Learn To Do Good:

This weeks Torah Portion is Devarim and the Haftorah is Isaiah 1:1-27. It contains:

1 This is the vision of Yesha‘yahu ….
15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; no matter how much you pray, I won’t be listening; because your hands are covered with blood.
16 “Wash yourselves clean! Get your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing evil,
17 learn to do good! Seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend orphans, plead for the widow.
18 “Come now,” says Adonai, “let’s talk this over together. Even if your sins are like scarlet, they will be white as snow; even if they are red as crimson, they will be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land;
20 but if you refuse and rebel, you will be eaten by the sword”; for the mouth of Adonai has spoken
…. and
27 Zion will be redeemed by justice; and those in her who repent, by righteousness.

Yehovah lists some of the evils of those who have walked away from Torah and doing good. When I see the reference to hands covered with blood‘ and to ‘defend orphans’ my thoughts first go to the killing of many millions of our most innocent every year.

The murder of our unborn.

These innocents are orphans in the sense that their parents and all who should be protecting them have; whether knowingly or not, and whether by force or not, abandoned them.

We also, as a society, have abandoned them.

This is surely our nation and our worlds greatest ‘evil deed’.

“The greatest gift of God, I would think, is the Gift of Life. The greatest sin of humans, it would seem, would be to return that gift, ungratefully and unopened.” – John Powell

Yet, Yehovah always offers help, He is always waiting with open arms for us to turn back and talk with Him. He will ultimately execute justice and redeem the righteous who have repented of their Torah-less lives.

In the Deavrim Torah portion itself we hear from one of the greatest teachers of all time, who is known as ‘Moshe Rabbenu’, meaning “Moses, our teacher”.Moses spends his last days as teacher, sharing again the Torah and instruction on how to live by it.

Here in the Haftorah we also hear the instruction learn to do good’.

But how do we learn best? By gathering around us the best teachers – Moshe, Yeshua, Rav Sha’ul, etc. Those who best teach Torah, the instructions of our God on how best to live.

The Torah properly understood gives us a protective fence around us, within which we can live the most free life, because a righteous life, one lived within and in accordance to Torah will be a live without too many instances of ‘missing the mark’, of moral and ethical mistakes (i.e. sin), and in such a life when we “… spread out (our) hands” He will not hide His eyes from us and when we pray He will listen!

This Haftorah can also offers the great hope of Mashiach as well. As the Rabbis state, “The first words of the haftorah: “Chazon Yeshayahu” tells us that specifically during times of darkness, you can accomplish the vision of the redemption and that we will experience this great revelation with the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.”

There Are Rivers We Will Not Cross – Parshah Chukat

This weeks Torah Portion, Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) starts off with Moses being taught the laws of the Red Heifer, whose ashes purify a person who has been contaminated by contact with a dead body (I mentioned this in passing when speaking on the question of Atonement – see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2020/06/20/atonement-covering-our-sins-from-ourselves/).

And it speaks about the  40 years of journeying through the desert; Miriam dying and here the people thirsting for water. Yehovah tells Moses to speak to a rock and command it to give water. Moses gets angry at the rebellious Israelites and strikes the stone. Water issues forth, but Moses is then told by Yehovah that neither he nor Aaron will enter the Promised Land … + more.”

Like all of Scripture this section raises some powerful thoughts and questions.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks as always writes most eloquently that “… we are an unstable mix of reason and passion, reflection and emotion, so that sometimes grief and exhaustion can lead even the greatest to make mistakes, as it did in the case of Moses and Aaron after the death of their sister. Second, we are physical, therefore mortal.

Therefore, for all of us, there are rivers we will not cross, promised lands we will not enter, futures we helped shape but will not live to see. … Hence the life-changing idea of Chukat: we are dust of the earth but there is within us the breath of God. We fail, but we can still achieve greatness. We die, but the best part of us lives on.

… Life lives in the tension between our physical smallness and our spiritual greatness, the brevity of life and the eternity of the faith by which we live. Defeat, despair and a sense of tragedy are always premature. Life is short, but when we lift our eyes to heaven, we walk tall.

In reflecting on this at the end of a week where my youngest turned 21 having been born exactly 2 years after his grandfather and my father-in-law died, and also on the same day Emily, one of my nieces lost her young partner to cancer and he left behind 3 young children.

So, to me as well it has been a time to see tragedy and the brevity of life mixed with joy and celebration as seems so typical in this life.

It also leads me to reflect on the greatest tragedy in my world – the loss of one of my grandchildren – see https://globaltruthinternational.com/2014/03/25/amazing-ada/

And it was also only some 2 years ago that I lost my Dad, the man that shaped my life the most, and whose many talents now seem almost mythical in their greatness.

And reflecting on the joy of children leads me to another blog post I wrote as part of a series on Happiness – https://globaltruthinternational.com/2013/09/27/the-ten-happiness-principles-3/ which brings me full circle and back to the Sabbath!

