Shalach (Numbers 13-15)

June 15th, 2014

Join Mark Call for two related, but different looks at this week’s Torah portion, Shalach, from Numbers chapters 13 through 15.  From what is arguably histories “first recorded  vote” (which says much about the consequences when man decides that “democracy can out-vote YHVH”) to tzitzit, there’s a lot to consider in this parsha.

The first recording is the regular Erev Shabbat teaching, from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship, and is again an overview of the entire parsha:
SSM – Shalach teaching

The longer teaching from Shabbat concentrates on some specifics from the parsha, in more detail, and with, as usual, topical references relevant to current events.  In particular, this time, Mark takes a look at the two men who were “out-voted,” their leadership styles, and what they have to teach us as we face similar threats today.

Shalach – Shabbat teaching

Are there parts of Scripture that just don’t matter?

May 16th, 2014

 

Every now and again we run across a Torah portion that just doesn’t seem applicable any more. While most people who have begun the process to “come out of” a church that denies the eternal Truth of His Word – that not one word has been “done away with” so long as heaven and earth abide, and that He does not change – sometimes we still seem to struggle with the relevance of a section that clearly just applies to someone ELSE, and another time.

Parsha “Emor”, from Leviticus chapters 21 through 24 seems to be a prime example. Most of us are not Levites, or priests, and neither the tabernacle nor the temple currently exists. What difference does it make to us, then, why, or particularly how, they were to be “set-apart” (“qadosh,” or “holy”) – “because I AM set apart”?

This author contends that the more tempted we are to ignore something in Scripture, the more we should recognize that there’s a lesson in there, perhaps all the more important because we are NOT paying attention. At the very least, He wrote it down for us for a reason, and it might very well be that the reason it does NOT seem important is precisely because we aren’t learning the lesson.

Leviticus chapter 21 is all about the priests who are the “sons of Aaron.” They are to be “set apart,” and literally live according to a higher standard than people who do not come into the presence of YHVH, and perform His special tasks. They are specifically limited in their choice of wives, must not be maimed, blind, mutilated, or even physically blemished, and are not to be “defiled” in any number of ways – particularly when it comes to contact with death. Why?

I will suggest that at least PART of the answer lies in that last qualifier – although Scripture puts it first. At the end of the discussion (Lev. 22:31), YHVH again states what we SHOULD by now know: “You shall keep My Commandments (“mitzvoti”) and DO them,” followed by His “signature” – “I AM YHVH!” The very next verse reminds us that we are to honor, not profane, His Set-Apart Name. Not so much by worrying about whether or how to pronounce it properly, but recognizing His character as His Word demonstrates, and honoring Him no less than we would a father, Who is also a King.

And a bit more evidence surfaces in the repetition of His appointed times in the chapter which immediately follows: “…these are My appointed seasons!” Note that He never calls them “Jewish feasts,” and they’re certainly not claimed by modern Xtianity, but always uses the first-person specific; “These are MY appointed times,” you are to “keep My moedim”, and it’s “forever,” “throughout your generations,” and in all your dwelling places, too. Yes, by now we should understand that nowhere in Scripture does He EVER change His set-apart times, His Sabbaths, or tell us that they’re no longer applicable. But there seems to be more to it, in THIS context, this time, in this place in Scripture.

Even the repeating patterns of numbers in the dates seem to make the point!

Notice that He starts, this time as in so many other reminders, with His Sabbath, which repeats every seven days, just as He told us was the pattern of His creation. As an exercise, just COUNT how many times in Lev. 23 two specific numbers – 7 and 1 – show up. And how many multiples of seven we see as well!

So much about His set-apart times serve to teach and remind us of His work, His plan, and His instruction…from the completed action of creation and deliverance from bondage, to lessons of forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation. His act of creation “ex nihilo” — from nothing – involved separating light from darkness, and then breathing life into lifelesness. And while He then ‘rested’ on the seventh day of creation, another understanding of that rest might be to appreciate, or to interact with His completed work. It’s all about life, and having it “more abundantly” through Him.

His Sabbaths and appointed times have been described as having been set apart in TIME to meet with us, while the mishkan (tabernacle) and temple were physical SPACES inside this creation set aside to meet with us, even to dwell among us.

Doesn’t it make sense that those who were set apart to be priests for Him, and to enter into those places in both space and in time where YHVH put His Name would need to be as set apart from death as humanly possible as well? No wonder the “higher standard” that Leviticus 22 speaks of would so emphasize separation from everything having to do with death. It’s about LIFE.

