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Posted August 18, 2017 - 12:06pm

Signs And Wonders

In our day a large number of Yeshua’s followers find affinity with the charismatic movement, particularly among those in the Messianic movement. It seems the reasoning behind this attraction is that they are seeking to recapture the power demonstrated by Yeshua’s earliest followers. After all, Yeshua promised power to his disciples upon their receiving the Holy Spirit after his ascension. He told his disciples:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you (Acts 1:8)

This power was evident in the lives of the Apostles. For instance, in Acts 3, Peter and John are on their way into the Temple complex when they encounter a lame beggar and heal him with the spoken word. In Acts 5, Peter is healing so many people that “they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them” (5:15). In Acts 28, Paul heals a man who is suffering from fever and dysentery (28:8). It seems that everywhere they turned the Apostles were performing signs and wonders.

Many people read passages like these and it awakens a desire within the human psyche to experience this spiritual power. We desire to replicate what we have only read about in our Bibles. The modern charismatic movement is an outgrowth of this desire. It constantly tries to show authenticity through signs, wonders, and prophecies of future events. But there is a strong caution that should accompany this pursuit. This week’s Torah portion speaks to the inherent danger of following after miracles and prophetic voices. It begins by establishing the condition that should capture our attention:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass … (Deuteronomy 13:2–3[1–2])

Posted August 11, 2017 - 1:16pm

The Making Of A New Man

As a reminder, the book of Deuteronomy is largely a recap of the last forty years of Israelite history just prior to their crossing over the Jordan in order to begin taking possession of the land. This week’s portion, like so many others, covers a multitude of subjects, although in the stream of one continuous monologue given by Moses to the Children of Israel. Through this monologue the LORD continually reminds the Israelites of their responsibility to uphold the conditions of the covenant He has charged them with. During this process, He emphasizes the reason they are taking possession of the land He has promised them:

Do not say in your heart, after the LORD your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 9:4–5)

Posted August 4, 2017 - 9:04am

No Religious Discounts

I don’t know about you, but I’m a bargain shopper. I love to find the discounts whenever I can. It can be a fun challenge and every penny we save with our large family adds up. But some people are much more serious bargain shoppers than I am. They don’t buy anything without a discount, and if they can’t find the discount they are looking for they will haggle with the merchant until they can get the item marked down to some degree or another. And while that level of tenacity can be appreciated in some ways when it comes to shopping, when we try to apply this instinct to religious practice it can actually work against us. 

You may not know it, but deep down within us we are all bargain shoppers and hagglers when it comes to religious expression and we need to be aware of it so that we can avoid falling into its trap. For instance, if we don’t feel like praying one day we may try to bargain our way out of it. We begin rationalizing with ourselves, “My prayer time yesterday was really good. It won’t be so bad if I miss today.” Or maybe it’s finding a congregation: “Their service is too long,” or “I don’t like all of the Hebrew,” or “That person annoys me.” Maybe it’s observing the appointed times: “The Sabbath is the only time I have to get things done.” Maybe it’s observing kosher: “God looks on the heart, not the stomach,” or “Our culture isn’t conducive to separating meat and dairy.” Whatever the case may be, we are quick to try and get our spiritual benefits at a discount. But Hashem doesn’t offer discounts when it comes to obedience.

In this week’s portion, we read about the need to pass down faithful observance of the Torah to subsequent generations, and what Hashem expects from a people He has redeemed from slavery:

Posted July 28, 2017 - 7:01am

Moses and the Rabbis

Our parashah begins the final book of the Torah, the book of Deuteronomy. Sometimes the book of Deuteronomy is also known as Mishneh Torah, or the Repetition of Torah, since it contains a recap of many of the major themes included the previous books of the Torah. It also begins by recounting the various events that have taken place among the Children of Israel since the Exodus. A curious statement is made, however, that we must explore:

Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to explain this law, saying … (Deuteronomy 1:5)

The Children of Israel had wandered in the wilderness for the last forty years and had now made it to the land of Moab on the east side of the Jordan. But rather than immediately sending them over, Moses stops and begins to explain some important details of the Torah. What were those details? That’s a really good question.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that every detail of the Torah’s instructions is spelled out within the Torah itself. However, we have plenty of examples of why this cannot be the case. The most obvious is that of Shabbat, the Sabbath. For instance, the LORD commanded the children of Israel to keep the Sabbath, and that anyone who profanes the Sabbath shall be put to death (Exodus 31:14–15). However, the Torah does not provide any details of what types of work are considered to violate the Sabbath. Since the elders of Israel are responsible for trying cases such as this to determine if the crime is worthy of such a serious decree as the death penalty, it becomes immediately apparent that the definitions of “work” and “profaning the Sabbath” are critical in judging the outcome of such cases. 

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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