Shabbat Shalom!


Atonement: Covering Our Sins From Ourselves?

I was recently asked what “… type of sacrifice that Yeshua, as our great High Priest, made?”.

Before I share I little in response to this, I should indicate that I reject most of the standard Christian theories around Yeshua’s death on the cross and what it represents. For example, I see Penal Substitutionary Atonement (developed during the Reformation) as totally in error, but I tend to find much to like with regard the Moral Influence Theory (see footnote), as well as supporting a degree of Vicarious Atonement (see link at the end of this blog post to an in-depth discussion of this understanding from Bruce Barham of Torah of Messiah).

But in trying to understand what is involved in Yeshua’s role as the High Priest in the Coming Age, I think that we should appreciate that he performs that same functions as the High Priest of Israel has in the past.

So, if we look back at the foundational passages on the High Priest’s role in atonement we find:

Lev 4:20 “ … And the priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven.”

Aaron, as the first High Priest:
Ex 28: 29 “So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.

30 And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the LORD. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the LORD regularly.

Lev 16:29-34  (speaking about Yom Kipppur, the Day of Atonement, when the High Priest would enter the Most Holy of Holies in the Temple):
“29 And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you.

30 For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins.

31 It is a Sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute forever.

32 And the priest who is anointed and consecrated as priest in his father’s place shall make atonement, wearing the holy linen garments.

33 He shall make atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make atonement for the tent of meeting and for the altar, and he shall make atonement for the priests and for all the people of the assembly.

34 And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins. And Moses did as the LORD commanded him.

Ex 30:10 “Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD.”  – again, this is only possible in the Temple, and therefore, only when the Temple is standing.

These are just a few of the ‘atonement’ passages. The High Priest makes atonement for the people, but this is not the only way and means of people finding atonement. It is part of the process, but not all of it.

But what is atonement?

The word ‘atonement’ has more than one meaning in Judaism.  In the context here it appears to mean either the protection of a thing from external impact or the prevention of it making an impact, or both. That is, the underlying meaning is to cover something, so as to protect it, or allow it to be overlooked. For example, when Abimelech gives to Abraham a thousand pieces of silver as a “covering of the eyes” (the same Hebrew root word is used here as for atonement in the passages quoted above), the effect here is in order that his wrongdoing may be over-looked (Gen. 20: 16).

But we also need to be very much aware that every person who wishes to be part of the Coming Age, must also seek atonement through repentance and forgiveness, etc.

This is of course declared in many places in the Tanakh such as in Ezekiel:

Ezekiel 18:  19 “Yet you say, Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father? When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live.

20 The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

22 None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live.

… 27 Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life.

28 Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.

… 30 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin.

31 Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?

32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.”

So it may seem we have a conflict here.

We have a High Priest somehow providing this ‘covering’ and protection for us (are our sins really being overlooked by the Almighty?), and yet at the same time the Tanakh seems to clearly state that everyone is responsible for his own sins (and thus there is a sense in which no one else can ‘pay the price’ for us).

And here’s some further food for though on what does the Oral Torah says about it:

“The death of the righteous atones [for the generation]” (Moed Katan 28a). ▫ “Rabbi Hiya Bar Abba said: The sons of Aaron died the first day of Nisan. Why then does the Torah mention their death in conjunction with the Day of Atonement? It is to teach that just as Yom Kippur atones, so also the death of the righteous atones” (Vayikra Rabbah 20:12). ▫ Following the previous statement: “Death and Yom Kippur atone when accompanied by penitence” (Yoma 85b [Mishna]). 

“Why is the death of Miriam juxtaposed to the laws of the Red Heifer? This teaches that just as the Red Heifer brings atonement, so too, the death of the righteous brings atonement” (Moed Katan 28a).

The Rabbis say: “[Messiah’s] name is ‘the leper’, as it is written: Surely he has borne our grieves, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him leper, smitten of God, and afflicted…  Those of the house of the Rabbi say: ‘the sickly’, for it says: Surely he has borne our sicknesses” (Sanh 98b). 

Also the Midrash says: “I will take one of their righteous men and retain him as a pledge on their behalf, in order that I may pardon all their sins” (Shemot Rabbah 35:4).  

I think though that Rabbi Moshe Avraham Kempinksi has a great perspective where he also alludes to the idea of a ‘covering’:

“… Yet we must still ponder the fact that we have been directed by our prophets to understand that repentance begins with our actions.        

Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, said HaShem of hosts.” (Malachi 3:7)   

Then again, we hear the words of the prophet Zechariah:      

“Therefore say you unto them, Thus said HaShem of hosts: Return unto Me, said HaShem of hosts, and I will return unto you, said HaShem of hosts.” (Zechariah 1:3)   

HaShem waits for our initial returning to Him with a contrite heart.  

