Distressed by the Tragedy of Loss of Life

This weeks Torah Portion, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43) contains the story of the reunion of Jacob and Esau. In Genesis 32:8 we read: Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.”

Many Rabbi’s have asked why the Tanakh repeats the verb here. Many of them go on to argue that Jacob’s being afraid, was because of his fear of the consequences of Esau and his men coming and attacking him. They then suggest that Jacob’s distress was over the moral issue that if he killed Esau or one of his men in self-defense, he would still be greatly distressed at the death of a man created in the image of God.

This brought to mind the tragic life of my PNG brother, Gus.

Gus was living in a secure complex in Port Moresby some years ago and had got up early around dawn, one morning to take his wife and children to the airport. He had some security downstairs, but he heard two of the ‘rascals’ climbing over the balcony to enter upstairs where he and his family were. They would most likely have killed them in the process of stealing their possessions.

Gus a giant of a man both physically and spiritually, went out on to the balcony and fought with them. In the process he ended up knocking one of the men over the balcony and the man died.

When I next met up with Gus after this tragic event and some time had passed, Gus was still struggling with the reality that he had killed another human being. Even though he had, in all likelihood saved his wife and beautiful young children, he still found it difficult to live with. He may have been ‘morally right’ but that did not make his involvement in the tragic loss of a man’s life easy to bear.

Gus went on to do an incredible job of raising his daughter and three sons and then before he had reached the age of 40, with his eldest girl, Yuana still only around 16, Gus had a heart-attack at work and died.

Receiving the news of his untimely passing was one of the most upsetting days of my life. The sun shines less brightly without the great impact of this man of God who was cherished by so many.

Rabbi Sacks writes a great article on this Torah Portion and this moral issue. In it he relates the mixed feelings that the Israeli soldiers had after the great victory of 1967 and quotes Yitzhak Rabin, the Chief of Staff during the war.

“We find more and more a strange phenomenon among our fighters. Their joy is incomplete, and more than a small portion of sorrow and shock prevails in their festivities, and there are those who abstain from celebration. The warriors in the front lines saw with their own eyes not only the glory of victory but the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them bleeding, and I know that even the terrible price which our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men. It may be that the Jewish people has never learned or accustomed itself to feel the triumph of conquest and victory, and therefore we receive it with mixed feelings.”

 Sacks goes on to state: “A people capable of feeling distress, even in victory, is one that knows the tragic complexity of the moral life. Sometimes it is not enough to make the right choice. One must also fight to create a world in which such choices do not arise because we have sought and found non-violent ways of resolving conflict.”

What very wise words, but what a huge challenge, that today, after the UN vote to recognize the ‘State of Palestine’, seems even more challenging and further from resolution.

I recommend reading the whole of Rabbi Sack’s article on Aish –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/180748221.html

For some insightful commentary on the UN vote I recommend these articles:

‘Into the Fray: Israel’s infuriating impotence’ By Martin Sherman

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Article.aspx?id=294033

‘Accomplices in a campaign to annihilate a UN member’ By Shlomo Slonim

http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Op-EdContributors/Article.aspx?id=293826

and ‘I Stand Ashamed that My Country Voted for the New Nazis’ by Giulio Meotti

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12511#.ULimw46ZQsk

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Leaving and Returning: Climbing the Mountain and Returning to Repair the World

This weeks Torah Portion is Parshah Vayeitzei (Genesis 28:10-32:3). It contains the stories of Jacob’s leaving his family to live in the land of Laban and then returning to the land of Canaan to fulfil his destiny and continue the process of creating the Jewish People, a people called to be a Light to the Gentiles.

Rabbi Moshe Avraham Kempinksi has written an excellent article on this Torah Portion this week. In this article is states that “ There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing”. How true is this statement in this day and age!

This also reminded me of an article by Rabbi Ari Kahn which I quoted last month in my blog ‘Abraham, the Father of the faithful’:

Similarly, for the Jewish People to have an impact on the world, we must first disengage, separate ourselves, and fully explore our unique relationship with God.

There will be times when we must wrest ourselves away from our deep involvement, even our responsibility for the world. We must climb lofty mountains, even engage in divinely-mandated, though seemingly paradoxical, behavior. But we must always remember that eventually we must come down from the mountain, re-engage, return to the people that we left at the foot of the mountain. We must find the language and establish the relationship that will allow us to share with them what we learned at the summit.

The way we can accomplish our universal responsibility is by first becoming separate, different – as holy as we can possibly become. Only this will enable us to fulfill our mission of tikkun olam, to enlighten, to educate, to heal and repair the world.”

