Archive for the ‘Holy Land Moments’ Category

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran.”—Genesis 28:10

The Torah portion for this week, Vayetze, is from Genesis 28:10–32:3 and Hosea 12:13–14:10.

This week’s Torah portion is called Vayetze, which means ‘and he left.’ The portion could have just as easily been called Vayelech, ‘and he set out,’ and indeed later on down the line we do encounter another reading with that title. But this week’s selection isn’t about going places: It’s about knowing when to leave them.

The reading begins with Jacob leaving his hometown of Beersheba in order to escape his brother’s fury. In last week’s Torah reading, Jacob was able to attain the blessings of the firstborn by tricking his father, Isaac, leaving Esau feeling cheated, even though he had sold Jacob his birthright earlier. Jacob knew that he had to leave if he was going to survive.

Jacob ended up living with his mother’s brother, Laban, where he and Laban’s daughter, Rachel, fell in love. Laban made Jacob work seven years for Rachel’s hand in marriage, and then Laban pulled a last-minute stunt and switched Leah (Rachel’s older sister) for Rachel.

Jewish tradition teaches that Jacob and Rachel had anticipated this possibility and had made up secret signs to exchange under the wedding canopy. But when Rachel realized the amount of humiliation that her sister Leah would feel if she was exposed during the wedding, she relayed the signals to Leah and the wedding went off without a hitch. After all those years of waiting, Rachel could have held her ground, but she walked away in order to spare her sister the pain. In fact, Jacob worked another seven years in order to marry his true love, Rachel.

The Torah portion ends decades after it began with Jacob trying to leave Laban’s home. Laban made his leaving difficult, but Jacob persevered. Once again, he knew it was time to leave and nothing was going to stop him.

This week’s theme is all about knowing when to walk away — physically or emotionally. So much time and energy is wasted because we stay in relationships that are hurtful, or we stay away from loved ones because we can’t let go of past hurts. It’s important to know when it’s time to move on and change directions. But leaving is hard and change can be frightening. So we stay in jobs that drain us and live in places that no longer suit us. True, the unknown is uncomfortable. But it’s even more uncomfortable to stay stooped in a space where you don’t fit and no longer belong.

This week, take the challenge of leaving something behind: a bad habit, a toxic relationship, a never-ending argument, a dead-end job, the computer, the phone – know when to walk away. While it’s important to know where you are headed in life, it’s just as important to know when it’s time to leave the place you are right now.

If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed —John 8:36

If there is even a trace of individual self-satisfaction left in us, it always says, “I can’t surrender,” or “I can’t be free.” But the spiritual part of our being never says “I can’t”; it simply soaks up everything around it. Our spirit hungers for more and more. It is the way we are built. We are designed with a great capacity for God, but sin, our own individuality, and wrong thinking keep us from getting to Him. God delivers us from sin— we have to deliver ourselves from our individuality. This means offering our natural life to God and sacrificing it to Him, so He may transform it into spiritual life through our obedience.

God pays no attention to our natural individuality in the development of our spiritual life. His plan runs right through our natural life. We must see to it that we aid and assist God, and not stand against Him by saying, “I can’t do that.” God will not discipline us; we must discipline ourselves. God will not bring our “arguments . . . and every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)— we have to do it. Don’t say, “Oh, Lord, I suffer from wandering thoughts.” Don’t suffer from wandering thoughts. Stop listening to the tyranny of your individual natural life and win freedom into the spiritual life.

“If the Son makes you free . . . .” Do not substitute Savior for Son in this passage. The Savior has set us free from sin, but this is the freedom that comes from being set free from myself by the Son. It is what Paul meant in Galatians 2:20  when he said, “I have been crucified with Christ . . . .” His individuality had been broken and his spirit had been united with his Lord; not just merged into Him, but made one with Him. “. . . you shall be free indeed”— free to the very core of your being; free from the inside to the outside. We tend to rely on our own energy, instead of being energized by the power that comes from identification with Jesus.

A Love of Our Own

Posted: November 16, 2012 in Holy Land Moments
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“I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”—Malachi 1:2–3

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.

The Haftorah for the portion of Toldot takes us into the time of the prophet Malachi. At that time, the exile in Babylon had ended and the Jews were allowed to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. It should have been a time of joy and celebration, but things were less than perfect. The Holy Land was in shambles, poverty was rampant, depravity was everywhere, and the newly constructed Temple was far less glorious than the first one it had replaced. The morale and the morals of the people were at a low point when Malachi came along both to comfort the people and to correct their ways.