It is important to note that our sages discussed the power of Yom Kippur to atone (Lechaper) for sins and they did not  determine that the day has the power “to cleanse” (LeTaher).   The Malbim in sefer HaCarmel describes the word Lechaper – to atone as having several possible meanings. It can mean “to cover”, to ”redeem” or to “superficially wash”.

Yet all those three actions do not truly remove the sin. They simply cover or beautify it. The sin and its potential impact continues to exist in the world. The sin still needs to be made pure or to be deeply cleansed. So one might ask why we bother with a Kaparah that simply covers, if in fact we have not eliminated the essence of the sin itself?  

To understand this one must truly ask another question “Who are we covering the sin from?”.

The instinctive answer is that we are attempting to hide or cover our sins from G-d. That cannot be true as King David declares in psalms: “For He knows the secrets of the heart.” (Psalms 44:22)   And in the book of Job we read: “I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose can be withholden from You.” (Job 42:2)  

 Yet sin has a powerful impact on our souls and our will power. Sin does not keep G-d away from man, sin keeps man away from G-d.

We feel so unworthy and so dirty that we cannot even look upon His face Ezekiel declares: “Therefore, O you son of man, say unto the house of Israel: Thusly you speak, saying: Our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we pine away in them; how then can we live?” (Ezekiel 33:10)  

So G-d gives us the method to cover the sins from ourselves. The day achieves that “covering”. (itzumo shel yom mechaper). It is only after they have been covered from our sight that we regain the determination to gather our strength and continue into the intense process of tahara, or cleansing.

“And therefore will HaShem wait, so that He may be gracious unto you, and therefore will He be exalted, that He may have compassion upon you; for HaShem is a God of justice, happy are all they that wait for Him.” (Isaiah 30:18)   << end quote>>

So, the argument here is that the Day of Atonement really acts as a way in which we ‘cover’ our sins from our own eyes, so that we may look forward and work harder to avoid ‘missing the mark’ (sin) in the future, and therefore display the true fruits and ‘tikkun haOlam’ that should result from our repentance and forgiveness.

For much greater depth on atonement, please see Vicarious Atonement: Origins and Correct Understanding at https://www.torahofmessiah.org/vicarious-atonement

Footnote: Moral Influence Theory of Atonement

This approach understands that Yeshua’s life and death brought about a massive and positive change to humanity. This moral change comes through the teachings of Yeshua alongside his example and actions.

Within this theory the death of Yeshua is understood as a catalyst to reform society, inspiring men and women to follow his example and live good moral lives of love.

This theory focuses on Yeshua’s entire life, not just his death. The Moral Influence theory emphasizes Yeshua Ha Mashiach as our teacher, our example, and our leader.

What Narrative Is This All A Part of?

The latest Torah Portion commentary from Rabbi Sacks introduces a fascinating re-take on a very familiar biblical story, that points to a very significant perspective on our world today.

I recommend reading it: https://www.aish.com/tp/i/sacks/What-Is-Going-On.html

In it is this quote: “Richard Rumelt: “A great deal of strategy work is trying to figure out what is going on. Not just deciding what to do, but the more fundamental problem of comprehending the situation.”
Narrative plays a major role in making good decisions in an uncertain world. We need to ask: of what story is this a part?”

Consider the world we live in today, with the Corona Virus Plandemic and how the MSM has loved to use this virus to spread fear, dis-information and Statism. Or how they have painted the recent news from the USA of the anarchists, looters, rioters and murderers of innocent business owners and citizens trying to protect their communities and properties as all being justified, peaceful and necessary activists. When we view this, it is hard to know how to react, and even harder to know the full truth if all we have easy access to is the distorted Leftist ‘truth’ of the MSM, Hollywood and Academic (Dinesh D’Sousa’s book  ‘The Big Lie’ should be mandatory reading for anyone wishing to be better informed on how distorted the narrative that we are presented with really is).

Caleb and Joshua were able to see the beauty and potential in the land of ‘milk and honey’. They were able to look past the challenges, avoid the fear the seemed to cloud the judgement of the other 10 ‘princes’ of their tribes, and instead see what Yehovah wanted them to see. They viewed the Land of Israel and the future promised to them with optimism and great anticipation, just as Yehovah intended. We need to do the same!

So how do we look past these filters and see the big picture, and see what real story this is all a part of, a story of redemption and hope, a story of ultimate victory over darkness.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness …” 
– Martin Luther King

To the atheist and agnostic seeingwhat story is this a part’’ of, seeing the big picture is not really possible, because the big picture requires a faith and knowledge of the Creator of the Universe, Yehovah and His plans for us in these days of the final full revelation of His Master Plan.

There are a number of voices that really do appear to have something of a handle on the day to day detail of the Master Plan. People like Rabbi Mendel Kessin (https://tikkunmedardus.ch/donald-trump-and-the-coming-of-messiah/#H55) seem to have a reasonable grasp of some of the finer details.

But ultimately, we need to trust. 

