Weekly Devotional: The Patience to Wait

“Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest” (Psalm 126:5-6 NLT).

Farming in ancient Israel was tough. You cleared your field, then plowed it. You scattered your seed hoping that the rains would come soon. Ancient farmers in the land of Israel depended solely upon the rains from heaven to water their fields.

If the seed lay on the ground more than a week without rain, it would die, and you had to take from the seed you’d carefully set aside for the family’s food to sow it again. Once you sowed and the rains came, you waited. You waited for the harvest.

The life of the ancient Israelite farmer, living in a land on the edge of the Mediterranean and on the edge of the desert, meant rainfall could be problematic. Some years it came, and some years it didn’t. As the farmer wandered through the plowed land of his field, he hoped the rains would come. He prayed the rains would come.

Within the Bible, rain is always a sign of God’s blessing. He provides the rain in its season, particularly when the people obey. This rain allows for crops to grow and people and flocks to have what they need to survive another year.

You have to wonder if these ancient farmers, described by the psalmist as planting “in tears” and crying out to God for rain, prayed the weak prayers we often pray. Or did their recognition of their absolute dependence upon God lead them to cry out to Him in desperation?

Anyone who has been around farming will tell you that even when the seeds receive water to grow, growth is not immediate. It takes time. You have to wait—patiently.

Do we see our existence as dependent upon God the way the ancient farmers in Israel did? Do we cry out to Him for our daily needs in desperation? When He answers, do we have the patience to wait for the harvest? Do we allow ourselves to rejoice when we truly gather the harvest of our cries to God?

We live in a culture that values speed over patience. Everything depends on getting quick and immediate results. In such a fast-paced world, we often lose our ability to wait patiently for the harvest brought about by God.

Our modern advances in technology can often delude us into a sense of self-reliance. We do not see ourselves dependent upon God for our daily provision. But we are. The ancient Israelite farmers can teach us a lot about our faith—if we will pay attention.


Father, our lives are in Your hands. May we never lose sight of our dependence upon You, and our need to wait patiently for the harvest to come. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: The Worst Jew in the Torah

By Mark Gerson

Who is the worst Jew in the Torah? This might seem like the kind of inquiry more appropriate for kids trading sports cards than for those seeking guidance and wisdom from the sacred book of Judaism and the fundamental text of Western civilization, yet it’s an important question. 

One of the most interesting, instructive and useful Jewish teachings derives from a similar question in the Talmud: What is the most important passage in the Torah? This kind of exercise requires a variety of analytical disciplines, all of which help us to enhance our understanding of God’s Word. We must rigorously consider all of the contenders, and thus we have at least a working knowledge of lots of possibilities. We must thoughtfully identify the qualities that we believe earn the designation of best and worst and, as importantly, the emphasis that we place on each quality en route to deciding the winner or loser. And then we must be prepared to defend our choice against critics, who will invariably have informed and intelligent opinions that lead them to different conclusions. 

In contemplating who the worst Jew in the Torah is, many realizations immediately surface.  When thinking about the worst Jew, we invariably consider who the best person might be. And when we think of the great people in the Torah (Abraham, Rebecca, Jacob, Moses, Miriam, and others), we realize just how flawed even the best people are. We also realize that there are Gentiles who would be in anyone’s top 10—certainly Jethro and Caleb, and perhaps King Melchizedek and Joseph’s Pharaoh. The Torah both shows and tells us that the ability to be righteous and beloved by God is available equally to anyone, and the Jewish designation as the chosen people is an obligation and an opportunity rather than a privilege or an inheritance. 

We wouldn’t ask who the worst person in the Torah is because that is so clear—the second Pharaoh who, we learn in Exodus 1:8, “knew nothing about Joseph” and installed a regime of slavery and genocide. And some of the contenders for number two are Gentiles—the kings and the peoples (from King Balak to the Amalekites). But I am a Jew, and the Torah and all subsequent commentary emphasize the moral imperative of self-criticism. As Rabbi Yitz Greenberg said, “I don’t care what denomination you are with—so long as you are ashamed of it.” So, what Jew in the Torah are we most ashamed of? 

