Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah 48 Shof’tim (Judges): Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17
Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12-53:12
Brit Chadashah: Mattityahu 5:38-42; 18-20; Acts 3:13-26; 7:35-53; 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 1 Tim. 5:17-22; Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 10:28-31
This week’s parashah begins with broad social concerns including the entire process of conquering lands designated by Adonai and setting up a suitable structure for the community/Israeli society versus a tribal system. Justice is a primary motif that runs throughout the teaching this week. Interestingly, the Torah juxtaposes the command to appoint righteous judges with a seemingly unrelated directive ” You shall not plant for yourself… any tree near the altar of HaShem… And you shall not erect for yourselves a pillar, which HaShem, your G-d hates. You shall not slaughter for HaShem, your G-d, and ox or a lamb or a kid-goat in which there is a blemish…” What do these statements have to do with the appointment of righteous judges?
One would think that a beautiful tree growing near the altar would be a nice landscaping touch. However, seeing with spiritual eyes reveals that this is revolting to G-d. How can this be? A tree symbolizes growth. A fatal idolatrous misconception is that G-d “grows” somehow by man’s service. In Judaism, we learn that G-d does not need man’s actions and that nothing we do adds to or subtracts from Him as the Infinite One.
This concept is also illustrated with the 10 Commands. They were engraved on stone because stone does not change or grow. The ark however, with its wooden core symbolizes man. The unchanging Words of G-d on tablets of stone were placed in the Ark, a “heart of man” of sorts. When man places the Torah in his heart, he experiences growth. His spiritual soul expands as his animal soul contracts and he develops like a tree. Conquering the animal soul in us is a daily battle between “Jacob and Esau.” But is a battle we can win with perseverance, prayer, and practice!
Back to the subject of judges. Great leaders have many qualities, but humility is usually not one of them. With rare exceptions, they tend to be ambitious, with a high measure of self-regard. They expect to be obeyed, honoured, respected, even feared. But this is not a description of one who is humble as was Moshe. This makes one provision in our parshah unexpected and powerful. The Torah addresses the issue of Israel asking for a human king so that they may be like the nations. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton). There are specifically three temptations to which kings in ancient and modern times were and are exposed. In the context of ancient times, kings were not to accumulate many horses, wives, or wealth, including more than one home. We know that King Solomon fell to these temptations, even sacrificing to foreign gods. Subsequently, the kingdom of Israel was divided as a punishment from G-d. The Torah adds another requirement that is paramount to the king’s success and for the benefit of the people:
When [the king] is established on his royal throne, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this Torah … It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to be in awe of the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not feel superior to his brethren or turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time in the midst of Israel. (Deut. 17:18-20) Note the section that speaks of neither turning to the right nor the left; consistent with Numbers 21:22 that applies to everyone, including the leader (Moshe).
If a king, whom all are bound to honour, is commanded to be humble – “not feel superior to his brethren” – how much more so the rest of us. Moshe, was “very humble, more so than anyone on the face of the earth” (Num. 12: 3). Was it that he was great because he was humble, or humble because he was great? This is one of the genuine revolutions Judaism brought about in the history of spirituality under G-d’s authority and instructions. The idea that a king in the ancient world should be humble would have seemed farcical. We can still today see, in the ruins and relics of Mesopotamia and Egypt, an almost endless series of vanity projects created by rulers in honour of themselves. Ramses II had four statues of himself and two of Queen Nefertiti placed on the front of the Temple at Abu Simbel. At 33 feet high, they are almost twice the height of Lincoln’s statue in Washington.
Aristotle would not have understood the idea that humility is a virtue. For him the megalopsychos, the great-souled man, was an aristocrat, conscious of his superiority to the mass of humankind. Humility, along with obedience, servitude and self-abasement, was for the lower orders, those who had been born not to rule but to be ruled.
This is a clear example of how spirituality makes a difference to the way we act, feel and think. Believing that there is a G-d in whose presence we stand means that we are not the center of our world, but are created by G-d for His ultimate glory and our ultimate good. Our goal in life should be toward this end, serving and glorifying G-d, the results of which provide a satisfaction and peace not possible through any self-devised goals or actions. Abraham said, “I am dust and ashes.” Moshe said, “Who am I?”. This did not render them servile or sycophantic. It was precisely at the moment Abraham called himself dust and ashes that he challenged G-d on the justice of his proposed punishment of Sodom and the cities of the plain. It was Moses, the humblest of men, who urged G-d to forgive the people, and if not, “Blot me out of the book You have written.” These were among the boldest spirits humanity has ever produced. As the uncle of Lot, Abraham even gave Lot the choice of land as they prepared to separate. Yet, instead of deferring to his uncle, Lot selfishly chose what he thought was the better land and pasture for his flocks.
