Can We Turn Hate to Love?
When I was in High School, what I loved most about Algebra and Geometry were the formulas. I kept a record of every new formula and it was like a game where I could plug in the specifications to find the correct answer. Believe it or not, that’s how I see the Torah. Our rabbi taught us that it’s not a religious book, rather it’s a book filled with morals and principles to be applied to any situation in our lives; to help us deal with them. Some of them are to be taken literally while others are simply allegories. Their value is in showing us how our ancestors, beginning with Adam and Eve, handled their dilemmas. We can choose to learn from their mistakes so that we don’t repeat them. That’s how we become wise. When we read these stories it’s important to think about the period in which they were written and to whom they were addressed. Although the customs of that day have changed, their principles remain timeless.
For example, in Vayera in Genesis 18:19, here is what our Bore Olam said about Abram: “For I have known him so that he will command his children and his household after him to keep the way of YHVH to do what is tzedek u’mishpat, righteous and just, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He promised him.”
Wow, here is a basic formula that can solve every ailment that plagues this planet. Let’s break it down. It begins with: “כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו Ki yida’ativ – For I have known him”. The word yodeah in Hebrew connotes intimacy. God intimately knew Abraham. He was chosen for a reason. Was it because of his great faith? No, because we know that Abram told Sarah to lie twice, saying he was her brother. Principle: we are not chosen because we are perfect. Noah was chosen; the people of Israel were and still are chosen. You and I are chosen. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Most of us prefer to be left alone, to live as we please; choose somebody else, we say, but the people of Israel do not have that option. We didn’t choose ourselves, and this is not a matter of pride; it’s far from that. It entails a responsibility greater than most of us are willing to bear which is why we run away. When I hear people saying, “I’m proud to be a Jew”, I wonder what it means to them. How can we be proud of something we didn’t choose; in fact, our forefathers were very humble; Pharaoh’s pride broke him and destroyed his nation.
Now let’s continue with the next step for Abraham in this verse… “he will command or instruct his children, and his household after him, to keep דֶּרֶךְ יְהוָה derech (the way) of YHVH by “doing” righteousness and justice לַֽעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט l’aasot tzedek u’mishpat.”
But what could Abram have known about doing righteousness and justice? The Torah was written down much later and he was surrounded by people who were neither righteous nor just. We see this in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot chose to live. However, from the first chapter of Bereshit, we are given the understanding that God breathed His Ruach, placed His Divine spark within mankind giving us a conscience and imbuing us with His characteristics which include righteousness and justice. These are what Abraham was to teach his children and his household after him. Notice it says children, not just Isaac. Here is a pattern for fathers to follow throughout the generations yet how many fathers teach their children about doing righteousness and justice?
Verse 19 ends with “…so that the YHVH may bring upon Abraham what He promised him” … all nations would bless themselves through him”. Wow! What Abraham was promised would be available to every nation on this planet! They too could take an active part in receiving those blessings. How? By just and righteous behaviour and trusting in Abraham’s God.
Genesis 22:17-18 repeats this promise: “…I will bless you, and I will multiply your seed… and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your seed, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because you have obeyed My voice.’” This was after Abraham passed that tremendous test of his faith where God told him to sacrifice his unique son, Isaac. God is showing us that is not because of our faith alone. We all have been given the gift of faith as Rav Shaul reminded us: faith is God’s gift to us so none of us can boast about having it. But Abraham put his faith (emunah) into action by being obedient, turning faith into trust (bitachon). That’s the hard part of the formula.
Obedience is a key element in the Torah, but obedience to Whom and to what is vital. We have been given the right and the honor of asking the Bore Olam, the Creator to help us through every tough situation where we are not trusting Him. I know it’s hard because our God is invisible but although we can’t see Him with the naked eye, He does exist within the ether, within our thoughts, which by the way are also invisible but very real, and He makes Himself known to us in a myriad of ways if we pay attention.
Here is another formula which I gleaned from Bereshit 20: 17, where it says, “And Abraham prayed to God; and God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his maidservants, and they bore children; for the LORD had closed tight all the wombs of the house of Abimelech, because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife”. I won’t go into the whole story, and I do hope that you read it. The key element here is that God opened the wombs of these women as He did with Sarah at age 89 and every other barren woman mentioned in the Tanach. God opens and closes wombs for a purpose. This demonstrates a clear pattern for how God works, and He always stays true to it. When He performs a miracle, He always uses something that He has already created to fulfill it.
This brought to mind another special son born to another mother of Israel during the Roman occupation. If we say that God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, why would we suddenly believe that God would do “a new thing” with Miriam, the mother of Yeshua? Why should we allow a culture replete with Greek and Roman mythology and a foreign religion so unfamiliar with the Torah and our Bore Olam, to dictate to us how our rabbi and anointed prophet, Yeshua, would be born?
