13 Shevat 5783
Is there are Manual for our lives?
Listen to the Recorded message: https://youtu.be/-h6ifo-ps9E
This was a particularly difficult week for me. Not necessarily because of personal issues. I am so grateful to God for my life. I am so blessed but I am watching what is going on in the world. This week a woman here in Quebec aborted a baby almost at term, 32 weeks. Another woman begged her to have the baby and she would adopt it. She still refused. Then We wonder why the earth is going through such turmoil. We blame it on the environment, fossil fuel but we are the problem. That’s why the Torah is so important.
Over 40 years ago, I went to see the movie Platoon. For those who never heard of it, it’s a graphic picture of the war in Vietnam. The sheer horror and devastation made me weep and as I stood outside the theatre, I thrust my arms up into the air and cried out: If there’s anyone up there who can hear me: “Please Use me” to help heal this world. At that time, I was deeply involved in the New Age and knew nothing about our God. There would be other days in the future, when I would raise my arms to the heavens begging to be heard and today as I look back, I know that that cry “Use me” was heard. I believe that every human being has a calling…whether seemingly insignificant or very great. Whether we respond to it or not, is up to us. We have free will.
There is no better teacher than the personal experiences that life brings. No can deny that. We can only learn so much from reading. I remember a story that our Rabbi of blessed memory told us. He was brilliant, taught thermodynamics at the age of 22, had two master’s degrees in engineering and when he graduated, he went to work at a beer factory. The guys who worked on the floor brought “the Masters of Engineering” a real engine to repair. He looked at it and thought, “ It looks nothing like the pictures in the book” and didn’t know where to begin. All the men burst into laughter and finally helped him out. This was a lesson in humility. Hands on is the best way to learn nevertheless, we do need the manual. So, is there a manual for how to live our lives? Some say that there isn’t any. But if there is a Creator, who like any great architect, He would have prepared His design in writing. He would want to show us how to continue, hands on, to build upon His design, in this case – a good life for us right here. That’s His gift to us.
He called it the Torah. The three major religions, Rabbinic Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all stem from it – not vice versa, though they may disagree. They all have their books filled with their doctrines, dogmas, opinions and interpretations. Other’s also drew their wisdom from it…I wouldn’t be surprised if, Confucius who lived between 551–479 BCE, read the Bible. I’ve read truth and wisdom in his words. However, there is a fourth branch for us to consider – “Biblical Judaism” which does not teach a religion, it is about relationship. It understands that the words of the Torah are to be taken for what they say rather than what other so-called experts tell us it says, most importantly, “Do not add or take away from His Word”. As we read the Five Books, written by Moses, even in our native tongue, we soon begin to see a beautiful mosaic being woven, a pattern that craftsmen would need, to create their design. The Words were read or told to us by Kings, Priests (Cohanim), Prophets, Army Officers, and simple people. They were heard by millions of people at Mt. Sinai when the mountain burned and trembled because it was far too insufficient to hold God’s Light, His Ruach, Spirit, His Kvod, Glory. We heard His voice but… we didn’t want to hear it then and most don’t want to hear it now.
BUT WE NEED TO HEAR IT AND WE NEED TO HEAR IT SOON because it holds the secret to solve every problem that is going on in the world today.
There have been many men, leaders, dictators, in their day who were warned to turn away from their gods and turn to the one Creator. Men like Pharaoh who didn’t want to hear. Because of his stubborn pride, the initial Ten Plagues destroyed all of his Egypt except for his army which was completely destroyed at the parting of the Sea of Reeds. You would think that Pharaoh would get it when he saw the pillar of fire holding his army back as the Hebrews crossed between two walls of water. This miracle cannot be explained as a simple act of nature although God does use natural things to display His powerful works; but this was a miracle of timing and the control of nature as a sign to all humanity.
We might also think that God’s people, the Israelites would be awestruck forever thinking about the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night that led them on their journey. It was, however, very short-lived.
In Parashat Beshalach, the people complained of thirst several times and each time they received water; they complained about hunger and were provided with meat and in Hebrew “man” (manna). Each time the next trial arose, they forgot God’s provision and doubted Him again. But isn’t that how we are. We are awestruck in the moment when we see God working in our lives in such a visible way. And then in the next moment, when are faced with another problem, we complain, we doubt…is He really there?