What can we learn from these verses in a world which now all too often does the opposite? A world which denies His Name, “chooses that in which He does not delight,” and morbidly worships death?

Ezekiel 44 completes the story. Israel went astray from Yah (verses 10-13) because their priests “ministered unto them before their idols.” Then, as now, it is vital that we are taught, “the difference between the holy and profane, and …discern between the unclean and the clean.

If we believe that it is possible one day to be priests and kings for Him, of the “order of Melchizedek,” isn’t it important that we understand what priests are supposed to teach?

Ultimately, the lesson remains that we are to choose between life and death, and know how to make that choice.

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live…” (Deut. 30:19)

Choose life.

Torah portion “Behar” (Lev. 25)

May 15th, 2014

Join Mark Call for the regular Erev Shabbat Teaching for parsha “Behar”  (Lev. chapter 25)

 

 

The first link below is to the regular Erev Shabbat teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship:

 

SSM Behar 9 May 2014

Mark’s “in-depth” look at both some key aspects of this Torah portion, and the things that apply directly to the things we can see going on around us today can be found in the related teaching on Shabbat:

Talking Torah session – Behar – 10 May 2014

 

Torah portion “Emor” (Lev. 21-24)

May 5th, 2014

Join Mark Call for the regular Erev Shabbat Teaching for parsha “Kedoshim”  (Lev. chapters 19-20)

 

 

The first link below is to the regular Erev Shabbat teaching from Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship:

SSM Emor 2 May 2014

 

 

 

Mark’s “in-depth” look at both some key aspects of this Torah portion, and the things that apply directly to the things we can see going on around us today can be found in the related teaching on Shabbat:

Talking Torah session – Emor  3 May 2014

“Wouldn’t it be loverly?”

April 29th, 2014

 

In the famous Broadway musical, “My Fair Lady,” Professor Henry Higgins teaches the cockney flower girl Eliza Doolitle to “speak proper English,” based on his studies of language and phonetics. The case of the young woman whose inability to speak properly locks her into a lower strata of society is, at least to some extent, a bit similar to the understanding of the Biblical instruction about something called “tzara-as.” Eliza Doolittle eventually learns to speak properly, and is blessed as a result of her efforts. The Bible seems to focus on the case of those who do NOT, and suffer for that failure. And while that Hebrew word is generally mistranslated into English as “leprosy”, the disease now called by that name (aka “Hansen’s Disease”) may not be the same malady outlined in Scripture at all. See Leviticus, or Vayikra, chapters 13 and 14 for the extensive details.

 

The similarity between stories about speech, for good or for evil, is more than “skin-deep”, however. And while I won’t try to demonstrate in this short article all of the reasons why I have finally become convinced that the standard midrashic teaching about “tzara-as” – that it is very much a spiritual problem, once manifested as a physical plague – is valid, a few of the main arguments do help make the point: Tzara-as is directly linked to the problem of gossip, or the “evil tongue,” rendered “lashon hora” in Hebrew.

 

It is often said that speaking lashon hora about someone is the equivalent of “murder by the tongue,” and that the fallout from this particularly pernicious act destroys not ONLY the intended victim who is being spoken about, but also one who speaks it, and all those who listen and perhaps pass it along.

 

And the quantity of ink in the Bible devoted to the use, and abuse, of language, the tongue, and speech is literally awe inspiring. After all, our Creator literally spoke the world into existence, and offers dozens of warnings and examples.

 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” Proverbs 18:21

 

“…I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” (Psalm 39:1)

 

…Your tongue devises destruction,
Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. You love evil more than good,
Lying rather than speaking righteousness. SELAH

You love all devouring words,
You deceitful tongue.” (Psalm 52:2-4)

 

…the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!

…And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

…But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.” (Yakov 3:5-10 – aka “James”)

Perhaps at the top of the list of important things we speak from our lips are vows, the entire subject of Numbers chapter 30. It has been my contention for some time that the biggest issue in marriages today may well be that the world has ignored the lessons taught there. And the situation with public servants, from police and military to elected “public servants” who take an oath before God is perhaps even more malignant. Lies, broken vows, deception coming from the mouth, and gosssip can obviously not only kill individuals, but evidently whole societies as well.

 

Furthermore, the description of the plague which once resulted from the Evil Tongue sounds more than a bit like death as well. The pallor, the rotting skin, and the immediate result – that the perpetrator would be cut off from people, sent outside the camp, and forced to declare “unclean, unclean” to anyone that might try to come near – all speak of the contagion associated with the scourge, and the curses that result.