– See https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/10/25/abraham-the-father-of-the-faithful/

I think this rings true for all of us. We all need to take time out, to recharge our batteries, to re-connect with the Almighty, so that we can return to the fray, to the challenges of engaging with the world and trying to positively impact it.

Clearly our Maker knew this and so He created a special Day, the Sabbath for this very purpose. What a thoughtful and loving Father, Creator and King we have!

Moshe’s article is so good that I would really encourage you to read it in full. I have copied it below to make this easy for you:

Vayetze: Going Out (Israel National News – Published: Thursday, November 22, 2012 4:48 PM)

“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”The Torah portion of VaYeitze begins with Jacob leaving one place ands with him leaving another. Yet the two words used to describe each “leaving” are vastly different.

When Jacob is leaving the land of Canaan,he is fleeing from his house. He was escaping from a brother who was set to kill him. He was running from a father who may have lost some measure of faith and confidence in his son. He was leaving without knowing when he was to return. And he was leaving into a land of the unknown, and into a future filled with challenges and doubt.

The verse tells us ” And Jacob left Beer sheba, and he went ( VaYeitzeh) to Haran.”( Genesis 28:10) In the midst of Jacob’s running away from Esau he sees the vision of the ladder to the heavens in a dream. In this vision he is promised by G-d , great things.

And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.”( ibid :15)

When he returns from the land of Laban we read; “. So Jacob rose (vaYakam) , and he lifted up his sons and his wives upon the camels.” (ibid 31:17) This too occurs connected to a dream. Yet in Haran, it was a very different sort of dream.

And it came to pass at the time the animals came into heat, that I lifted my eyes and saw in a dream, and behold, the he goats that mounted the animals were ringed, speckled, and striped.”( ibid 31:10) As opposed to the spiritual dream of angels that he dreamt while still in the land, here Jacob dreams about physical goats and material acquisitions. The materialistic seduction of Chutz LeAretz- Exile – seems to have begun to affect Jacob as well. He understands that he needs to leave.

What is to be learned from those two differing words, Vayeitzeh ( and he went out) and Vayakam( and he arose) ?

When we read in the book of Deuteronomy, of G-d’s instructions regarding the going out to war .The verse reads: “Ki Teitzei LaMilchamah – If you shall go out to wage war against your enemy.” (Deuteronomy 21:10) The verse could have simply been, “If you shall wage war?”

The Torah wants us to remember that warfare is not harmonious with our inner essence. In order to go to war you must exit your oasis of spiritual and holy comfort. Yet his must be done only with the purpose of achieving goals of spiritual and national importance.

We see his again with Noah when G-d commands him the following;” ‘Go forth( Tzeh) from the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee. … be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.’ ( Genesis 8:16-17).

We see it as well with Jacob’s leaving of the land of his forefathers. Jacob was destined to begin the creation of the Jewish people in the land of Haran. That necessarily involved the spiritual pain of VaYeitzeh.

That is not the case when Jacob leaves Haran. When he leaves the land of Lavan , he is escaping the quagmire of materialism, falsehood and idolatry. In order to do this he must rise up (VaKam) . He must gather his spiritual strength and courage in order to be able to continue to fulfill his destiny in the land of his forefathers.

There will be many times, that the people of Israel will need to leave the comfort of their spiritual existence and venture into the dangers of coping with a world that is both dangerous and menacing. That is what we learn from Jacob’s leaving and his returning. That is what going out to war- ki teitze el hamilchama teaches us. If one’s purpose and goal remains clear ,then the continuation of the verse becomes a promise “. If you go out to war against your enemies,… and Hashem, your G-d, will deliver him into your hands...”( Deuteronomy 21:10)

When this piece was being written, it was still unclear if the Israeli defense forces were compelled to enter gaza or not. Yet the courage of going out from their homes and the courage of entering battles that need to be fought will hopefully bring about the Divine promise of protection. And either way, it is only a matter of time before they do.

It is just as Hashem promised Jacob in his personal “going out”.

“And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you.” – see http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/12477#.UK8rNY6ZQsm

For more on the last scripture quoted and the restoration of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel I recommend the article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ at circumcisedheart.info.

Isaac and Rebekah: A Failure to Communicate?

At the heart of the world is the family. At the heart of the family is the relationship between a husband and wife.

This relationship is the foundation upon which a family is built, children are raised and they in turn become contributing adults and normally marry and become parents and begin the whole cycle over again.

For a marital relationship  to work well, good communication is vital and yet, there are few courses that offer the in-depth and strenuous training needed for couples to enter into a relationship with the communication skills needed to cope with the inevitable tensions and relationship break-downs that occur.