There are many contenders. There are the 10 spies who subvert God’s will and deny all of the evidence around them. There are the people who express their ingratitude at being liberated from slavery in Egypt by wishing they could return. There are Joseph’s brothers who try to kill him, and there are the killers whose actions require a city of refuge. In fact, there are so many shameful Jews in our sacred book that a wise person once said that the Torah was obviously either written by God or an anti-Semite. No people would tell its own story this way—except the Jews. 

Still, I believe that there is one clear winner (or, rather, loser): Korach. It is Korach who is the only person in the Torah that God causes to be “swallowed in the earth.” It is Korach whom ancient Jewish teaching accuses of optimizing divisiveness, portraying him as the epitome of someone who engages in an argument not “for the sake of Heaven.” It is Korach about whom the great first-century Rabbi Akiva says, “has no share in the world to come.”  

Although he is universally reviled, Korach actually says very little. We learn at the beginning of Numbers 16 that he “separated himself” or “took himself”—but we are not told from what or to where. We are then told that he puts together a substantial coalition to “gather against Moses and against Aaron.” Korach says, “It is too much for you! For the entire assembly—all of them—are holy and God is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of God?” 

The fact that Korach’s words are few and seemingly positive invites us to ask: What is so bad about criticizing Moses and Aaron for failing to recognize that all the people “are holy”—especially given that the first and most important lesson from God about people is that we are all created in His image? And if we are all created in God’s image (and consequently holy), then wouldn’t it be at least acceptable to argue that Moses should better recognize political equality? 

These are ancient and inevitable questions. We know that challenging authority is not the problem. In Genesis 18, Abraham challenges God when God threatens to destroy the city of Sodom. God changes in accordance with Abraham’s argument. In Exodus 32, Moses challenges God when God decides to destroy the Jewish people and start again with Moses after the sin of the golden calf. Moses tells God that if He wants to do this, to “blot me out of your Torah!” God relents. 

This encouragement of challenging God is not limited to exalted men like Abraham and Moses. In Numbers 9, several nameless men tell Moses that it’s unjust that they do not get to celebrate the Pesach (Passover) holiday merely because they are in a state of ritual impurity. Moses appeals to God—who decrees Pesach Sheni (the second Pesach), which becomes a new holiday and the only do-over in the Torah. In Numbers 27, five young women come to Moses and all of the leaders of Israel and say that their late father, Zelophehad, was not in Korach’s rebellion. They say it is wrong that they, as women, are not able to inherit in the land and that they should be able to live the Zionist dream by preserving their father’s name in the land. Moses, again, appeals to God. God again agrees and changes the laws of inheritance and gender relations in accordance with their argument. In all four cases, God seems happy making the changes. And, of course, it is the delight of a parent who sees just how deeply his child has understood a foundational principle He has spent years trying to instill—even, perhaps especially, if the child demonstrates her internalization of the principle by suggesting that the parent change a practice to comply with it. 

Why, then, does Korach’s argument against Moses send him deep into the ground and into the most ignominious place in the Jewish imagination? The answer is found in the contrast to the aforementioned examples. We know exactly what the nameless men and Zelophehad’s daughters wanted to change. And we know their reason: In both cases, the existing policy subverted the principle it purported to serve. Both the men and the women were arguing that their policy changes would more faithfully serve the principles of the society—and in so doing, strengthen it. And Moses and God, teaching all of us the meaning of humility, listen enthusiastically and change willingly.

But what does Korach want to change? We don’t know. He castigates the whole political system without mentioning any specifics. Korach’s complaint is not political but nihilistic. Politics require a reckoning with the intentional and potential unintended consequences of change, the assessment and calculation of often-tragic tradeoffs, and a thoughtful vision of the better society with a rigorously conceived plan of how to best move people and institutions toward it. Korach, through his blanket demand that the whole system be uprooted without anything approaching a coherent alternative, allows for none of it. As the great architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, “God is in the details.” That is true in politics, relationships, business, architecture, and perhaps all human endeavors—in the Torah, and always. 

The author of the Torah is not done teaching us eternal lessons. We will consider the second great teaching that derives from Korach’s statement in next week’s column—one that defines, perhaps, the essential philosophy of what it means to be a Jew in God’s world.