There are a great many reasons why we should trust Yehovah, such that when faced with a confusing and seriously conflicted world we can continue to walk in righteousness and obedience to Him knowing that He really is in ultimate charge and that we will come out the other side of these times of growing evil and delusion and step into His World of great light when the Great Day finally dawns.

See blog posts: Our Ultimate Fate and Faith and Things Not Seen – Hebrews 11:1

But I would also suggest we are called to do more. We are called to stand up and be counted, to speak out against the false narrative that may start with the MSM, Hollywood and Academia, but has now spread to a great many sadly mis-informed everyday people that we live amongst.

We need to share the voice of truth in our own communities: https://globaltruthinternational.com/2017/03/12/raised-for-a-time-such-as-this-the-example-of-hadassah/

Part of sharing Truth, is being ‘truth’, being righteous.

Perhaps you could ask yourself: 
“Will my life be a sanctification of God , or a desecration? Will my life further enhance the good reputation of God, or will my choices today bring dishonour on Him and further denigrate the reputation of good standing of the Almighty in the eyes of the world?”

What does it mean to be God’s Witness?

Loneliness: A Path Towards Intimacy With Yehovah

In this week’s Torah Portion we read of Moses’ despair and loneliness:

He asked the Lord, “Why have you brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You that You put the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? … I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how You are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me—if I have found favour in Your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin.” (Numbers 11:11-15)

This may have been the lowest point in Moses’ life. After all he had gone through, he felt the people had rejected his leadership and just brought great grief on him.

Yehovah’s response was apparently not one of sympathy, nor did he agree to Moses’ request to kill him. Instead Yehovah tells him to appoint seventy elders who would share the burden of leadership.

It would seem fair to infer from this response that Moses was as least in part feeling very much alone in his role and leadership. He had come to a place where his faith, his deep intimacy with HaShem had lead to great loneliness and while he clearly knew HaShem was with him, it appears he had a serious lack of companionship in his role.

Moses is not the only person in Tanakh who felt so alone that he prayed to die.

So did Elijah when Jezebel issued a warrant for his arrest and death after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:4).

So did Jeremiah when the people repeatedly failed to heed his warnings (Jer. 20:14-18).

So did Jonah when God forgave the people of Nineveh, seemingly making nonsense of his warning that in forty days the city would be destroyed (Jon. 4:1-3).

All these prophets felt alone and unheard. They carried a heavy burden of solitude. Which should lead us to recognize a similar narrative is reflected in the life of the greatest prophet, Yeshua.

Yeshua was a man and prophet who also spent a lot of time alone and in communion with Yehovah. Yet he also appointed his ‘elders’; his 12 apostles to share the burden with. There is no doubt Yeshua saw much in these 12 men of faith, yet they struggled to see the world as he did; to sense the despair that he did; and grief for his people and planet as he did.

Yeshua wept with great despair over Yerusalem, the apple of God’s eye, the place of the Holy Hill of Zion, and the Temple of Yehovah.

 Luke 19: 
“40 But he answered them, “I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones will shout!”
41 When Yeshua had come closer and could see the city, he wept over it, 
42 saying, “If you only knew today what is needed for shalom! But for now it is hidden from your sight.”

Yeshua clearly had great insight, even if he was not directly given foresight from Yehovah, he could see what the natural consequence of the current situation was.

Not only did Yeshua spend much of his earthly life before his crucifixion aware of how far humanity, for the most part, was from Yehovah, he knew what it meant to share everything and sacrifice everything for others. He had said before his life was offered and taken, that no greater love hath a man than to lay his life down for a friend.

What love, what faith, what strength! he displayed in willingly walking into Jerusalem and to being ‘poured out as a libation on the Holy Hill’ (Ps 2:6) (http://circumcisedheart.info/Christian%20site/Psalm%202%20verse%206%20commentary.pdf).

King David was clearly another great man of faith who spent much time feeling alone in his leadership as well. The Psalms share much on this:

I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping
and drench my couch with tears.”
(Ps. 6:6)

“How long, Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1-2)

“Out of the depths I cry to You, Lord …” (Ps. 130:1)

Which naturally leads us to this Psalm:

“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me so far from my cries of anguish?” (Ps. 22:2)

And to Yeshua quoting this in what was most likely his greatest moment of despair: “At three, he uttered a loud cry, “Elohi! Elohi! L’mah sh’vaktani?” (which means, “My God! My God! Why have you deserted me?”)”  Mark 15:34; Matt 27:46. CJB

The loneliness of all these great prophets brought them into an unparalleled closeness to Yehovah.

Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, the dome of the sky speaks the work of his hands.  Every day it utters speech, every night it reveals knowledge. Without speech, without a word, without their voices being heard, their line goes out through all the earth and their words to the end of the world….”

A place of solitude can help us see the truth and the glory of God as described in Psalm 19.

A place of solitude, yes even a place of loneliness, can be a place where there is little to distract us, little to muffle the still small voice of Yehovah reaching out to us with His free gift more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey.

