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Posted August 25, 2017 - 9:34am

Love And War, And Everything In Between

We’ve all heard the familiar expression, “All is fair in love and war.” But according to the Torah, this is not a true statement. According to the Torah, both love and war have parameters attached to them. The Torah specifically instructs us in the manner we are to “love the LORD your God” in multiple places. It tells us the “how” of loving a God who is beyond human logic. For instance, we are told that loving God includes: keeping His commandments (Deuteronomy 10:12–13; 11:1); teaching His instructions to our children (Deuteronomy 6:7); not heeding false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:3); loving and caring for the stranger, the orphan, and the widow (Exodus 22:21–22); bringing to the LORD the first fruits of our grain, wine, and oil within the land of Israel (Numbers 18:12); etc. Another expression of our love for God can be found in this week’s portion:

You shall not sacrifice to the LORD your God an ox or a sheep in which is a blemish, any defect whatever, for that is an abomination to the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 17:1)

Sometimes we may be tempted to think that at least doing something is better than nothing, but this is our own feeble minds trying to impose our humanity on a holy and transcendent God. The LORD requires that everything we bring to Him be without blemish, calling anything less than this “an abomination.” And although this specifically is connected to animals that are offered in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, this principle can equally be applied to what we are able to bring to Him in a time when the Temple is not standing. When we bring to Him our prayers, our praises, our financial offerings, our Shabbat and festival meals, etc., we should bring them “without blemish.” In other words, we should bring our very best, rather than settling for less than our best.

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:

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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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