Many myths arose about Yeshua’s birth, years after he and all his followers had died. E.g., one such myth came from a church leader named Origen of Alexandria (185-254 CE) who stated that Mary gave birth to Jesus from an affair with Tiberius Panthera, a Roman soldier. This idea was reinforced in the Talmud and ancient Jewish writings where he was named, “Yeshu” ben Panthera. One great example of fake news.
Consider the following scenario about Yeshua’s birth which is far more in line with the Hebrew understanding of that day. I am taking from this an article written by Rabino Iosef Shemi in Argentina in collaboration with our own Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan. The parents of Yeshua, Miriam and Joseph, would have been in their early teens, and according to tradition, were engaged through shidduch, using a matchmaker, a shadchan.
There are two parts of the Jewish marriage ceremony; the first is the Erusim, the Betrothal and the second is the Nissuin, the Wedding. Thus the engaged couple were already considered to be married. This is important. If that’s the case, and we know how teenager’s hormones can be racing, would it be possible that some hanky-panky took place before the wedding and Miriam became pregnant? It certainly happens today.
But what would make this a miraculous birth? Like all the mothers of Israel before her, whose wombs needed to be open; so did hers. The prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 said that “a young woman ( הָעַלְמָה ha almah)would conceive and bear a son”. There are three words in Hebrew which all mean virgin but with different connotations while Greek has only one word to cover all three. The three Hebrew words for virgin are almaעלמה,, betullah נתולה and na’arah נערה. Alma refers to a virgin or young girl before having her period thus making her unable to conceive. Betullah refers to a virgin who has already begun to menstruate, is able to become pregnant, but specifically points to a woman of any age who either hasn’t had sexual relations or whose womb was never opened by childbearing (like Sarah). Na’arah is used to specifically describe a teenager who is still a virgin but has her period and is physically able to become pregnant.
Miriam was an “alma” who hadn’t had her period yet. God opened her womb because He had a special role for Yeshua. Here’s something else to think about. The early church fathers had created their doctrine of the three Persons of the Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three gods in one. One of the Ten Commandments states: “You shall not Commit Adultery.” Logic dictates that if the Person of the Holy Spirit is the one who impregnated Mary, wouldn’t He be causing her to commit adultery? These ideas simply do not line up with the Torah.
Why is this important? Well, Yeshua is a son of Israel. His role was unique as were the roles of his ancestors, Abraham and Moses. He stated his purpose clearly to the people of Israel in Mattityahu 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the Torah written by Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” What was that purpose? He would continue the work of Abraham, Moses and our prophets whose desire it was to bring our people back to the God of the written Torah. Why? So that we could be ohr l’goyim, light to the nations and fulfill this promise by God to Abraham.
Similar to the time of the Roman occupation, corruption is rampant at all levels of society today. Our world is in chaos and very few are like Abraham, who call upon the Name of the LORD and who live with righteousness and justice. This is at the root of what is happening in our world today.
My people are weeping because our families are being murdered by terrorists. We are marching in rallies for Israel, begging for the release of the captives, living in fear and dread as this terror is spreading to the entire world. We are asking ourselves, just a short 77 years after Hitler, how can this happen again? Well, it seems that our nature hasn’t changed much since Cain and Abel… two brothers, Cain was so jealous of Abel that he murdered him.
Israel can and must defend itself; in fact, the name of our army is IDF, Israel Defense Force. The first thing that God did when he formed us as a nation was to form our army, BUT the Ark of the Covenant went ahead of us. We fought with God on our side. God said, it is not by might, not by strength but by my Spirit. God will always be at our side, but a relationship is two ways. As we read in this parashah, the God of Israel wants His people to be like Abraham, wholehearted, obedient and to live righteous and just lives. The Torah teaches us how to do that. God is not asking us to become religious fanatics with rules that choke us. We need to be “known” by Him– an intimate relationship. When we are intimate with someone, we hide nothing from them. We love and are loyal to them.
Let us not provoke our God by continuing to follow false gods, the Egel Zahav, the Golden Calf, mimicking the ways of the nations in which we live, but like Abraham let’s leave these behind and teach our children to live righteous and just lives. Let us return to the Bore Olam. Let’s do what Abraham did and call upon the name of Yud Heh Vav Heh. There is only one race on earth, the human race; we are all related and we are all connected at the spiritual level. There is only one God, for Jew and non-Jew. There is only one Torah, one set of life-giving principles for Jew and non-Jew. The man-made religions of this world form their own gods and their own rules which only serve to lead us away from “Shema Israel, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, The LORD is the only One.”