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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U.S. Congress Gets it Right

By Arlene Bridges Samuels  

Imagine for a moment that the United States Congress fulfills a biblical promise in a tangible way. Lawmakers may not connect their legislative decisions to the Bible, but the Lord moves among them in what I call a “divine covert operation.” It is a fact—based on one of the most recognized Bible verses among Christians. It’s found in Genesis 12:3, where God promises, “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”  

The blessing? In late July, Congress authorized security assistance to Israel—$3.3 billion annually—until 2028. The bipartisan passage of Israel’s security aid package could not have come at a better time.  

Each year, Congress considers approval of Israel’s security aid within the framework of a 10-year agreement called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Although the U.S. has helped Israel since 1948 when it was reestablished into a modern Jewish state, MOUs were codified on a 10-year schedule as a helpful starting point for annual consideration of providing security aid to Israel. First implemented during the Clinton administration, the MOUs have continued to be upheld in the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations.  

Christians are grateful that God has bestowed blessings on our nation from its founding. The arrival of COVID-19 on our shores cannot erase God’s gracious hand upon the U.S. as a beacon of hope to the world. We bless Israel and God blesses us with a two-way street of benefits. One benefit is that Israel can continue as the “innovation nation” to bless the world with its myriad of critical discoveries. Among the thousands of ways these discoveries bless Americans, Israeli technology helps protect our airport security. Secondly, their investments in the U.S. translate into hundreds of thousands of jobs, due in part to 75% of our aid remaining here for American weapons manufacturers. 

Is our security assistance a good investment? Absolutely. U.S. foreign aid represents only 1% of the entire federal budget—and Israel’s portion is just 6% of the 1%. Thus, it’s a bargain when considering our own security. Bound up in advanced weaponry, our aid means that Israel is like an “aircraft carrier” for us in the Middle East. It’s a reliable intelligence source from the only democracy in the region. Israel’s policy is that they “defend themselves by themselves.” They never want American troops on the ground, but our aid is indispensable since Israel faces growing perilous threats. Plus, our aid sends a message to terrorist-supporting Iran that the United States and Israel are united (they call us the “Big Satan” and Israel the “Little Satan”).  

While fighting the coronavirus, Israel must still fight the terror virus. Hatred has exported the terror virus before and since the founding of the modern Jewish state. Golda Meir, Israel’s Prime Minister (1969-1974), is quoted as saying, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us. … Peace will come when an Arab leader is courageous enough to wish it.” 

Imagine that you live in a nation about the size of New Jersey. Of its nearly 9 million inhabitants, 80% are Jewish. On three of your borders, enemies idolize the idea of murdering you and your family. Iran, the world’s most prolific sponsor of terror, funds its terror surrogates: Syria, on the northern border, now hosts tens of thousands of Iranian fighters including the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC); Lebanon, also to Israel’s north, is controlled by Hezbollah with upwards of 200,000 missiles locked and loaded; and Hamas in Gaza on Israel’s southwestern border has fired thousands of rockets into southern Israel’s civilian population.

I’ve stood on the borders for briefings. On the Syrian border, I heard mortars pounding in the distance inside Syria. On the Lebanese border, I met with IDF soldiers in their tanks with Hezbollah’s yellow flags flying a scant 100 feet away. And I’ve stood at the fence separating an Israeli kibbutz just half a block away from the Gaza border. Stepping inside one of many portable bomb shelters for residents under attack, I could visualize their children huddling inside. That is Israel’s security reality. 

Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) released this statement on Monday when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the Knesset: “When the issue is security, we do not rest even for a moment. … We will defend ourselves against anyone who tries to attack us.” Israel cannot rest. The threats are imminent 24/7.

Join CBN Israel in praying for Israel’s safety and security:

  • Pray for the U.S. Congress and the vital role they hold in helping to keep Israel safe. 
  • Pray that strong bipartisan support for Israel will remain, thus yielding blessings, not curses, for both nations.  
  • Pray that all sectors of the Israeli military will have success in pushing back the IRGC in Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. 
  • Pray in thankfulness that Israel has been able to slow down Iran’s nuclear quest through covert and overt operations.  
  • Pray for the many Israelis who suffer with some degree of serious traumatic stress and yet are still able to model a culture of celebration and life. Thank God for their example of endurance.  