And where there is solitude, and silence, we are able to better listen and hear the words of our God. The very words that created this Universe.

So remember when you feel alone, especially when you feel your world is ignoring the Creator of the Universe, the God of Israel. The God of Mercy, Grace and yes Justice, remember that many great people of faith have walked this road before you and that it may well have helped them to develop a deeper relationship with God.

“Plumbing the depths, they reached the heights. They met God in the silence of the soul and felt themselves embraced. … It is when we feel most alone that we discover that we are not alone, “for You are with me.” –  Rabbi Sacks

“Even if I pass through death-dark ravines, I will fear no disaster; for you are with me; your rod and staff reassure me.” – Psalm 23:4

And remember that Yeshua, even in accepting that his closest companions would desert him in his hour of need still acknowledged that God was with him:

“Yeshua answered, “Now you do believe. But a time is coming — indeed it has come already — when you will be scattered, each one looking out for himself; and you will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone; because the Father is with me.” – John 16:31-33 CJB

And the secret to never being separated from the Father?

“…. The Father has not left me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” – John 8:29  NKJV

The Authority of the Book, Not the Text:

Some thoughts on Biblical interpretation.

While I have read a number of books on the Dead Sea Scrolls[1] (DSS), as well as many other books that refer to them in varying detail, there is an interesting question and perspective that I have only just come across and considered.

I will share some thoughts and a little relevant evidence here and I look forward to some discussion and feedback on these thoughts and perspective.

During the time of the Qumran Yachad[2] (approximately 250 BCE up to 50 CE) there were Biblical books that they clearly considered authoritative, and in some sense canonical, but what also appears apparent is that the Qumran Yachad were happy to use many different textual versions and adaptations of these biblical ‘books’.

“Many of these authoritative texts were present in very different textual forms (short, long, revised, reworked, abstracted, versions) and even in very different editions. This proves, as Ulrich emphasized, that what was considered authoritative was the book itself, not the concrete textual form of the book, since all these forms and editions were kept harmoniously together in the same library and, to judge from the interpretations, were used indiscriminately.”- see ‘RETHINKING THE BIBLE: SIXTY YEARS OF DEAD SEA SCROLLS RESEARCH AND BEYOND’ by Florentino Garcia Martinez[3].

Before considering this any further, it may be worth setting a little more context. From my reading and research I support Frank Moore Cross’s argument that there are really three distinct major groups of Biblical texts, namely the ‘Palestinian’ group (mostly from Qumran), the Egyptian group (LXX, Greek versions of Samuel; Kings, a short Hebrew version of Jeremiah, etc) and the ‘Babylonian’ group. It is the Babylonian group that appears to have been the work of Hillel and his son and disciples.

It is the ‘Babylonian’ group (or proto-Masoretic Text) that was canonized sometime between the 2 revolts of 70 and 135 CE and became the preeminent version within Judaism and Christianity. For a little more on this see my article ‘Some Similarities Between the Qumran Manuscripts (DSS) and the New Testament’ at https://globaltruthinternational.com/2018/07/08/some-similarities-between-the-qumran-manuscripts-dss-and-the-new-testament/

Professor Martinez explains this Qumran difference here:
 “A well-known example (4Q175) will clarify my point. This manuscript, known as 4QTestimonia, is a single sheet of leather, written by the same copyist who penned 1QS and 4QSamuelc and using the same convention as other Scrolls of replacing the Tetragrammaton with four dots. It contains a collection of four quotations without further commentary or explanation, though each quotation is clearly marked, both by three blank spaces and by marginal marks after each quote. The first quotation (in lines 1–8) is taken from Exod 20:18b according to the Samaritan tradition, a text which here brings together Deut 5:28–29 and Deut 18:18–19 of the masoretic Bible and announces the coming of a prophet like Moses, which was used by the Samaritans to foster the expectation of the coming of the Taheb, and which is used here to express the belief in the coming of the eschatological Prophet.

The second quote (in lines 9–13) is taken from Num 24:15–17 in a textual form similar to the one preserved in the Masoretic Text, but with several differences—not only orthographical but substantial—both with regard to the masoretic and to the Samaritan traditions, such as the

use of ויקום instead of וקם , inserted above the line. This second quotation interprets the oracle of Balaam on the Scepter and the Star as referring to the coming of a future messianic figure.

The third quote (in lines 14–20) is taken from Deut 33:8–11 and also included some variants from the Masoretic Text, applying the blessing of Levi to the expected priestly messiah.

The fourth quote (in lines 21–30) is taken from a composition that was totally unknown until it was discovered in two Qumran manuscripts (4Q378–379), published under the name of 4QApocryphon of Joshua, a composition that is a narrative reworking of the biblical book of Joshua, interspersed with prayers and discourses, most of them pronounced by Joshua, like the curse of Jericho, quoted from Josh 6:26.”