Malachi began with encouragement, telling the people that God loves them, but the people asked, “How can He love us?” The Sages explain that the people of Malachi’s time felt unworthy and unlovable. They believed that any grace shown to them by God was only because of the merit of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

But God told them, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? . . . Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” In other words, if that logic were true, then God would have loved Esau, too. After all, he was also a descendant of the Patriarchs! God was telling the people that His love for the Patriarchs only went so far. Ultimately, a person’s relationship with God comes down to that person and God.

Three times a day, an observant Jew says the main Jewish prayer called the Amidah. It begins: “Blessed are you God, our God, and the God of our forefathers . . .” The Sages teach that we acknowledge God as our own personal God before we mention that He is the God of our forefathers in order to emphasize that our relationship with God must be personal.

Sure, we all benefit from being the spiritual heirs of such holy and beloved men and women, but it’s not enough. If we worship God only because our parents did, that’s not enough. If we go to church or synagogue only because it’s our family tradition, it’s not enough. First we must discover our own connection to the Lord, and only then can we enjoy the benefits of our heritage.

God is not inherited. A relationship with the Lord has to be earned and cultivated by every individual who walks this earth. We must all go through our own trials and develop our own faith. And then, when He loves us, it will be for our own sake and won’t be based on our family ties.

Isaac trembled violently and said, ‘Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!’”—Genesis 27:33

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.

Toward the end of the Torah portion, Isaac wanted to give the birthright blessings to his son, Esau. But Rebekah knew better. During her pregnancy, she had been prophetically told that Esau would be unworthy of receiving the blessings, while Jacob would need them to fulfill his mission of spreading the Word of God. So Rebekah coached Jacob on how to trick his father into giving him the blessings. The plan succeeded, and then comes the moment when Isaac realized that he was duped.

The real Esau returned from a day of hunting, ready to be blessed. Isaac asked, “Who are you?” Esau answered “It’s me, your son Esau!” And then it all comes together in one crushing moment. As the Bible tells us, “Isaac trembled violently . . .” The Sages explain that Isaac didn’t tremble because he was angry. He trembled because he realized that he had been terribly mistaken. This was no ordinary shudder. This was the kind of shuddering that shakes a person to the core. Isaac’s whole outlook had been wrong, and only now did he fully understand God’s plan for his sons. All of Isaac’s hopes and dreams for Esau came crashing to the ground.

We can feel Isaac’s pain. The moment is sad and heart-wrenching, but at the same time, it is strengthening and inspiring. How many of us could walk away from a lifelong belief and humbly accept that we were mistaken? And yet, Isaac does just that.

There is a story in the Talmud about a rabbi who spent his life’s energies studying a word that appears hundreds of times in the Bible: ‘et,’ loosely translated as ‘and’ or ‘also.’ The rabbi had a theory that every time the word was used, there was an additional law to be learned about the subject at hand. He spent his life extrapolating those hidden laws – until one day he was stumped. He was forced to conclude that his theory was wrong, and he discarded what had been his entire life’s work. When his students asked him how he could do such a thing, the rabbi answered: “Just as I was given reward for expounding, so I shall be given reward for refraining.” The rabbi knew when to quit, and he wasn’t too proud to admit when he was wrong.

We all know what it’s like to find out that we have been mistaken. It is humbling and can shake our world. But there is something much worse than letting go of a long-held belief; it’s continuing with the same faulty outlook and repeating the same mistakes over and over.

We can learn from Isaac on how to confront our mistakes and let them go. Only then can we change our course and move on with grace.

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”Genesis 25:32

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.

What was Esau thinking? Why would he trade his birthright for a bowl of soup?

Let’s back up to where the scene begins. Esau had just returned from an exhausting day. He was utterly famished. He saw his brother Jacob making some red lentil soup, and he wanted some badly.

Esau: “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (Genesis 25:30).

Jacob: “First sell me your birthright” (Genesis 25:31)

Esau: “Look, I am about to die . . . What good is the birthright to me?”

And so the deal is done.

Now, was Jacob being unfair? Was he taking advantage of a dying man? The Jewish Sages explain that when Esau said that he was about to die, he wasn’t really dying. He was explaining his philosophy on life. Underlying this statement was Esau’s outlook: “Life is short, so eat, drink, and be merry. What good will a promise of some future reward do for me now? Now, I am hungry. Now, I want soup. The birthright is of no use to me now.” That is why the Scripture says, “So Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34).

This passage is priceless. It shows us the horrible consequences of instant gratification. The allure of the here and now is blinding. As observers, we can see the foolishness of Esau’s decision. He sacrificed his entire future for a few moments of pleasure. But then again, we do that all of the time.

