mashiach. This week’s parasha reveals Mashiach in two primary ways: through the life of Yosef, who the rabbis identify as a ‘type’ of Messiah (i.e. Mashiach ben Yosef – b. Sukkah 52b) and through the actions of Judah (through whom we later learn that the lineage of Messiah is passed through his tribe –see Gen. 49:10).

Yosef personifies Mashiach as one who was despised by his brothers, rejected, and left for dead. Yet despite his trials, was elevated to a position of authority and became the savior of a generation. In revealing himself to his brothers, Joseph states:

“Don’t be sad that you sold me into slavery here or angry at yourselves, because it was G-d who sent me ahead of you to preserve life (Gen. 45:5).”

Like Joseph, Mashiach was also despised by those around him, treated with contempt and left for dead. Yet, his elevation through his resurrection has also brought many people into ultimate redemption. And one day, Yeshua will reveal himself in all his glory to his people, and proclaim himself Mashiach.

This week’s parasha also reveals Mashiach through the substitutionary actions of Judah. In our portion, Judah pleads with Joseph to take himself prisoner instead of Benjamin. It was originally Judah who sold Joseph into slavery. As such, Judah’s sincere willingness to give up his life for his brother Benjamin’s proved his change of heart and caused Joseph to no longer be able to hide who he truly was. Because of Judah’s sincere willingness to be a substitute for his brother, we learn that he merited inclusion in the lineage of Messiah.

The book of Hebrews reiterates, “Everyone knows that our Lord arose out of Judah … (Heb. 7:14).” We have the assurance that our hope in Messiah is based on solid understanding, embedded within a Jewish context.

Our Messiah, who descended through Judah, will reveal himself once again, as Joseph did to his brothers, and declare himself Mashiach. And it is through him that we all have assurance of our ultimate redemption!

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