– ‘RETHINKING THE BIBLE: SIXTY YEARS OF DEAD SEA SCROLLS RESEARCH AND BEYOND’ Page 23.

So here is evidence that the Qumran Yachad not only accepted various versions of their authoritative ‘books’ (now canonised in the Tanakh), but also they accepted as authoritative other texts no longer accepted in the canon of the Hebrew Bible today.  And this contrasts quite noticeably with the fact that the Biblical manuscripts from the other Dead Sea Scroll collections (like Masada and Murabba‘at) are very much in agreement with the texts which we know from the medieval manuscripts (i.e. Masoretic Text) of the Bible.

So, it poses an interesting question. Was the use of various textual forms and versions of the biblical books valid and in conformity with a Torah-centric interpretation of the text and life itself? Surely, we ourselves today tend to make use of many different translations and versions to suit our own purposes, even if only to help our understanding and communication of the Scriptures?

As I have discussed in my book ‘The New Testament: The Hebrew Behind the Greek’, the interpretative method of applying certain passages from the Torah and Prophets in particular to present realities, as per the Qumran’s ‘Pesher Habukkuk’, is also quite common in the New Testament, especially in the Apostle Paul’s epistles.

In this different? Were the Qumran Yachad really any different to us in their desire to see the biblical texts as very much relevant to their time and place, not only in answering the questions of how best to live a righteous life, but also in trying to better anticipate and hope for a brighter future when the Coming Age, the Olam HaBah would fully dawn?

January 2020


[1] Books on the DSS:

In my opinion the very best is Prof Gary Rendsburg’s ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls’.

Others I have read include,  ‘Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls’ edited by Herschel Shanks; ‘The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English’ translated by Geza Vermes; ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible’ by Martin Abegg Jr, Peter Flint and Eugene Ulrich; ‘The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography’ by John J. Collins and ‘From the Dead Sea Scrolls: The Books of Wisdom of Sirach, Tobit, and Epistle of Jeremiah’  by Robert Bagley III.

[2] The Qumran Yachad (community) were most likely Essenes but this is not definitive.

[3] Prof. F. García Martínez, Professor of Religion and Literature of Early Judaism and Director of the Qumran Institute, University of Groningen, Netherlands.

Theodicy: Why do bad things happen to good people?

One of the hardest questions for monotheistic theologians is the question of the presence of evil. That is, if God is just, why do bad things happen to good people?

I think there are even harder questions here though as well.

For one, the existence of the greatest evil on the planet, that seems to be more and more clearly indefensible, and yet seems to grow greater every year (at least here in Australia) in terms of its prevalence, and astonishing support.

That evil, is the evil of abortion. To anyone with any reasonable depth of morality and intellect and ability to deeply study the question of abortion in a rationale and comprehensive manner cannot possibly come to any other conclusion than that it is wrong, dead wrong, and worse downright disgusting, abhorrent and evil!

So to me another incredibly challenging question is how come this great blot on humanity, this evil that makes our time in the history of man the most evil since the time of Noah, has not been severely reduced, it not eliminated, by the great efforts of so many moral, caring and concerned lovers of life and defenders of the innocent?

This afternoon, I will join a few thousand marching for life, for our most vulnerable and innocent, the unborn. Yet, I will march, as I always do, with a very heavy heart, because our voice is so small, so weak and ineffective, despite all truth, all evidence, including scientific and anecdotal evidence being very much on our side.

Now, some may quote Proverbs 21:31 at me: “The horse is prepared against the day of battle; But victory is of Yehovah”.

Yes, it is true that we are called to be involved and take up the challenge, but also accept that it is God who determines how and when the victory will occur and it will surely occur, but it has taken too long. Despite our efforts, for the most part we have gone backwards!

Yes, perhaps we can take some solace in knowing that the great heroes of faith faced many of the same questions and challenges in their lives.

 Abraham for example pleaded, “Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?”, when from his perspective, he too thought that justice was missing, the God was not acting.

Moses too cried: “Why have you done evil to this people?“, as did Jeremiah: “Lord, you are always right when I dispute with You. Yet I must plead my case before You: Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy? (Jer. 12:1).

So this question, this challenge and argument is not new, yet to me it seems of greater validity than ever!

Yes, there are some answers. For example, we read in Psalm 92:

“7 … that though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed. …
and it goes on:
“12-15 …The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of Yehovah,  they will flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they will still bear fruit; healthy and green they will remain, to proclaim, “The LORD is upright; He is my rock, and in Him there is no unrighteousness.”

Evil wins in the short term but never in the long. The wicked are like grass, the righteous like a tree. Grass grows overnight but it takes years for a tree to reach its full height. In the long run, tyrannies are defeated. Empires decline and fall. Goodness and rightness win the final battle. As Martin Luther King said in the spirit of the Psalm: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But, the more complete answer as I see it still lacks something. That answer is that justice ultimately exists in the world to come, in life after death.

