7 Elul 5776  פרשת שֹׁפְטִים, ז” אלול, תשע”ו

In this portion a beautiful picture unfolds as Moshe speaks to the second generation of those who left Egypt on the way to the Promised Land.  The only two people from that first generation to enter the land were Joshua and Caleb.  Joshua was a Hebrew from the tribe of Ephraim and Caleb was a Gentile, a Kenizite.  It was Caleb who had been absorbed into the tribe of Judah and now represented this tribe as its representative; a very strong picture of the universality of the Torah.  It was not given to only to the Jewish nation; in fact we were to give it to all the nations so that we could all live in peace instead of constantly fighting with each other.  The Torah teaches respect. Respect begins at home. We cannot give respect to others until we learn to respect ourselves.  The Torah teaches freedom which includes responsibility. 

In the Haftarah portion, the prophet Isaiah tells us that one day Israel will return and settle in the land bringing peace to the entire world. When Israel is in peace, the world is in peace; when Israel is at war, there is war all over the world. We can see this today. People need to learn mutual respect. The Ten Commandments were given to us as the foundation for all our constitutions and to guide our behavior. Racism, bigotry and hatred have no place in God’s Kingdom.  These Ten speak of reverence toward our Creator, toward ourselves and finally to our neighbors. My rights end where your rights begin.  There are religions that are very evangelistic in which they believe that they have the right to convert others to their beliefs.  I respect any religion but I reject the desire of their people to push it on me.  I have the right to decide for myself.  Most religions love censorship out of fear that thinking outside their group might contaminate their followers.  We have the right to examine, look at everything and decide for ourselves what we want to believe.

This community is comprised of people from so many nations in the world.  Isaiah wrote, “My house is called a house of prayer for all the nations” (56:7b). When we keep it for one group of people we give the wrong message.  In this portion we are given the idea of four functions of the Messiah.  It begins with Shoftim-the judges; the second is the king followed by the prophet and finally the priest. Each has a relationship to the others. Here as I said, Moshe giving his instructions to both the Jews and Gentiles who are getting ready to enter the land. This group was not “pure laine” but was a mixed multitude. It is not about race but it is a calling. When He calls, be ready to do what He is calling you to do.

This nation was called to be a nation of priests, holy bringing the idea that we are separated for a purpose not better than anyone else. A Cohen or priest comes from the word link and was the one who would link the people with the Creator. When we simplify the Scriptures we see the Creator for who He is not, not what man makes Him out to be.

The Creator is the one who defines us and not we who define the Creator but most of us base our understanding of Him through the teaching of our theologians. They are very smart, capable people but their points of view are made to supersede the Word of God.  We need to always return to the basics.  This is what this portion is about…coming back to basics.

There is a verse in this portion “tsedek tsedek, tirdof” (Deut. 16:20), justice, justice you must pursue. The judges were specifically chosen to be men of honor; they could not accept bribes or judge by appearance; if it was too difficult they had to go to the cohanim or leviim. The Torah doesn’t distinguish between the spiritual and the earthly; there is no separation of “church and state”. Those who were to render justice were called “elohim” which could mean lords, like in “house of lords” and they represented the Creator.  They needed to be righteous men.  A crooked judge gave the Creator a bad name. 

The king was a man who would lead his people in the civil life and the prophet was the man chosen to warn the people when they went off track in how they lived.  Both king and prophet were guides for their people. 

In Deuteronomy 18:15, it is written: “From among yourselves, from among your own brothers, the LORD your God will raise up a prophet like me; you will listen to him.” Many say that this announces the Mashiach. There is an emphasis here that a prophet would come from the people of Israel, not from any other country.  If you hear about a prophet coming from another place, know that this is not the prophet that Moshe was speaking about. Another way to recognize him is the prophet will be “like me”.  Was Moshe Rabeinu divine or a god?  Some tried to make him out to be a god later as see in the writing of Artapanus.  We may reject truth because of years of brainwashing.

How often do I say “Yeshua said this or that”?  When I do that I want to make a distinction between Yeshua and Jesus Christ. They are not at all the same people.  Moshe said this prophet is like me, very human born from mother and father.  We Jewish people have been constantly harassed to believe in their gods. It is impossible for us as a nation to go to foreign gods because the Torah teaches us that there is only one God.  Shema Israel means listen, hear, obey Israel, there is only one God and there is no god beside me.  When people tell you about another god, listen to them and then return to the Scriptures and examine it for yourself.  The first commandment says, I am the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.  If someone says that their god didn’t do that, you already know theirs is a different god. People use fear to get you to believe like them. How many times have I been told I am going to hell in the love of their god?  This is radical thinking!

This portion is teaching us not to be fanatic but to look for justice, not to accept bribes but to seek justice at all times. We need to think on our own and not to be forced to believe like others. Our Creator speaks to us Himself. Our God speaks to each of us. No one is more elevated than others. Each of us has virtue because we are made in His image and gives us the pattern here so that we can have a special relationship with Him and with each other.  We are to help each other, do good for others and to look for justice not go after false gods.

All the characteristics of these four positions are not limited to the judge, king, priest and prophet but we are all called to do them.  We don’t have a relationship with the Creator through someone else because He made us and we are important to Him. I am not a number.  When we think that my way is the only way we try to get rid of anyone who thinks differently. If we need to defend our God, what kind of God is He?  He must be small indeed to have to be defended by a mere human.

Our God is so merciful. With all that is being done in His name it is amazing that He hasn’t come and destroyed us all.  It is so important to have a right relationship with Him.  You need to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with others. You can’t tell others to believe in a God that you yourself do not believe in. You cannot ask others to do something that you are not doing. You would be surprised at how many religious people do just that.  Our Messiah Yeshua had a special role. Moshe announced it. He would bring us back to the Torah. 

When Moshe was chosen by the Creator, he was told to take the people to Mount Sinai to worship Him. It was there that He gave humanity the greatest gift of all time — the Ten Commandments. The specifications came later but the basic Ten give us all the instruction we need. We were formed as a nation to be light to the world so that we can all enjoy His principles.

Did Yeshua accomplish what he came to do?  Absolutely!  He brought the people back to the Torah and made it universal. Now all the nations know about the Torah whether or not they follow it.  

 There are many people who are good to those outside their homes but at home they bring only unhappiness. We need to start at home. If you cannot be a light at home don’t bother to do it outside. You are only fooling yourself. 

The Torah was given from above for all. He talks to us, calls us, makes us His and all we need to do is to respond.  It teaches that the reason we exist is to serve others not ourselves. Let us pursue justice as our Messiah Yeshua did.