 

It all sounds quite unpleasant. So much so that people are often inclined to dismiss the whole subject of “leprosy” with the arguably misguided observation that “it doesn’t matter” anymore because ‘modern medicine’ has cured the problem anyway.

 

But the problem is that the plague described in the Bible as tzara-at is NOT really modern leprosy at all. And neither are we in the Land of Promise any more. Is it just possible that the punishment of tzara-as for evil speech – like so many of the other curses, chastenings, and warnings of His Word – is intended for our BLESSING as well? Is it just possible that, being in exile “for cause” as a result of continuing idolatry that we now suffer a different kind of plague, and an even more severe punishment

for the increasingly evil forms of speech which pervade society?

 

The lesson for the “metzora” (one who suffers tzara-as) is ultimately so clear, and so consistent with the other remedies in Scripture. T’shuva; repent from the evil action that got us into this situation. If lashon hora is the cause of that plague, and the only kind of speech permitted to the victim once sent away into exile is to shout “unclean, unclean” to any who come near, the lesson is to “tame the tongue.” Even the resolution of the malady is reminiscent of the terminology of death, albeit in reverse: Following his healing, and cleansing via the process conducted by the priest, the metzora is RE-gathered to his people.

 

Before she learns to speak properly, “My Fair Lady,” Liza Doolittle speaks a bit of lashon hora herself about her strict taskmaster, and ultimately benefactor, Professor Henry Higgins, in a famous song. “Wouldn’t it be loverly?” she opines, if evil were to befall him.

 

When we look at society today, it is not calling evil, “good,” and good, “evil,” that characterizes the common speech, it is the glorification of foul mouths and evil tongues. From TV sitcoms to “gossip shows” the idea of gossip as something to be proud of pervades the culture. It should come as no surprise that it is gossip which literally tears so many churches and communities apart. Perhaps that is a “measure for measure” reward from YHVH, too, for a society and “Church” that teach His Word has been “done away with”, and doesn’t matter any more anyway. As His Instruction so clearly says, those lies, and that Evil Speech, bring curses.

 

As we begin to “come out of her” and separate ourselves from the “unclean things” that bring curses, we must learn to not only “walk the narrow path” that leads to Him, but guard our speech as well. Speak blessings, and not cursings. Honor our contracts, vows, and commitments. We evidently no longer have the “blessing” – even if it amounts to very “tough love” – of looking in the mirror and seeing our external coverings – from houses, to clothes, to the very skin of our bodies – begin to rot off when we are speaking evil. Perhaps, in hindsight, and given what is so clearly coming, it would be easier if the consequences were more obvious, more immediate, and arguably less ultimately fatal.

 

If YHVH has removed this particular type of “chastening” (remember – those He loves, He chastens!) as a result of our repeated rebellion to Him, and our praising of other gods with our lips instead of Him, during this time of exile, we must learn to guard the words of our mouths, and speak blessing or keep silent. If we are to build communities which will be pleasing to Him in the difficult times ahead, and “be counted worthy” to escape the plagues which are coming, we may have to do it without the kind of “direct feedback” that was once given His people.

 

Perhaps we must learn to pray as Job did again. “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred.” (Job 6:24)

 

Tzara-as has appropriately been described as an outward physical manifestation of an inward spiritual wickedness. But we don’t have it any more. “Wouldn’t it be loverly” if we did?

 

Torah portion “Kedoshim” (Lev. 19-20)

April 29th, 2014

Both the weekly Torah teaching from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship and the Talking Torah sessions are now available on-line, for Torah portion “Kedoshim”.

 

SSM (Erev Shabbat) — review of entire portion

Talking Torah session – “Come out of her” – teaching on specifics from the portion, and application to current events

 

Torah portion “Tazria” (Lev. 12-13)

April 3rd, 2014

 

Both the weekly Torah teaching from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa fellowship and the Talking Torah sessions are now available on-line.

 

Erev Shabbat – Tazria teaching

Shabbat teaching – Tazria.  “Lashon hora, and Let’s Talk Conspiracy”

 

The teaching audio is also archived at WayToZion.org.  All of the audios for the year 2014 are here:

http://www.waytozion.org/teachings/mark_call/2014.htm

 

Incredible idolatry, the coming destruction, and what is an “atbash” anyway?