It is clear that many die without seeing and receiving justice; from the hundreds of millions on unborn killed before the altar of immorality, ignorance and convenience; to many unfairly treated and cut-down in so many ways through wars, political and social upheavals, and even unresolved tribal and family disputes.

So we who believe that our God is a God of Justice and Mercy, need to believe that Justice will be served in the hereafter, on the Great Day of Judgment.

But this can feel empty and unsatisfying, and it is also not the central focus of the Bible. The Bible calls us to engage in ‘tikkun haOlam’, that is in fighting to repair the world now, regardless of the truth that we will fail!

We are to build … the world with grace’ (Psalms 89:2).

It is in the here and now that we must work for justice, fairness, compassion, decency, the alleviation of poverty, and the perfection, as far as lies within our power, of society and our individual lives.

So how can we heed this call, when we only see failure (in this life)? Perhaps a part of the answer is to take the attitude that if bad things have happened, let us blame no one but ourselves, and let us labour to make them better.

Taking this attitude, accepting our part in the world, and our call to be in the world, ‘repairing the world’, then maybe we can emerge from our pain, our despair, our tragedies, and though perhaps shaken, scarred, and limping like Ya’acov after his encounter with the angel, we can find the resolve to try again, to rededicate ourselves to our mission and faith, to ascribe our achievements to God and our defeats to ourselves.

So, I will once again march, and I will try not to feel so heavy-hearted as I reflect on how evil our world is. Instead I will cry, ‘Blessed be the Name of the Lord …’! Baruch HaShem!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that …” – Martin Luther King

The Rational Bible

I have just started Dennis Prager’s ‘The Rational Bible: Genesis’

I had already read his ‘The Rational Bible: Exodus which I think is the best commentary on Exodus that I have ever read, and I have read quite a few.

The title of these books on the 5 Books of the Torah is based on Prager’s contention that reason alone is sufficient to believe in the God of Israel, the God of the Bible.

Prager states that: 

“Exodus contains the Ten Commandments, the most important moral code in world history.” My theological mentor Frank Selch always argued that the Ten Commandments were the Moral Code of the Universe.

More than anything He (Yehovah, the God of Israel & Creator of the Universe) wants from us moral behaviour.

He follows this up with the statement that if the Torah wants its readers to know one thing, it is that

“God’s essence is goodness.”

Prager cites Exodus 33:18, when Moses asks God to “let me behold Your Presence. God responds, I will make all My goodness pass before you.”

Prager continues:

“That God chooses to define Himself as good constitutes one of the most important statements in the entire Bible,” and he adds the idea that may not sit well among many believers and non-believers alike. “God does not say, ‘I will make my love pass before you.’

In fact, the expression, ‘God is love,’ is not to be found in the Hebrew Bible.”

Prager has taken to writing these commentaries on the 5 Books of Moses, the Torah because he argues that the West has lost the great wisdom and message of truth and morality found in the Bible.

Prager:

“The lack of wisdom—certainly in America and the rest of the West—is directly related to the decline in biblical literacy. … In the American past, virtually every home, no matter how poor, owned a Bible. It was the primary vehicle by which parents passed wisdom on to their children.”

Prager:  

“My realization is the most important book in American history has become an unimportant book, and for most Americans. And this is a major tragedy for the country.”

Prager contends that the Bible remains profoundly relevant—both to the great issues of our day and to each individual life. It is the greatest moral guide and source of wisdom ever written.

Do you doubt the existence of God because you think believing in God is irrational?

Prager’s books will give you many reasons to rethink your doubts.

Do you think faith and science are in conflict? You won’t after reading this commentary on Genesis.

Do you come from a dysfunctional family? It may comfort you to know that every family discussed in Genesis was highly dysfunctional!

To repeat the reader of Prager’s books on the Torah is never asked to accept anything on faith alone. In Dennis Prager’s words,

“If something I write is not rational, I have not done my job.”

I think this is a great argument. This is also how I see my faith. My faith is based on reason. As a trained Physicist I have confidence in logic and reason; as a teacher of teenagers I see daily the need to have sound, well-researched and articulated reasons with which to defend my faith in a God who cares and calls us into right relationship with him.

Prager also has an interesting theory behind the shocking rise of secularism and socialism in Western society.

He argues that it began in the 19th century:

“Why did it begin? In large measure, to get a Ph.D. in the late 19th century, you had to go to Germany. The Germans had already established socialism and secularism as the intellectual ideals. So they were shipping over Americans with Ph.D.s who believed in socialism and secularism. And the college, even then when few people attended, is very influential on the societal thinking. And that’s where I believe it began.

But I also hold a lot of religious people responsible.

They forgot how to make the case for religion, and it just became faith alone, which is lovely faith, but it’s not enough. God gave us reason, let’s use it.”