Let us again recall the promise in Genesis: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” What a powerful alliance the U.S.-Israeli partnership continues to be. And what a promise it offers for the future!

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit twice. She hosts her devotionals on her website at

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Weekly Devotional: Broken on the Side of the Road

“As He drew near Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the road begging. Hearing a crowd passing by, he inquired what this meant. ‘Jesus the Nazarene is passing by,’ they told him. So he called out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ … Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him. When he drew near, He asked him, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘I want to see!’ ‘Receive your sight!’ Jesus told him” (Luke 18:35-42 HCSB).

Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem for the Passover, where He will be crucified by the Romans. He makes His way with a crowd of pilgrims, which includes His disciples. This traveling crowd found itself in hopeful anticipation that Jesus would inaugurate God’s kingdom immediately.

On the one hand, Jesus makes His way toward the cross, where the axis of history will come crashing down on His shoulders. And, on the other, He’s surrounded by people caught up in His charismatic greatness.

We can imagine Him laser-focused on the Father’s will and ready to face the suffering that awaited Him in Jerusalem. We can also imagine Him caught up in the redemptive expectations of the crowd surrounding Him. Either way, how easy would it have been for Him to completely miss the cry of a blind beggar broken on the side of the road?

That’s how many of us would have responded in a similar situation. Focused upon our task, with nothing distracting us, or caught up in our own press. But not Jesus. He heard the blind man’s call in the midst of the crowd’s enthusiasm and His own steely determination. He heard the cry, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And He stopped.

Jesus was an important man, to both God and men. Yet He stopped. His mission was the most important mission ever given by God to a man. Yet He heard. Jesus never became so enamored with Himself or so task-focused that He lost the ability to see and hear the cry of a person broken on the side of the road.

Would the cross have meant as much if He had walked by, ignoring the blind man’s desperate plea for mercy and healing?

We can find ourselves so caught up in our tasks, even our tasks for God, that we fail to see the broken, poor, and suffering on the side of the road crying for help.

If Jesus could hear the cry, if He was willing to take the time to stop, and if He could bring healing mercy to the blind man, then so can we.


Father, open our eyes to see and our ears to hear the cries of the suffering, broken, and poor in our world, because in their cries, we meet You and can follow Your Son. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: Compelling Case for a “Why Do” List

By Mark Gerson

A married man with a loving family goes on a trip and has an affair that ruins his marriage, damages his kids, and destroys his family. A successful executive buys the stock of a corporation that his company is ready to acquire, is immediately fired, and is then prosecuted for insider trading. A promising young attorney has several drinks at a firm event, drives home, and gets into a devastating car crash.

None of these is good as a story, and Aristotle explains why. A good ending, he says, should be “surprising, yet inevitable.” One can debate whether the aforementioned endings were inevitable. But there is nothing surprising about any of them—or anything else in the stories. This is what should be surprising. Why do people so frequently make catastrophic and obvious mistakes? The Torah, and the Jewish tradition around it, has a lot to say about that question. And the conclusion of this Torah portion (Parsha Shelach, in Numbers 13-15) has a deeply sublime, entirely practical and eternally relevant answer.

The overwhelming event in Parsha Shelach is the Sin of the Spies (or, really, the Sin of the Scouts). Two years into their desert sojourn, God decides that it is time for the Jews to conquer and settle the promised land. The Jews have every reason to do so: They have in the recent past defeated or frightened the key enemies they will have to conquer, their scouts report that the land they have to conquer is magnificent, and they have God on their side. Yet the people, following 10 of the 12 scouts, ignore all of this evidence and refuse to go. God is furious, and the entire generation—except for Joshua and Caleb, who tried to rally the others to go—is prohibited from ever entering the land.

This parsha continues and concludes with a seemingly unrelated directive. God says to Moses, “Speak to the children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzit [ritual fringes] on the corners of their garments, through their generations.”

After the tragic drama of the scouts, why does God command the Jews to wear ritual fringes on their clothes? God, as ever, knew exactly what He was doing. The Talmud tells the story of a young man who pays the outrageous sum of 400 pieces of gold in order to be with a legendary prostitute. He makes the long trip to the prostitute, and she is waiting for him at the top of a seven-story bunk bed. All the beds are made of silver except for the top bed, which is of gold. He gets ready to engage—and then his tzitzit slap him! He stops, explaining to the prostitute that he can’t continue.

