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Posted July 28, 2017 - 4:40am

Rabbi Elazar of Bartota said: Render to Him that which is His, for you and all that you have are His, as David said [I Chronicles 29:14]: “For all things come from You, and of Your own have we given you.” (m.Avot 3:8)

In his commentary on this passage, Rabbi Marc Angel associates this mishnah with a passage from a midrashic commentary called Yalkut Shimoni. It says:

The world was created in the merit of three things: in the merit of [the mitzvot of] halla, tithes, and first fruits (Yalkut Shimoni, Gen. 1:2).

How does this passage from the midrash relate to our current mishnah? This passage connects the reader to the topic of Rabbi Elazar’s state: ownership. The midrash says that the world was created in the merit of three things: challah (the portion of a batch of dough that is given to the LORD), agricultural tithes, and first fruits. All three of these things point to Hashem’s ownership of the world. Although we may till, sow, water, and harvest our crops, their existence relies the LORD. Even though we may toil through the process of harvesting, threshing, winnowing, and finally milling the grain to produce a fine flour that is then combined with other ingredients to make a loaf of mouth-watering bread, the ingredients ultimately belong to Hashem, as the Scriptures tell us, “The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1).

Posted July 21, 2017 - 11:32am

Adding To The Scriptures

Many people take objection to the concept of rabbinic authority and the corpus of Jewish law, which includes the Mishnah and Talmud. They see these rabbinic works as “adding” manmade laws to the Scriptures, because indeed they contain countless laws that do not seem to appear in the Scriptures themselves. Therefore, these rabbinic works are seen as violating one of the primary principles of Scripture, to not add to the Scripture. The prooftext for this prohibition is found in Deuteronomy:

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.” (Deuteronomy 12:32)

And while we do need to be extremely cautious with anything that is not clearly spelled out in Scripture, we should also realize that the Scriptures themselves give a person permission to add to its own list of obligations and prohibitions. How so? This week’s portion gives us the answer: “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth” (Numbers 30:2). When we make a vow or an oath, we have created a new restriction upon ourselves that is above and beyond the commandments of the Scriptures, but is on the same par with them in regard to obligation. We have, in a sense, “added” to Scripture, but with the permission of Scripture.

There is an instance recorded for us where this privilege backfires because of a foolish vow. In the book of Judges, we read about a man named Jephthah who made a foolish vow to the LORD in order to gain victory over Israel’s enemies. He made this declaration:

If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. (Judges 11:30–31)

Posted July 14, 2017 - 7:32am

The Price of Peace

In last week’s portion we learned about the prophet Balaam and how he was not able to curse Israel in a direct manner. Every time he opened his mouth to curse Israel, it would be filled with blessings instead. Nevertheless, at the end of last week’s Torah portion we learned that Moab was somehow able to have a destructive impact on the Children of Israel:

While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel. (Numbers 25:1–3)

The result was devastating. Thousands of Israelites died in a plague because of their infidelity to the One who brought them out of Egypt. Fortunately, this plague was brought to an end, but only through the seemingly vigilante style execution of an Israelite and his Moabite escort at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. Pinchas (Phinehas), the son of Eleazar the Kohen, took a spear and ran it through both the Israelite and his lover. After this act, the Torah tells us, “Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand” (25:8–9).

Many people have questioned this act of Pinchas throughout the centuries. Was this act a vigilante one and could the plague have been stopped through another means? This question becomes even more pronounced when we look at the following verses:

Posted July 7, 2017 - 8:22am

What Is Your Super Power?

Parashat Balak introduces us to one of the most enigmatic figures of the entire Bible—the prophet Balaam. What can we learn from him? Let’s revisit his story and then draw some practical application from it.

Fearing being overrun by the Israelites leaving Egypt, Balak, the king of Moab, attempts to recruit Balaam to call down calamity upon the Israelites. As we know, his first attempt fails. The LORD appears to Balaam in the night and tells him, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed” (Numbers 22:12). Balak’s messengers return to him empty-handed. Undeterred, Balak sends a second, more influential delegation to Balaam in hopes of successfully bribing him into changing his mind. But Balaam seems to immediately tell them they are wasting their time. He says, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the LORD my God to do less or more” (22:18). However, he tells them to spend the night and he will try and get permission again. This time, Hashem gives him permission to accompany the delegation, but to only say what He instructs him.

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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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