Who hasn’t been in this situation? After just deciding to diet, you are suddenly accosted by a piece of chocolate cake (or vanilla, if you aren’t a chocolate fan). What do you do? You can eat the cake, enjoy it for ten minutes max, and then pay for it tomorrow when you get on the scale. Or, you can push the cake away and feel deprived for a few moments, reaping the benefits when the pounds slip away. We all know the right thing to do. But my guess is that many of us might eat that cake anyway. We too often sacrifice the future for the sake of the moment.

The simple example of cake is much like the bigger struggle we encounter in our daily lives. We are constantly faced with decisions that come down to what feels good in the moment and what’s better for us in the long term. We have to choose between what feels good for our temporal body and what’s truly nourishing for our eternal spirit. This week’s Torah reading reminds us that while it’s hard to adapt to the long-term view of life, it doesn’t make any sense to live any other way. The here and now is nothing compared to eternity.

“The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD.”—Genesis 25:22

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.

Scripture tells us that when Rebekah was pregnant, she felt a whole lot of kicking. Jewish tradition teaches that when she passed by a place of idol worship, Esau would kick relentlessly. When she passed by a house of Torah study, Jacob would kick excitedly. There were no ultrasounds in those days, so Rebekah couldn’t figure out how one baby could have two very different dispositions.

Rebekah received her answer when God explained that she was going to have twins. Now it made sense, but we are left wondering if this is fair to Esau, who seems doomed as the wayward son. If he was born with a tendency toward evil, can we really blame him for following his nature? And the same is true for Jacob. If he was born yearning for righteousness, can we be impressed that he turned out as such?

There is a story about the Rebbe of Kotzk who asked his students the following question: “If there are two people on a ladder – one on the third rung and one on the fifth – who is higher?” The students answered the obvious, “The one on the fifth.” “Maybe yes, maybe no,” said the Rebbe. “It depends on which direction they are going.” The rabbi was teaching his students that where a person stands in life is not nearly as important as where he or she is headed.

Both Esau and Jacob were born with natural tendencies, but they were also born with free choice. Esau had the choice to fight his evil inclination and channel his passions for good. No one forced him to choose a life of immorality. Had he chosen the path of goodness, he could have shot up the ladder of righteousness, way past Jacob.

Jacob had a choice, too. He could have stayed in his comfort zone, never falling from his place of righteousness, but never going any higher either. He could have entered the world and left it just as he came, and no one would have complained. But Jacob chose to push himself further and spend his life climbing ever higher.

Like Jacob and Esau, we all come to the world with strengths and weaknesses. We may not have chosen them, but they are ours. Yet, none of that matters anyway. At the end of the day, God won’t be impressed with our natural talents or disappointed with our character flaws. He’ll just want to know how we used them. Did we try to improve our character? Did we use our talents for good?

It won’t matter where we finish on the ladder of righteousness, only how far we have climbed and in what direction.

“This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac. Abraham became the father of Isaac.”—Genesis 25:19

The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.

The Torah portion of Toldot, ‘offspring,’ begins almost exactly the same way that the portion of Noach began. Here we read, “This is the account of the family line of Abraham’s son Isaac.” There we read, This is the account of Noah and his family” (Genesis 6:9). In Hebrew, the phrases are identical. So the Sages are puzzled. If the opening words are the same, why aren’t the names parallel? If Noah was chosen as the title for the reading about him and his family, why isn’t Isaac’s name given the same treatment?

Let’s review. A few weeks back, we explained that the Torah portion of Noah was named for its leading man in order to teach us the power of one person’s effect on generations to come. The story of the flood was the story of mankind, but it all hinged on one individual and that person was Noah. So he gets the spotlight.

Now let’s take a look at this week’s reading. It’s the story of Jacob and Esau’s birth, Esau selling his birthright, and Jacob receiving the blessings of the firstborn. This is the story of Isaac and his family, but the emphasis is not on Isaac; it’s on his children. The story line of our portion for this week is who will continue the legacy of Abraham and Isaac?

In Jewish culture, people place a lot of value on a person’s family lineage. For example, most people with the last name ‘Cohen’ can claim that they come from the prestigious tribe of Levi and the group of priests called cohanim. Others can trace their heritage to legendary rabbis who lived decades or even centuries ago. Still, some can even trace their families all the way back to King David. But I have a friend who used to say, “That’s nice. However, more important than who came before me is who will come after me.” It’s impressive to claim a prestigious lineage, but even more impressive to be the ancestor of great men and women yet to come.

And that’s the message of this week’s Torah portion. Noach celebrates those who came before us. Toldot asks us to consider who will follow us. Noach is about the heritage that we received. Toldot is about the legacy that we pass on.

What legacy will you leave behind? Long after we have exited the stage of life, our children, with God’s help, will be playing the leading roles in the greatest story that the world has ever known.