No marriage is immune (or at least I am not aware of any). Few, if any couples, begin a marriage with perfect skills in communication. Effective, supportive and helpful communication is easy when times are good; when the full bloom of the relationship is in its ascendancy. When the inevitable disagreements arrive and the tension and separation occurs, good communication is difficult. If the tension escalates; normally the emotional separation grows and the barrier to effective resolution rises and begins to seem insurmountable.

A wall is built up, a dividing wall of pain and misunderstanding, of hurt and frustration and fear. How is this dividing wall to be torn down, but even more importantly, how can the communication skills be improved so that it rarely begins to build in the first place?

Well-developed communication skills are needed in great measure. It is at this point that we all need guidance. This guidance surely includes an appreciation of how serious the consequences can be to relationship breakdown and poor communication, even while the marriage remains intact.

This brings me to this weeks Torah Portion, Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9). In this parshah, we read about the deception of Rebekah.

While some may search hard to excuse Rebekah’s apparently immoral and unethical behaviour, on reading and reflecting on the narrative here, most would feel that Rebekah acted in a deceptive manner. Rather than try to find excuses for her behaviour, let us instead accept it at face value and ask the question, what can we learn from this mistake of Rebekah’s? What lead to this inappropriate behaviour and what life lessons should it teach us.

There is a link below to a brilliant article from Chief Rabbi Sacks of London about this very situation. He argues that there was most likely a power/position imbalance in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah that made it difficult for Rebekah to be as direct and up-front with Isaac as she should have been. This meant she kept things to herself and when suddenly faced with a potential calamity in her eyes, her reaction was underhanded instead of open and trusting.

Isaac was much older than Rebekah when they met and married. It was also some 20 years before Rebekah fell pregnant with her first babies, the twins Esau and Jacob. And yet, Isaac knew the promises that the Almighty had made to his father Abraham, that through him (Isaac) would come a great nation. The tension of these barren 20 years would have had some impact and perhaps negatively affected their communication and harmony.

Add to this the great, yet troubling message that Rebekah received while pregnant: “And the LORD said to her, Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” – Gen 25:23.

It appears she never shared this prophecy with Isaac. So when the time of the blessings arrives, it is quite possible that there was a significant communication barrier, a dividing wall, between Rebekah and Isaac, and therefore she looked for an ‘easy way out’.

I would suggest that there are at least two central lessons we can take away from this:

1)   Honesty and good communication are central to all relationships and in particular to the relationship at the centre of this world, the marriage;

2)   We can often learn more from the imperfect lives of the great characters of the Bible, than from the explicit teachings contained therein. Often, it is the mistakes that the Biblical heroes make that help us to better see ourselves reflected in their human frailty, and in turn, this enables us to reject their mistakes and instead turn from error to truth, from distance to close communication, and heal our relationships. I believe an appreciation of the conflict of the ‘good’ and ‘evil inclinations’ also helps with this – see the 2 part series of podcasts on the Hebraic Mindset for some more details on this – at http://aubreyandpaul.podomatic.com/

The great Chief Rabbi of London, Lord Sacks explains this all brilliantly in his blog post ‘The Tragedy of Good Intentions’, which I strongly recommend – at Aish.com –  http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/134230588.html

Update: 2nd December 2016

Since writing this short reflection over 4 years ago, I have revisited this Torah Portion and few times and read a number of books that discuss these events surrounding Rebekah (including Gary Rendsburg’s brilliant ‘The Redaction of Genesis’ and Rabbi Sacks great ‘Not in God’s Name’.

I wrote a couple of articles related to insights gained from Gary’s book – see Feeling for Rebekah – http://circumcisedheart.info/Feeling for Rebekah.pdf

I have also read a number of books on marriage, and now would argue that the best book on marital relationships that I have ever read (of 10’s of books on Marriage and Divorce), is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s ‘Kosher Lust: Love is Not The Answer’.

I strongly recommend all three books!

Hopes and Fears

This weeks Torah portion ‘Chayei Sarah’ describes two events in the life of Abraham, which may not appear that significant, but which actually carry an incredible depth of meaning and insight.

Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks writes a great article on this Parshah which brings out the amazing lesson and conclusion, that God’s great promises to Abraham do not mean that Abraham can sit back and have it all come to him without his total involvement. As Sacks’ states: “Faith does not mean passivity.”

The Hebrew language and the Hebrew mindset is all about action; about movement, energy, courage, passion, will, drive, and of course, trust (faithfulness).

Trust that God is involved; that He will support our righteous actions and even guide them through his teaching (His Torah) and His covenants, but that ultimately, we must act, we must step out with faith and courage and create the future that God has promised us. The Almighty wants to work with us, to work alongside us, to build our future together, to repair the world together (Tikkun HaOlam), and ultimately reward us with Eternity!

