Take Comfort in the Promises of God
In Parashat Vayetze, in Genesis 28:14 and 15, God made the following promises to Jacob as He did to Isaac and Abraham before him.
You shall be as the dust of the earth.
You shall be spread abroad to the west, east, north, and south.
In you and your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
I am with you.
I will keep you wherever you go.
I will bring you back to the land.
I will not leave you.
I will accomplish everything I told you.
Such words can bring comfort and hope to our souls. They are God’s promises to us. But do they? We may say that believe in God, but most of us don’t trust what He says. If anyone, other than God, would promise these things to me, I would certainly have reason to doubt them. How many of us are always able to keep our promises? I think that the problem stems from the fact that most of us believe that we humans are like gods and we compare our behavior with His.
Another promise that the Creator made to Israel is in Deut. 28. “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments that I command you today, (I believe that here He is speaking here about the Ten Commandments) the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth, and all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you (and He repeats) if you obey the voice of the LORD your God…and it continues that He would bless us in every area of our lives.
God’s promise was that through one nation all the nations, all the families of the earth would be blessed. A blessing involves being in a relationship where one blesses the other. “If you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God” is a principle in the Torah. Noah heard God tell him to build an ark. He obeyed and his family was saved from the flood. Our God didn’t ask him to do that because he was a dictator. He loves His creation and He asks us to do or not do certain things because He wants to protect us like a loving parent, so what is it in us that refuses to faithfully obey our Creator? His commandments are very practical even if we don’t always understand His reasons. He’s not asking us to be perfect, just to do our best every day and when we fail (and we will), to go to Him, to acknowledge what we have done, and to make it right. That’s a message of love and loyalty that the Torah brings to all humanity.
When we choose to disobey any law, for example, we run a red light and both parties suffer the consequences, can we blame the people who installed the red light? Isn’t this what we are doing with God? The Torah teaches us about midah keneged midah, measure for measure, or as some say Jewish karma. The story of Jacob shows us that after he deceived his brother Esau and his father Isaac, he was then deceived by his father-in-law Lavan. He fell in love at first sight with Rachel, the younger sister, and worked seven years for her, but when the time came to have her, Lavan gave Jacob his first-born Leah who later, after she had given birth to Simeon her second son said, “because the LORD heard that I was hated”,שְׂנוּאָה אָנֹכִי (snuah – seen, nun, aleph). This same word – “hated” is in the Second Commandment where it says, …He visits the sins of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Meלְשֹׂנְאָי (lisnai – same root). Hate is a very strong word. When we hate someone, we reject everything about them. We can believe that God exists, but still “hate” or reject His teachings, and then we turn around and blame Him for everything bad that happens to us.
Jacob’s mother Rivkah convinced him to deceive his father so that he could get the blessing of the firstborn, even after she received the prophecy from God about the future of her twin sons. Not only did she lose Jacob when he was forced to flee to Haran, she died without ever seeing him again. There are consequences when we manipulate others, (including God) or allow others to manipulate us. The end does not justify the means. Let’s always be aware of the principle of “midah keneged midah, measure for measure” and work hard to do as Yeshua taught us, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” That entails intention, patience, and endurance, but the promise that God is always with us makes it possible.
Another story from this parashah is about Rachel who stole the idols from her father and refused to return them. Jacob didn’t know what she had done when he swore the oath to Lavan, “With whomever you will find your gods, he will not live.” Rachel died as she was giving birth to Benjamin on their return to Jacob’s homeland.
These stories in the Torah are not random but are there to warn us that the same thing can and I believe is happening to us today. It is so important to be brutally honest with ourselves when it comes to examining and ridding ourselves of all the idols to which we have become attached. In our haftarah portion in Hoshea 13 and 14, God was warning Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, what would happen to Israel when they became prosperous and forgot their God. Can we admit to ourselves that we are still worshipping the golden calf?
The Torah presents stories from which we must learn if we want these horrors around us today to stop.