What happened? The tzitzit performed the function that the Torah describes for them. Their purpose, God says in Numbers 15:40, is to enable us to “remember and perform all My commands and be holy to your God.”

The tzitzit encourage us to “remember.” Most moral mistakes, like those in the aforementioned stories and in the Sin of the Spies/Scouts, are not the result of an incorrect choice. We know that we should honor our parents, have patience with our children, be fair with our business counterparts, look both ways before crossing the street, and act with appreciation for all that God has given us. Commensurate mistakes are the result of our failing to do what we know is right. Consequently, the great 12th-century sage, Ibn Ezra, says that most of the commandments in the Torah are “essentially reminders.” These include monumental holidays like Passover and Sukkot and practices such as mezuzot (the prayers Jews hang on our doorposts), tzitzit, and many blessings.

Jews and Christians today have adopted this wisdom into their daily lives. In addition to the aforementioned reminders, some Jews put a sticker on their phones that has the words lashon hara, literally meaning “idle speech,” crossed out in order to remind them what every Jew knows: Gossip is a grave sin. Similarly, Christians wear crosses, listen to worship music throughout the day, display ichthys fish symbols, and recite the Lord’s Prayer and other verses from Scripture throughout their homes and offices. Professor Deepak Malhotra has identified the “Sunday effect”—in which Christians are far more likely to give to charity on Sunday than any other day. The Sabbath reminds Christians of the obligation and opportunity of giving, and Sunday is their most generous day.

This practice of “reminders” also applies in contexts that are not expressly religious. If we put a photo of the person we want least to disappoint (a grandmother, a clergyman, a child) on our desk, we will probably be more likely to use our words carefully in business. If we put a photo of our children on our dashboard, we will probably be more likely to drive carefully. If we look at the Surgeon General’s warning (and maybe a photo of a diseased lung), we will probably be less likely to smoke.

Contemporary self-help literature is full of exhortations to create a “to do” list to consult throughout the day. And with good reason—life is so busy and complicated that we need to be reminded of what we have to do. The Torah teaches us that there is another kind of reminder that we need, and for the same general reason. This is a “why do” list—kept not in a notebook that we consult periodically, but in something that looks at us, as we look at it, always.

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Israel and the United States: In it Together

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Seven thousand air miles may separate us, but the United States and Israel are adding another layer of friendship and cooperation to our already robust relationship. As our nations face the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Israeli and American scientists are racing together on a research speedway to track down a cure.   

While fear plagues millions during this unprecedented crisis, the U.S., Israel, and the rest of the world hope for an end to this baffling virus. We in the Christian community occasionally seesaw between fear and faith ourselves. Awaiting a vaccine, we can steady ourselves, our families, friends, and nations with prayer. 

We target our prayers toward Israel in particular. We owe them a debt of profound gratitude. Jewish scribes served as vessels for the legacy of the Scriptures. Our Christian faith was built on the foundation of ancient Judaism. Our historic bond with the Jewish people and the faith of Judaism persists in modern times. This is why so many Christians in the U.S. are deeply devoted to standing with Israel and the Jewish people. 

Recently, the online news magazine ISRAEL21c carried an article mentioning that some Israeli companies have research centers in both Israel and the United States. The Times of Israel reports that a U.S. firm developing a vaccine indicated that Israel could be used as a location for human trials since their COVID-19 infection rate is rising. The CEO of one of 13 Israeli companies researching a variety of cures has stated, “We believe humanity needs a toolbox of different solutions for COVID-19.” Like many Christians, I would not be surprised if Israel discovered the first cure or curb for the virus. It fits into Israel’s established reputation as the “innovation nation.” 

Panic has erupted, however. Thousands of Israelis have been rioting in Tel Aviv. They have been demonstrating near Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence due to their dissatisfaction with his crisis management. While scientists log untold hours in laboratories, angry voices are bouncing off the ancient and modern walls of Israel in hot debate. Last week, Netanyahu urged the demonstrators, “Don’t drag the state into anarchy, violence, and destruction of property. Don’t drag it into attacks on police; they’re doing their job.” 

