Parsha Vayetze: Destiny Discovered

Parsha Vayetze: Destiny Discovered

God often appears to us where and when we least think He will.

We experience a long series of tiny events, which amount to a life, and occasionally catch glimpses of the bigger picture, and perhaps even what part our role may be in it. This thought was captured by the song “Scarlet Begonias”, by the Grateful Dead:

“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest places if you look at it right.” 

This week’s parsha opens up with a description of Jacob’s journey away from his parents, and away from the brother who sought his life. The description is worded in a manner that the sages found curious. The phrasing led them to analyze what on the surface seemed to be small, insignificant details, yet hidden within were important keys to Jacob discovering his own destiny with the LORD.

“Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place….Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen.28:10-12, 16-17)

Rashi, the great 12th Century Jewish sage, says that the Torah makes special mention of the fact that Jacob “departed”, rather than simply saying that he “went to Haran.”  The Midrash Rabbah suggests why:

The departure of a righteous person from a place makes an impression upon those left behind.

For at the time that a righteous person is in a city, he is its magnificence, he is its splendor, he is its grandeur. Once he has departed from there, its magnificence has gone away., it’s splendor has gone away, it’s grandeur has gone away. (Genesis Rabbah, 68:6)

So the first thing the Torah is telling us, then, about Jabob’s journey to Haran, is the fact that his departure deeply affected those he left behind. They lost the benefit of the glory of God which he reflected upon them. This is an important thing to remember, as we seek our own purposes: we are not independent of our surroundings, but we impact them.

When the text says “he came to a certain place”, it is speaking of “the place”; the place of the future Temple, and the place of the binding of Isaac, his father.

The Talmud tells us that Jacob had gone past Mount Moriah, but “felt bad” about doing so, and so he decided to return. The Talmud goes on to say that as soon as Jacob decided to return to “that place”, the earth miraculously contracted and he found himself at Mount Moriah, the place. Continue reading

Parsha Commentary, Vayera: The Sterilization of Duty

Parsha Commentary, Vayera: The Sterilization of Duty

This week’s parsha, Vayera, presents us with a visceral, engaging, and horrifying story. Abraham, the hero of these early Torah portions, is asked by God to do the unthinkable.

In this parsha, Abraham dramatically intercedes for Sodom and Gomorrah. He receives fulfillment of promise, and the birth of his son, Isaac. But now, near the end of the portion, we read this:

“God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you.”  So Abraham rose early in the morning….” (Gen.22:1-3, emphasis added)

What’s remarkable about Abraham’s reaction to God’s inhumane request is that there is no reaction at all. He simply obeys, seemingly without question.

There are times as we read the Bible, that we are betrayed by our familiarity with the story. We know how this story ends, you see. We know not only that Isaac is ultimately spared, but we also know, as followers of Messiah, that this entire episode carries with it the theological freight of picturing for us the ultimate offering of God’s Son.

But for over 1,500 years, the Christ story lay dormant in the future and was not visible to the interpreters of the Bible. And the events in the story, at this point, demand a reaction.

A strong one. Continue reading

Fear or Faith? The Parable of the Talents

Fear or Faith? The Parable of the Talents

Chapters 24-25 in the gospel of Matthew are very scary and difficult to reconcile with traditional Church doctrine and teaching. Using the Oral Law, we unravel the mysteries of the parable of the talents, in relation to Exodus 22, and discover how the Master’s audience would have heard him, and what would have surprised them about his teaching.

Embracing Dr.King

Embracing Dr.King

I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” – Dr.Martin Luther King on 4/3/68

On the following day, the great visionary leader was assassinated.  By invoking Moses, Dr. King was portraying the future vision of equality in America between whites and blacks to be the moral equivalent of the “promised land.”

Moses was not allowed to lead the nation of Israel into the promised land, but instead was directed by God to forfeit his life beforehand…

Now Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah…and the LORD showed him all the land…Then the LORD said to him, ‘This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.’” (Deut.34:1-4)

It is chilling to consider the parallel between Dr. King and Moses.  The preacher could not have known that he was making a prophetic reference to his own end, could he?  Even more astounding is the connection this makes to Christ, who lay down his life in much the same manner as Moses, as an offering for the people.  Dr. King was struck down in the prime of his life and power, just like Moses and Jesus, and yet his ultimate sacrifice served to further galvanize a movement that could not be stopped.

Have we considered the real message of Dr. King? His was no violent protest, or an incitement to such ends.  Any violence which ensued from his involvement in the civil rights movement was either because of the reactions of his opponents or the misguided efforts of certain of his followers.  It did not come from him.  Dr. King trusted in the power of an idea.  Specifically, the power of the truth.  With an unwavering faith in the justice of God and the ethic of human dignity, he knew that if these ideas are properly articulated to the right people at the right time, that “no weapon could be formed against them.” (Is.54:17)

Unlike ISIS, or Hamas, or John Calvin, Dr. King knew that the rights of individual men and women before a Holy God took priority over the preferences of an elite few.  He certainly understood that his people (blacks in America) needed equality, but his convictions went beyond race and extended to all, regardless of race or creed.  His message was sacrificial. He didn’t seek power for himself, but for others.

In these days of sarcastic sound-bites, dismissive statements, and slanderous editorializing, may we remember that if we have not love, we are no more than “a clanging gong“.  Embracing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day means more than remembering the struggle for equality; it means the struggle to maintain our dignity as a culture.