March 5th, 2014

This month’s regular annual Torah portions included the end of the Book of Exodus.  As seems to so often be the case, they proved to be exceedingly apropos to what is going on in the world as well.  Sometimes, however, we might be tempted to skip over a lot of what might appear to be tedious, even repetitive detail, about the construction of the “mishkan”, or tabernacle, by the people of Israel in the wilderness.  Don’t.  And why would that famous story — including one of the most tragic act of rebellions in history — be sandwiched right in the middle of all that?

One possible answer to that question, and, yes, I will submit that it bears DIRECTLY on what is happening in the world again, today, is contained in that level of repetitive detail, and indeed in the very STRUCTURE that our Creator uses to give us His Instruction here.  But to make that clear, a bit of introduction is helpful.

One literary device that the Bible employs more than once is the concept of “bookends,” perhaps sometimes described as nested sets of brackets, almost like some programming languages employ.    In English, you may here the word “chiasm” used, but I think the Hebrew term is most illustrative, because it is called “atbash” — an acronym for the letters “alef – tav – bet – shin”.  Those are the first and last, and the second and second-to-last, letters in the alef-bet, and that explains the nested structure nicely.  It also fits the Torah’s description of the story, from Moses’ ascent of Mt. Sinai into the cloud, to the end of the Book of Exodus.  Observe the pattern:

 

alef ==>        Cloud on Mt. Sinai        (Ex. 24:15-16)

bet ==>  Command to build the Tabernacle  (Ex. 25-26, etc)

==> Keep My Sabbaths  (Ex. 31:13-17, “a sign…forever” )

+++++++++++++++++++++++++      Central event:     Idolatry/Adultery of the Golden Calf

==> Keep My Sabbaths  (Ex. 35:1-3)

shin ==>          Building of the Tabernacle completed

tav ==>               Cloud FILLS the Tabernacle       (Ex. 40:34-38)

The story is “bookended” by the presence of YHVH in cloud – first on Mt. Sinai, where Moses ascends to receive the Tablets, and ending with the end of the Book of Exodus, where the ‘shekina’ Glory of the Most High fills the completed Tabernacle.  On the next obvious level of nesting, we see the clear instructions to build the mishkan, in all of its detail.  In direct correspondence, with a similar level of detail, the final portions of the book describe the completion of that job of creation, and the final inspection by Moses.

But it is the central event framed by atbash, and the prominent inner bracketing, that I want to focus on for this article.

One of the most direct, and obvious metaphors in all of Scripture, employed repeatedly (arguably, because we as humans throughout history have DONE it so repeatedly!) is the idea that idolatry, which in the broadest sense consists of putting ANYTHING ahead of, or in place of, the Most High in our lives, our love, and our worship.  It is literally the equivalent of adultery in a marriage — an ultimate betrayal.  It is the reason why BOTH the Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judean) kingdoms in Biblical history were ultimately sent into exile, and even scattered throughout “every nation, tribe, and people” — and indeed for the most part still are.

And it is the essence of the story of the “golden calf.”  Immediately following the vow of all of the people of Israel at the base of Mt. Sinai to be obedient, (“ALL that YHVH says, we WILL do!“) they rebel to commit an act of adultery.  The “wedding” was put, figuratively, on hiatus, and, but for the intercession of Moses, all of them would have been killed by the Almighty on the spot.

But it is the parallels to today, and the structure and what it says about US, NOW, that I find most compelling:

Even most people in “mainstream Christian” churches, and even in most of those which teach one of the biggest lies in history, that the “old” testament has been replaced by something “new”, and different — in spite of the repeated assurances of Yahushua to the contrary, and the many prophecies and warnings on that score besides — still tend to understand that the incident involving that “golden calf” was somehow really bad.

What is most damning, however, is that modern idolatry is arguably so much worse, were it not for the rejoinder that they “should’ve known better,” since they’d all seen so many miracles first-hand, and even heard His voice directly!  So what did they really do?  The bottom line seems to be that they decided to worship Him just the way the pagans did; the way that they’d come to know from “Egyptian tradition.”    And they simply wanted something PHYSICAL to represent Him, that they could see.  And besides, didn’t Aaron even SAY that it was for YHVH, by Name?  At least they got THAT part right, in contrast to much modern “pagan tradition,” which has long even forgotten that He ever GAVE us His Name.

Doesn’t He “know our hearts?”  Doesn’t He find our traditions “cute”, or even charming?  (Forget, of course, about what He actually SAYS about such things, calling them words like “abomination,” and saying essentially, WHATEVER you do, don’t learn the ways of the pagan, don’t bring their idolatry into your house*, and — for cryin’ out loud! — don’t do to me what you did to those false gods!)