Peaceful demonstrators are also demanding answers: Will my children return to school? What about my business? I miss synagogue services! Tourism is gone! I was laid off from my job! We need more money! 

Early this week, Israel’s President Rivlin traveled north to Haifa to meet with medical, business, and civic leaders. His remarks are sobering. “The coronavirus is teaching us all a lesson in humility. … Here we are facing a tiny virus that has shut down, to one extent or another, life as we know it.” With Israeli hospitals already at 100% capacity, he added, “The doctors, nurses … and team members are on the front line. I know that even in normal times, you are overworked. … You have borne an extraordinary burden.” 

Israelis’ challenges and their leaders’ comments sound all too familiar. We walk in their shoes, yet with one colossal exception—Israel not only fights the COVID-19 virus; they are also fighting a decades-long terror virus. On three of Israel’s borders—with Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria—COVID-19 has not stopped terrorists from building their vast arsenal of weapons to destroy the Jewish state. The border has been “hot” for months. A firefight broke out Sunday when Hezbollah terrorists crossed into Israel. In southern Israel, civilians are still suffering post-traumatic stress after more than a decade of terror attacks, invasion tunnels, and rockets from Hamas in Gaza.

With challenges on so many fronts, what prayers can we offer for our Israeli friends? 

Here are some very specific ways you can pray for Israel this week:

  • Pray for the nation and people of Israel as they continue to face the serious threat of the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • Pray for Israel’s brilliant researchers and innovators to forge breakthroughs that can provide ways to stem the tide of this pandemic. 
  • Pray that God will enable all branches of the Israeli military to remain vigilant. Ask God to reveal every plot against the Jewish state from terrorists in Gaza, Lebanon, and Iranian troops based in Syria.
  • Pray that the Jewish people will renew their hope and their ancestry, recalling that for centuries God has “redeemed them, summoned them and says, ‘You are mine.’” To this day, God has preserved a Jewish remnant.

Beyond that, we need only open our Bibles to Isaiah 43:1-3 (NLT):

“Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Together, who knows how far the United States, Israel, and the God of all nations can go?

Arlene Bridges Samuels pioneered Christian outreach for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). After she served nine years on AIPAC’s staff, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem USA engaged her as Outreach Director part-time for their project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Arlene is now an author at The Blogs-Times of Israel and has traveled to Israel 25 times. By invitation, she has attended Israel’s Government Press Office Christian Media Summit twice. She hosts her devotionals on her website at

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Weekly Devotional: Complaining to God

“LORD, how long will You forget me? Forever? How long will You hide Your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day? How long will my enemy dominate me? Consider me and answer, LORD my God. Restore brightness to my eyes; otherwise, I will sleep in death. My enemy will say, ‘I have triumphed over him,’ and my foes will rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in Your faithful love; my heart will rejoice in Your deliverance. I will sing to the LORD because He has treated me generously” (Psalm 13:1-6 HCSB).

The Bible is beautiful because it’s real. It’s about real people. Real emotions. Real frustrations.

Too often, we hide behind a forced spirituality that has more to do with the power of positive thinking than the faith of the Bible. We bury our emotions and frustrations because true faith doesn’t have doubts or fears, and it certainly doesn’t get upset with God.

The Bible, however, invites us to be real with God. It encourages our frustrations and our emotions of abandonment, especially abandonment from God. The psalms contain a number of laments, which are both individual and communal.

The lament is simply a complaint to God. A holy complaint. It expresses raw feelings, emotions, and frustrations. Reading the laments in the Bible should teach us how to complain to God—and get real with our emotions before Him and before ourselves.

The lament follows a pattern: (1) address God, (2) describe the complaint, (3) request God’s help, and (4) express trust in God.

The author of Psalm 13 addresses himself to God and openly describes his complaint. He acknowledges feeling ignored by God, that God has hidden Himself from the psalmist. His cares and grief seem never-ending. Those he considers his enemies have come against him. He asks God to be moved to action and come to his aid, lest he be overwhelmed.