There is a fundamental difference between two words in Hebrew: anivut, “humility,” and shiflut, “self-abasement.” So different are they that Maimonides defined humility as the middle path between shiflut and pride. Humility is not low self-regard. That is shiflut. Humility means that you are secure enough not to need to be reassured by others. It means that you don’t feel you must prove yourself by showing that you are cleverer, smarter, more gifted or successful than others. You are secure because you live in G-d’s love and you know that He has a specific purpose just for you. He has faith in you even if you do not. You do not need to compare yourself to others. You have your task, they have theirs, and that leads you to co-operate, not compete.
This means that you can see other people and value them for what they are. They are not just a series of mirrors at which you look only to see your own reflection. Secure in yourself you can value others. Confident in your identity you can value the people not like you. Humility is the self- turned outward. It is the understanding that “It’s not about you.”
In contemporary society, we are a disconnected lot; losing the ability to establish real relationships with others, only having pseudo relationships through Facebook and Twitter. This breakdown in human relationships with family, friends, our communities, and the disappearance of solid, fundamental teaching of G-d’s Torah have left us insecure, empty, and open to the influences of secular humanism and ultimately the Adversary. There is no longer traditional support of family and friends with whom we used to have real connections. Instead, we share selfies. Our clothing labels are now plastered on the outside of our garments to let everyone know how special we think we are compared to those who do not have these brands. Look around and you will see our society has been indoctrinated with advertisements and technology that promotes self. As people turn to themselves and strive to achieve a sense of prestige, superiority, and importance, there is no room for G-d. The soul and it’s humble, quiet prompting to seek the Creator is squelched and drowned out by a self-centered animal soul driven ambition. The ancient mystics of Kabbalah knew the dangers of shutting out the Light of the Creator in favor of the darkness of our animal soul. Yahshua alluded to this as He spoke of sharing the Light in the context of a basket. In Matthew 5:14-16 we read: “14You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a basket. Instead they set it on a lampstand and it give light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.…
We do not have to be religious to understand the importance of humility. Humble leaders are open minded and learn from criticism. They are confident enough to empower others and praise their contributions. They take personal risks for the sake of the greater good. They inspire loyalty and strong team spirit. And what applies to leaders applies to each of us as marriage partners, parents, fellow-workers, members of communities and friends. Humility means living by the Light of YHVH/Yahshua who provides His Light to those who remain open to receive and share it. When God is the center of our universe, our reason for living, we need not fear of having His Light blotted out and being left in total darkness. Rather, when we open ourselves to receive His Light and disseminate it for His glory, the Adversary will flee.
Haftarah: Yesha’yahu 51:12-52:12
This is the fourth of the “seven prophecies of comfort” read between the Fast of the ninth of Av and Rosh Hashanah. So very tenderly as a righteous groom who is about to forgive his idolatrous bride, HaShem says, “Anochi, Anochi hu m’nachemchem” (I, I am he who comforts you). Adonai assures us that although Israel was punished greatly for the sin of idolatry, He will redeem her, punish those who led her astray and return His people to Zion. He escorts the exiles, (Adonai will go ahead of you, and the G-d of Israel will also be behind you (Is. 52:12) in a slow methodical processional in sharp contrast to the hasty exodus from Egypt. This haftarah reiterates the truth of a progressive salvation versus an instantaneous, all- inclusive event taught by many Christian clergy. We are also reminded that G-d is not “all love and mercy.” His justice will prevail against those who led Israel astray and against those who choose to follow their own ways and gods. Although G-d’s mercy endures forever, He will return as the conquering King Yahshua with justice and righteousness (Psalm 119:137; Rev. 19:11).
B’rit Chadashah: Matthew 3:1-17
Yochanan proclaims repentance to prepare the way of the L-rd (Mt.3:4, 6). Proclamation begins at Bethany, house of poverty, a village outside of the Land, and east of the Jordan (Jn.1:28). Yochanan calls the people to repentance and holy living. G-d is present, going before and behind His people, as the grand, holy processional moves from exile to Jerusalem (Is. 52:9-12). These are reminiscent of the column of cloud and the column of fire during the Exodus. G-d sends His Son as the suffering servant (Is. 42:1). People arrive from all directions, including Jerusalem (Mt. 3:5, 13). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Yahshua asks Yochanan to immerse him at the Jordan, the entry point into the Land. Yochanan is obedient and immediately the heavens open and the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) descends. A Voice from heaven announces the coming of G-d’s only begotten Son (Mt. 3:17). Contrary to Christian teaching, Yahshua was not sent to abrogate all the instructions and laws of YHVH. Rather, He was sent to show us how to live them as a tangible, living Being for a time. He kept them and taught His disciples and anyone who professes His Name to keep them also. This is the meaning of the verse in Matthew 5:17. If we love Him, we will keep His commands (John chapter 14). The only way to understand what these commands encompass and how we can live them is to diligently and prayerfully study, internalize, and act upon the Word of G-d. Sh’ma Israel! (hear, internalize, act upon) G-d’s Torah. The Laws of G-d were not “nailed to the cross.” YHVH Yahshua is the Law.
Rabbi Tamah Davis
My thanks to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks for some of the information included in this parashah.