I strongly recommend these books:

The Rational Bible: Genesis https://www.amazon.com/Rational-Bible-Genesis-Dennis-Prager/dp/1621578984/>

The Rational Bible: Exodus  https://www.amazon.com/Rational-Bible-Exodus-Dennis-Prager-ebook/dp/B075Y3X51R/

Save a man; save a world. Destroy a man; destroy a world

Some years ago I wrote a blog post on this week’s Torah Portion. It started with:

“One of the rarest of people are those who learn to fully and totally repent, especially where this has involved a reversal of character.

If you are a strong, independent and very capable individual it is perhaps even harder to recognize your error, to recognize when you have wronged someone (and hence, in a sense, the Almighty, because all are made in His image). Sometimes we even need some serious help – see for example the story of King David in 2 Samuel 12.

Implicit in the whole Bible is the idea that one man’s sin however small, affects the entire word, however imperceptibly.

On the bigger scale we have the famous Jewish saying, based on the story of Cain and Abel and the ‘blood’ being plural in Hebrew (‘the bloods of your brother cry out from the ground’), that states that: Save a man; save a world. Destroy a man; destroy a world

This also lead to the Jewish appreciation that a wise man must give his wisdom to the community in the same way a man blessed with wealth/riches should also do so. Put simply, it is a sin not to serve – all have talents; all are called to use those talents to help repair or better the world (Tikkun HaOlam).” – from https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/12/21/the-rarity-of-repentance/

500_F_69574324_wQMmLoUOh8s6JyMp6BarOZoh53PV1N3nWe see the Apostle Paul reflecting the argument that we all have talents to share in his famous 1 Corinthians 12 & 13 proclamation.

But what of wealth and wisdom?

Who is wealthy? Surely it’s relative in terms of the community the ‘wealthy’ person is part of, and even then there are degrees of wealth.

Who is wise?

Again, wisdom is relative and comes through the application of knowledge over time – all people as they age have time, but not all devote it to gaining knowledge and applying that knowledge and hence gaining much wisdom.

What about humility is considering your talents?

The humble person is he/she who walks faithfully before God, aware of both his frailty before his Maker, but also the great gift of life, of humanity, of the power to love, to create, to grow and experience joy that has been bestowed on all of us.

Perhaps part of the challenge for all who seek to be involved in Tikkun haOlam is to both act and use the gifts bestowed whether wisdom or wealth or whatever, but also through humility, to recognize the limits of these gifts and not overstep the mark.

As someone who has many years of seeking knowledge and trying to act wisely with it, I am also very much aware that my wisdom is still limited, especially given the vastness and complexity of the Creator and His Creation.

I was reminded of this when reading an article about Isaac Newton’s theological studies and again seeing the famous quote he made to himself as his life was drawing to its close, that he seemed only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, ‘and diverting myself’, he said, ‘in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me ’.

ben sirachIntriguingly, despite the world applying this remark to his scientific endeavours, given that the great majority of his time, especially after the age of 24 was spent in studying theology, especially Judaica, it would seem more appropriate to see him reflecting on his studies of the Almighty, the God of Israel in this manner.

As I have often stated to senior students who excel academically that if they wish to find areas to really test their intellectual abilities then my top four for consideration would be the study of Genetics/DNA; Neuro/Cognitive-Science; frontier Physics and greatest of all, Theology!

While the brain is the most complex creation in the Universe, surely the greater intellectual challenge is to study the Creator, not just His Creation?

So I offer through my books, my articles and blog posts and even my videos a little of my wisdom in the hope that I can share in Tikkun haOlam (Repairing the World), or as I shared in the Amazing Grace article  building the world with grace (Psalms 89:2). – http://circumcisedheart.info/Amazing%20Grace.pdf

 

The Humility of a True Champion

When Lee Sodel, the winner of 18 World Championships in the Chinese game of Go, a game played by over 8 million South Koreans alone, walked into the room for his first game with DeepMind’s AlphaGo program (in a best of 5 matchup), he was totally convinced he would win 5-0. gallery-8

When he lost the very first game and was in total shock, at the press conference he honestly admitted and accepted his loss and then paid respect to the team that created AlphaGo.

He stated: ‘I would like to express my respect to the team for creating such an amazing program AlphaGo.’ This is an example of the great humility of a true champion.

And then in the second game when AlphaGo makes a move that no human professional Go player would make (AlphaGo calculated that the likelihood of a human making this move was 1 in 10,000), Lee Sodel considers this shocking move and said that it was ‘creative and beautiful’, and ‘it was a very meaningful move’.

Again, a true champion and a humble human can recognize value even in his most difficult competitor or challenger.

After it was all finished and Lee Sodel had lost 4-1 he spoke very highly of the experience and said he had learned a lot. He stated: “I will make something out of it with the lessons I have learned… it has been an unforgettable experience.”

And this reminds me of the great statement by Tom Watson, the founder of IBM: “To succeed, double your failure rate.”

gallery-9

 

I recommend the movie – https://www.alphagomovie.com/