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Posted September 17, 2019 - 5:00pm
Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8[9])

When the Torah says things in an unusual way, it’s usually to teach us an important lesson. Normally, when we think of a person’s comings and goings, it is from the perspective of first leaving a place and then returning to it. The Torah, however, has a different frame of reference: 

Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. (Deuteronomy 28:6)

According to the Torah, a person first enters and then departs. Rabbi Yochanan interprets this to mean that our coming in and going out are the points by which we enter and depart from this world:

“Blessed shalt thou be when thou comest in, and blessed shalt thou be when thou goest out” — that thine exit from the world shall be as thine entry therein: just as thou enterest it without sin, so mayest thou leave it without! (b.Bava Metzia 107a)

The point at which man comes into this world is his birth; his going out is his death. The thing we call life is that short span between these two points. We are merely sojourners during the course of our life here in this world.

Rabbi Yochanan connects these two points of entrance and departure with the common theme of blessing. He says that just as a person enters this world without sin, a person is truly blessed if he is also able to leave this world without sin. But how do we do this? Is it even possible? Evidently, Paul thought it was. His hope was to deliver his disciples into the hands of Yeshua “pure and blameless”:

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11)

Posted September 11, 2019 - 5:25pm
Parashat Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

Have you ever wondered what the “least of the commandments” is that Yeshua speaks of in Matthew 5? (See Matthew 5:17-20.) According to our sages, the least commandment is found in this week’s Torah portion:

If you come across a bird's nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long. (Deuteronomy 12:6-7)

Sending away the mother bird is considered to be the least or the “lightest” of the commandments. It requires no great effort on the part of the one performing the commandment. It is considered an act of compassion, similar to the commandment in Leviticus that says, “You shall not kill an ox or a sheep and her young in one day” (Leviticus 22:28). Other commandments, however, are more weighty. They require more effort and seem to have more significance than others. For instance, honoring one’s father and mother is considered one of the most weighty or important commandments. But the division between light and heavy commandments is somewhat artificial. Yes, the distinction exists, but they are all to be followed equally. Rabbi Judah explains:

Be as scrupulous about a light commandment as a weighty one, for you do not know the reward allotted for each commandment. (Avot 2:1)

Why does he say this? Because we are told the reward for both a light commandment (the sending away of the mother bird) and a heavy commandment (honoring one’s parents) is the same—long life:

Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you, that your days may be long, and that it may go well with you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)

Posted September 3, 2019 - 12:40pm

Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

As one exits the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, the final site is a sign written in Hebrew and in English. It is a profound quote from the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidic Judaism in the eighteenth century: 

Forgetfulness leads to exile, while remembrance is the secret of redemption.

What does this mean? Let’s explore the implications. According to our Torah portion for this week, the king of Israel is commanded to write a copy of the Torah for himself as a reminder of his responsibilities as the leader of a holy nation bound to a covenant relationship with the Creator of the Universe:

And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left. (Deuteronomy 17:18–20)

The king of Israel represents the nation of Israel. Therefore, when the king is diligent to uphold the Torah, he is considered righteous and the nation is blessed. But when the king forgets the precepts of the Torah, he is deemed wicked and the nation is therefore judged and led into exile. 

Posted August 27, 2019 - 5:56am
Parashat Re'eh (Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17)

Have you ever heard of the Snowball Effect? As you know, the Snowball Effect is a process that begins with something that is seemingly insignificant but then builds on itself, becoming exponentially larger over time. It comes from the concept of a snowball rolling down a hill. In theory, it picks up both mass and momentum the longer it rolls. After just a little while it would become quite massive and very difficult to stop. This concept has been applied to many things, but it has spiritual applications as well. In Pirkei Avot, Ben Azzai tells us: 

Run to pursue a minor mitzvah [commandment], and flee from a transgression. For a mitzvah brings another mitzvah, and a transgression brings another transgression. For the reward of a mitzvah is a mitzvah, and the reward of transgression is transgression. (m.Avot 4:2)

This is the principle of the Snowball Effect. If we begin traveling in a certain direction—whether toward or away from spiritual matters—we will create a momentum that will be difficult to stop. If we succeed in surrendering one area of our lives and being obedient to one instruction from the Torah, we will naturally be inclined toward the next one. We will find that obedience will have become a little easier. However, the reverse is also true. If we refuse to be obedient to one of the Torah’s instructions, then it will be more difficult to obey other instructions. Soon we will find ourselves in a place of utter rebellion, where even the easiest commandments are forsaken. This is the principle behind the introductory words of this week’s Torah portion: 


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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