He concludes by affirming his trust—despite his feelings and frustrations—in God’s faithfulness. God has been good to him in the past; he expects Him to be the same in the future. Notice, however, the psalm does not end with the resolution of his problems. He simply articulates his trust in God.

Do we allow ourselves to complain before God? Do we give voice to our deep frustrations before Him? Even our disappointments with Him?

The biblical lament never allowed for the person to be overly consumed with his or her feelings. The lamenter always returns to an affirmation of hope and trust in God. We can complain to God, and we could grow in our faith if we genuinely allow it in ourselves and others.

Our communities could become true places of refuge and healing if we allowed such raw, unfiltered expressions of our frustrations and emotions framed within our trust of God, even when He seems hidden.


Father, at times we feel completely cut off from You, like You have forgotten us. Like You have hidden Yourself from us. But our cry stretches out to You, our Father. We trust in You. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: Caleb, Joshua, and the Grasshoppers

By Mark Gerson

As discussed in last week’s column, in Numbers 12 we see God’s anger (directed at Aaron and Miriam) when words are used purposelessly to malign another person. In Numbers 13 and 14, we see a similar anger when the Jewish people commit a mass sin of lashon hara—this time against themselves.

This sin is known as the “Sin of the Spies” or the “Sin of the Scouts.” After two years in the desert, the Jewish people are poised to enter the land that God promised them. For reasons that the text leaves tantalizingly open to interpretation, Moses sends scouts to learn about the land.

But why do the people need to scout out the land that God promised them before entering? Why does God tell Moses to send scouts? Why, if God wants Moses to send scouts, does God tell His prophet to send them “if you please”? And why would Moses let the scouts give their report to the entire nation before briefing him privately?

These are among the important, interesting, and deeply instructive questions posed by the story. Our focus here is on the scouts’ return. They come back from their 40-day mission to the land reporting that while it “flows with milk and honey,” it is occupied by powerful people in fortified cities—including the Canaanites, the Amalekites, and others—who will surely prevent them from fulfilling God’s mission.

Moses does not say anything. He seems to suddenly realize that he made a catastrophic mistake in sending the scouts and letting them give their report without first knowing what they would say. And he must have known that the consequences of this mistake would infuriate God and have devastating consequences. He is stunned into silence.

But one man speaks up—Caleb. We know little, at this point, about Caleb. But what we know is deeply instructive. Caleb is the leader of the tribe of Judah and is the “son of Jephunneh, the Kenizzite.” The Kenizzites were a Gentile people whom Abraham met back in Genesis. Thus, Caleb was a Gentile who attached himself to the Jewish people, willingly tying his destiny to ours.

Caleb, upon hearing this report, “silenced the people toward Moses.” He is succinct in his reply: “We shall surely ascend and conquer it, for we can surely do it.” This statement, made by a Gentile, would become the first declaration of political Zionism.

The ten scouts with a negative report need a commensurate response. And they have one: “We were like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and so we were in their eyes.” These scouts were formally addressing those in their immediate vicinity—and, as the Torah is the great guidebook written “for your benefit” (per Deuteronomy 10:13), they were addressing us, as well. Why did the scouts believe that they couldn’t defeat the people they had just defeated, even with the unambiguous blessing of God? Because of their self-perceptions—as grasshoppers. Having conceived of themselves as “grasshoppers,” it is inevitable and perhaps automatic that their adversaries would, as well.  Caleb, they were saying, is wrong. They couldn’t “surely do it” and in the most real sense were right—in seeing themselves as grasshoppers, they would not be able to do anything remotely challenging.

This self-assessment is not only tragic, it is ironic. The Book of Joshua records the successful Jewish entrance into the land 38 years after the Sin of the Scouts and tells the story of a different group of spies—two people dispatched by Moses’ replacement, Joshua. These spies enter the house of a prostitute, Rahab. The King of Jericho finds out that there are spies in the land and traces them to Rahab’s residence. She hides and protects the spies, then tells the Jews that “a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.” She attributes this fear to the reputation of the Jews—specifically, how God “dried up the water of the Red Sea” when we came out of Egypt and how the Jews “completely destroyed” the kingdoms of Sihon and Og.