This week our haftarah portion comes from Hoshea, known to some as the Prophet of Doom. No one chooses to be a prophet of doom, but there comes a time when we must speak truth to power. Here is what he said in chapter 4: ( verses 1 and 2; 6 and 7) “1. Hear the Word of the LORD, children of Israel! For the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land because there is no truth, no mercy, no knowledge of God in the land. 2. There is swearing, lying, murder, theft, and committing adultery; they break all boundaries, and blood leads to blood. 6. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I will also reject you, so that you shall not be a cohen to Me; seeing that you have forgotten the Torah of your God, I also will forget your children. 7. The more they were increased, the more they sinned against Me so, I will change their glory into shame.”
Who wants to hear this? We prefer to hear only good news, news of God’s blessings upon us, but we are told over and over in the Torah that we have been given a choice; we have free will with which to choose life or death, but God asks us to choose life. Moreover, we are His Chosen People and we are called to a higher standard…that includes those who have chosen to be with us.
We have been given the option of blessings or curses, berachot o k’lallot. No one likes to have to make tough decisions so we usually allow others to make them for us, people who don’t care about us; they care only about themselves. How many of us relish taking responsibility for our lives? And so we choose people to rule over us who have few or no morals at all and then we complain when we don’t like how they rule.
Our prophet Jeremiah wept as he witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem after God had commanded him to warn the people that if they did not turn back to Him, the city would be destroyed, and they would be carried away captive. Would Jeremiah not be weeping for Israel today? We are at war…once again. This is not new for us. We have been at war since we left Egypt 4000 years ago when God formed the first IDF. He knew that we would need an army to defend ourselves and it began with Amalek who murdered the weakest among us for the sheer love of it. Sound familiar? The spirit of Amalek is still here.
I have heard one resounding message after the horrors of the Holocaust and after the monstrous behavior of the terrorists on October 7th… where is God in all this? Any who knows the Torah can only ask, “Where are we?”
When I read that the name of Hoshea’s father was Be’eri and that the people of Kibbutz Be’eri were just massacred without mercy on October 7th, I wondered… “Is God trying to get our attention?” Hear me, I am not saying that innocent babies deserve to die. What I am saying is that we are all responsible. The woke consciousness of earth’s societies right now is bringing more darkness into this world than light and God, who is light, must be true to His nature. Let each of us examine ourselves. Are we bringing light or darkness into the world through our thoughts and behavior? Are we living the principles of the Torah? We have thrown the Ten Commandments out of our courts, out of our homes, and out of our schools and then we shout why is God doing this to us. The result is high levels of anxiety, fear, corruption, love of evil, violence and so much more.
I am so passionate about this because I have experienced first-hand the consequences of chasing after false gods. I stood staring at the sun until I burnt holes in the back of my eyes; I held out my arms on the beach like Shirley Maclean crying out, “I am god”. I spent years experiencing the failure of the promises that so many religions and ideologies make… to the point of becoming so ill that I almost lost my life and destroyed my family. If I can change the direction of even a few people, perhaps my tough experiences will have served a purpose. I am still making restitution for my poor choices to this very day, but I had an epiphany from God and now know that I have finally found something that I can hold onto, that stands the test of time, and that I can trust to help me find the answers for all that was wrong in my life and for all that is wrong in the world. Today I can say that I am indeed blessed, like Jacob was, but these blessings come at a cost. Jacob had to go through many humbling experiences and he had to work hard for everything he attained. So do we. It is not easy believism.
Thankfully Jeremiah and Hoshea both end on a positive note, as the Torah does. We read here in Bereshit 28:15, “… for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”
What hope there is in that statement! Our story has a glorious ending and we don’t end up on Mars. Just read our Hebrew prophets.
Although this journey through life can be so difficult and at times, feels like boot camp, we can trust that God will never leave us nor forsake us. Instead of hating God and blaming Him for everything wrong with the world, let’s stop to take a look at ourselves. Let’s ask ourselves, is my life adding to the light, to goodness, to loving my neighbor as I love myself? These bring joy and purpose. Or am I adding to the darkness by choosing to hate, to not forgive, to hold a grudge, to manipulate, and to disobey His moral code of ethics, the Ten Commandments? From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that we can trust God when He says, “I will not leave you, nor forsake you” and “Do not be afraid, for I am with you”. That knowledge is the greatest blessing of all …especially when I am afraid.