Two nights this week I just couldn’t get to sleep. I was overwhelmed with concern about somethings I needed to do. When that happens, I get up and write. That helps me to clear my head and reason with myself and God about what is going on. The following day I received two calls from people who helped me directly with what I was struggling. We may read about how God intervenes time and again for the Hebrews as they were running toward freedom, but it’s harder to realize that He is still doing the same thing for us. Both of these people humbled me and reminded me that God is right here with me. He is in control and I thought, “Do I really leave Room for God in my life” or do I think that there are things that I have to do alone. When we are immersed in the details of what we have to handle, we can forget that we have a Partner, with a capital P.
The Torah speaks of this in Ex 14:8, it says, “And the LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the children of Israel; for the children of Israel went out בְּיָד רָמָה, b’yad ramah‘with a “high hand’”. Yad ramah is an idiomatic expression referring to acting as if you have the power to accomplish things by yourself. The Torah sets down principles for us. When we get too proud or even too afraid to ask for help, thinking that we can or have to do things by ourselves, we can be attacked by whatever form that enemy takes. It can be a physical enemy as we have seen so often in our history, but it can also be emotions like doubt, fear, insecurity where we are ready to give up. That’s when we are humbled and when we cry out for Him.
There are so many battles that are raging in the world right now, in every area of our lives and one of these has to do with our health. Ex 15:25 -26 the Torah addresses exactly that: “ There (at Marah where they complained and didn’t trust God) He made them a statute and an ordinance חֹק וּמִשְׁפָּט, and there He tested them; He said: ‘If you will diligently listen (obey) the voice of the LORD your God, and will do what is right in His eyes, and will give ear to His commandments לְמִצְוֺתָיו, and keep all His statutes חֻקָּיו, I will put none of the diseases on you, which I have put upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD who heals you.” This idea is repeated in the Proverbs 3:6: “Do not be wise in your own eyes, fear God and turn from evil; this way will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” The entire Tanach confirms what the Torah teaches.
Do we realize that doubting the least little thing about our God, can lead us to doubt everything? Our walk here on earth is like the walk of the Hebrews from the time they left Egypt through their 40 years in the desert…learning to turn emunah (faith) into bitachon (trust). Chapter 14:31 says “And Israel saw the great work which the LORD did to the Egyptians, and the people feared the LORD; and they hadוַיַּאֲמִינוּ faith in the LORD, and in His servant Moses”. What did Ranebi tell us, as well as Rav. Shaul? Faith is a gift from God so that we have nothing to boast about. In Chapter 14:15 – 16 after Moses reassures the people to not be afraid, we read “15 And the LORD said to Moses: ‘Why are you crying to Me? speak to the children of Israel, to go forward. 6 And lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea, and divide it; and the children of Israel shall go into the midst of the sea on dry ground.” It is the action we take, in response to the challenge we face, when we need to draw from that gift of faith to take the next step; that requires an act of the will. When we see the results, in this case, the Sea of Reeds parting, our faith is turned into bitachon, trust, when we step in and cross over on dry ground.
Walking with our Creator is the greatest challenge anyone can have. We will be tested over and over. Religious leaders and politicians may promise us a hunky- dory life, as our Ranebi used to say, but that’s not the truth.
The Good News is that the Torah gives us many signs to show us that GOD is with us – “Im-anu-El”. Its heroes are human beings with frailties and failures; they are not today’s superstars who people love to idolize; they are not righteous as our sages have led us to believe, they are like you and me. We struggle, we are afraid, we have insecurities but we have the Creator of the universe on our side!
I know that our Rabbi used to say that he seems that he was repeating this message over and over and again because although it’s a simple message, it’s just not easy to do. The Torah basically repeats God’s principles over and over because like children they need to be drummed into our heads. But as we surrender little by little, our lives begin change for the better. I remember learning that once we are saved, we are a new creature; old things have passed away and we are now new. That is simply false. It’s not a one-shot deal. The process from leaving Egypt to reaching the Promised Land took 40 years and that was just the beginning.
When I said BUT WE NEED TO HEAR IT AND WE NEED TO HEAR IT SOON – what do we need to hear?
I recently heard an Israeli say that Israel does not have a constitution. That is furthest thing from the Truth. Our Constitution, written by the Finger of God, was handed to Moses on Mount Sinai – His Ten Commandments.
We build upon our faith (emunah) when we apply them like mathematical equations, and take the action needed to solve the problems in our lives. That’s how we build trust in the One who helps us bear the heavy burdens that we think we have to carry alone.
Let’s memorize them, let’s learn to apply them, let’s teach them to our children, and read them these wonderful stories in our Torah. There’s a saying that it takes a community to raise a child; it also takes a community for us to grow in.