Didn’t He know THEIR hearts, too?  And YHVH didn’t find their decision to worship Him the way THEY thought He OUGHT to appreciate either cute or charming.

“Easter” is named for a false pagan goddess, celebrated during the spring fertility rights, symbolized by bunnies and eggs.  The “cute” tradition of dying eggs comes directly from the wonderful tradition of dying those eggs in the blood of the children sacrificed to Easter/Oestre/Ishtar/Astarte (which may also represent another direct parallel between the pagan sexual orgies associated with both the golden calf and the events associated with the more “modern” symbolism).

It just may be, in other words, that part of the reason much of “Xtianity” is still in exile is because it is still in idolatry.  And lest any of us be tempted to “boast,” or become cocky or remain “stiff-necked” — we need to remember that the commandments against idolatry are many, and so are the ways we can practice them, and the things that we can put in His rightful place.

But there is another aspect to that atbash that still ought to stand out to us strikingly at this point, too!

What does He say no less than TWICE in that structure, immediately before AND immediately after the idolatry of the golden calf?

Keep My Sabbaths!  (Note:  they’re not just ‘the Jewish Sabbaths’, either; YHVH pointedly calls them “My Sabbaths“; Ex. 31:13.)

Perhaps the fact that the commandments which both precede (as if He already knew what was coming) and follow that preeminent act of idolatry both re-iterate the importance of His Sabbath is a statement of how important they are.

We live in an age of idolatry, when much of the world not only ignores His Word, but actively even detests His instruction for us.  The Bible has been removed from public schools.  This month the president of the United States even called an act that YHVH Himself explicitly forbade as “abomination” a “fundamental freedom.” This is more than ironic, given that the true liberties once guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, from freedom of worship, to self-defense, to freedom from spying and illegal searches,  are so clearly ignored by that same lawless government.  It is not at all far-fetched to suggest that things which Elohim calls “evil” are being turned into something approaching sacrament, by “another master” which holds the Creator of the Universe in contempt.  A “jealous god,” indeed!

The atbash structure surrounds the central act of rebellion that mankind continues to repeat in a framework that suggests a literal process for how a PEOPLE can begin the process of “tshuvah”, or return to Him, as a community.  Without question, it involves doing what He says we must do, and that begins with keeping His Sabbaths, the sign of our continued Covenant with YHVH.  Other aspects of the process of rebuilding that relationship present themselves in the text as well…like having willing, wise, and generous hearts, and then being filled with His spirit in order to do the work He has for us to do.

In the end, it’s all about coming together for His purposes, in the way He directs, so that He might dwell among us.  But how can that process even BEGIN until we recognize the idolatry that so permeates the current “Greater Babylonian Metro Area,” to the point that we don’t even keep His “Appointed Times,” much less recognize the pattern?

—————————————–

*  See places like Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:2-4; 30-31; etc.  Including, obviously, the “Ten Commandments.”

Again, kudos to Rabbi David Forhman, of alephbeta.org,  for his insight and introduction to the concept of the “atbash” in this parsha.

Torah portion “Pekudai” – and the current idolatry

March 3rd, 2014

There is a pattern in the last part of the Book of Exodus which is particularly revealing, especially in light of the idolatry prevalent in Amerika today.  And this teaching about the parallels revealed in the story of the construction of the mishkan, or tabernacle, is perhaps one of the most important and revealing that Mark Call has done.

Don’t miss it:

 

Mark Call – Parsha Pekudai teaching –  1 March, 2014

 

The teaching audio is also archived at WayToZion.org.  All of the audios for the year 2014 are here:

http://www.waytozion.org/teachings/mark_call/2014.htm

 

And this parsha is also available at this alternative direct link:

WTZ – Mark Call ‘Pekuda’ – 1 March, 2014

 

Finally, kudos to Rabbi David Forhman, of alephbeta.org,  for his insight and introduction to the concept of the “atbash”.  That “10 minute Parsha” recording is available here, and is quite good:

http://www.aish.com/tp/i/10minuteparsha/A-Giant-Chiasm-In-Sefer-Shmot.html

Latest Torah teaching – Vayakhel

February 25th, 2014

Here is the audio file for Mark Call’s most recent teaching from the Shabbat Shalom Mesa online fellowship — Vayakhel:

href=”http://www.waytozion.org/teachings/mark_call/2014/140222TT-Vayakhel-MC.mp3″ title=”Vayakhel SSM 22 Feb 2014″ target=”_blank”>SSM teaching for 22 February, 2014 – Vayakhel