This was true in Abraham’s day and it is true today. It was true for the first Hebrew, the first man who ‘crossed over’, Abraham, the father of Israel and it is true for all Israel today, but it is also true for all the peoples of the many nations who call Abraham their father and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob their One True God and Saviour.

I strongly recommend reading Rabbi Sacks short article on the Aish.com site – see ‘Hopes and Fears’ at http://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/177159951.html

God is your shadow

We all understand what a shadow is, or at least we think we do. The sun creates a shadow of us that follows us where-ever we go and mirrors exactly an outline of our form.

In Psalm 121:5, we read: YHVH is your keeper, YHVH is your shade on your right hand”

The Hebrew word (Tzilcha) normally translated as ‘shade’ though, can be translated as ‘shadow’, so we instead get: YHVH is your protection, YHVH is your shadow to your right.

The famous Jewish Rabbi, Baal Shem Tov translated it this way and argued that ‘your shadow’ means that HaShem becomes our shadow in this world.

Just as a shadow mirrors the actions of each person, HaShem’s relationship with us becomes a mirror of how we act in His world. Our ways below in this world, arouse and elicit HaShem’s response from heaven above.

Just as a shadow moves in synch with the person and never leaves him, the way we choose to conduct ourselves in the world is the way God conducts Himself with us. If we engage in acts of loving kindness, then God responds in kind, by showing us His infinite loving kindness.

Before we investigate and meditate on this incredible insight, what evidence is there that this insight has real validity?

Let is start with Adam. Consider that after Adam sins, he hears God’s voice and he and his wife hide behind a tree. Obviously, God could see Adam and knew where he was, but nevertheless, God asks ‘where are you?’. God responds here at the level that Adam is at. He moves in synch with him; He acknowledges Adam’s state of apprehension, and rather that overwhelm it with the truth of His all-knowing and all-seeing omni-presence, He acts as if He can’t see where Adam is.

This is not God being temporarily senile!

This understanding is consistent with the concept of ‘The King Who Hides’ (– see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/09/23/moses-and-the-king-who-hides/). It is also consistent with the famous declaration of Jeremiah 29:11-14
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me. When you seek me with all your heart,
I will be found by you, declares the LORD, …”

Note here that the Almighty’s plans await our response; that He waits for us to come to Him, to seek Him. It is only when we seek Him with our everything, that we truly and fully find Him.

Therefore, I see this foundational passage as supporting this incredible insight.

Further, we read in Song of Solomon, which is a great story of the love that the Almighty wishes to share with us: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine …”. This also hints of this reciprocity, this moving in synch.

Is this not what any great relationship is all about, where each one in the relationship is responsive to the other and reciprocates as much as possible in kind?

As a father of 4 grown children, I have always felt that once they grew up and left home, the degree of relationship I have with them is very much dependent on them, on how close and how involved with me they now want to be.

I have done my job in bringing them up and hopefully giving them the teaching (torah), skills and faith to step out with confidence and courage into the world to make their own path. And yet, I desire the relationship to continue, but no longer with me as an authority figure, but as someone there, in the background, also therefore in a sense as a shadow, willing to be there when needed either for physical or emotional support, but mostly hoping that they will turn to me for spiritual support, for help finding their way toward the Almighty, the ultimate Father. So I am ready and willing to relate in synch with them, to be their ‘shadow’.

Thus, as a father, I see myself in a similar light to the way our King and Father relates to us.

So I see much truth in this great Jewish insight. Consider then that our relationship with God is so much dependent of us, on how much we act with loving kindness in our world. Leviticus 19:18 tells us that we are to love our neighbour, if we love God. The more we show love to our fellow man, the more we are in synch with God and the greater our relationship with Him will be, because, as our love for others grows, His love for us, His blessing of us grows in synch!

The Almighty blesses all mankind; He makes the sun shine and the rain fall on all; but He also, as a loving Father, wants more.

I believe He wants a deeper and closer relationship, but it will only be as deep and as close as we allow it to be. The more we are obedient to Him and His Ways, the closer He will be to us, and the greater His blessings will become!

The depth, the breadth, the height, the width of your relationship with Abba, with your Father is dependent on you!

Hebraic Mindset Part 2: From Actualizers to Hyperbole

This is Part 2 of our series on the Hebraic Mindset.

In this Podcast we discuss some of the principles that help to empower the Jewish people as well as further explaining how an appreciation of some Hebraisms help with Biblical interpretation and understanding.

Links: http://www.israelinsidethemovie.com/

Pastor Aubrey’s podcasts on the Covenants are at pfherring.podomatic.com

The article ‘Righteousness Before Messiah’ is at the website: www.circumcisedheart.info

Listen to the Podcast here