The sad irony is that, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, the Jews knew about their reputation long before the Sin of the Scouts! Immediately after the Exodus, the Jews sing the “Song of the Sea,” which recounts how “the peoples have heard; they tremble.” Four peoples, including the Canaanites, are specifically mentioned then as being afraid of the Jews as a result of the Exodus! Moreover, the Jews had defeated the Amalekites with God’s assistance well before the episode with the scouts. However, the Jews’ negative self-conception—and the fear that accompanied it—ensured that we would lose our courage, forget the most fundamental geopolitical and historical facts, and refuse to carry out our divine mission.

What a lesson for us! When we think that we are small and incapable, when we attribute weakness to ourselves and strength to our adversaries, we lose even our basic capabilities en route to making impossible the fulfillment of our most sacred responsibility: to do and to be what God intends for us.  

 Moses and Aaron respond to the grasshopper remark by falling on their faces in front of the entire congregation. Caleb and Joshua—the Gentile and the Jew—act. They tear their garments and address the congregation together. It is as rare in the Torah as it is in our world for people to say (as distinguished from sing) something together. But this was one of the most important moments in the history of the Jewish nation. Joshua and Caleb announce that the land is “very, very good” and that the Jews should “not fear the people of the land, for they are our bread! … God is with us. Do not fear them!”  

 A great speech, beautiful and true—but Caleb and Joshua get pelted with stones. Yet all is not lost. The Jews will enter the land, albeit decades later and without anyone from that generation—except for Caleb and Joshua. And today, we have a flowering emergence—quite possibly world-historic—of Gentile Zionists who love Jews, Judaism and Israel. As the Torah instructs in Deuteronomy 26, may the heirs of Caleb and the heirs of Joshua walk together without fear in all of God’s ways. 

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare (AMH) and the author of a forthcoming book on the Haggadah: The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life.  

Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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COVID-19 Food Distribution in Ramla

Imagine living in a community where poverty is rampant, and you fear for your safety—surrounded by crime, drug dealers, and homicides. For those living in Ramla, a city of Jewish and Arab residents, with its roots going back to the 7th century, this is a daily reality.

Sadly, the population is very poor, and unemployment is high. Because of Ramla’s cheap housing, it has become a first stop in Israel for immigrants, who are unfamiliar with the area or where to find help. There are also many aging Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans—living a lonely, fragile existence. Their fixed incomes often force them to live week to week.

Suddenly, adding to this city’s turmoil, the COVID-19 health crisis intensified the needs and suffering. With widespread layoffs and strict lockdowns, how could these people survive?

Thankfully, friends like you were there for them through CBN Israel’s outreaches—with a major citywide distribution of food, medicine, and other basic necessities. We provided aid to hundreds of needy families, including many who lost their jobs with businesses closed. We also delivered groceries and medicine to Holocaust survivors and other seniors, quarantined as high-risk citizens, who had no one to bring them essentials at the peak of the pandemic.

During this global health crisis and beyond, your support is urgently needed in the Holy Land. Your generous gift can provide for vulnerable people year-round throughout Israel, with groceries, housing, blankets, and other basics. Your compassionate support can be a blessing to so many—thank you for giving to CBN Israel today!

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I’m a Chassidic Jew, and I Will Not Apologize

By Rabbi Levi Welton

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, it’s time for all minorities to stand up and demand equal treatment, civil rights, and cultural liberty. This includes Native Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, Muslim Americans, and even Chassidic Americans. Actually, especially Chassidic Americans.

Chassidic Americans in New York (and Orthodox Jews in general) are under attack, with more than half of New York City hate crimes in recent years targeting Jews. These attacks are not sui generis (or “unique”) in nature. With our distinctive black-and-white attire and visible religious head coverings, the Orthodox make an easy target for physical violence and societal prejudice. As Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, social media editor at, puts it, Chassidim—and Ultra-Orthodox Jews in general—“are described as all things except for the one thing we are the most: human beings trying to make it in this town like everyone else.”

But we’re not treated like everyone else. On the contrary, we’re marginalized, vilified, caricatured, and scapegoated. We’re blamed for the outbreak of plagues, like COVID-19 or the measles. We’re objectified and used, non-consensually, for salacious entertainment in a prejudiced plethora of fictitious films like “Unorthodox” and “Holy Rollers.” We’re castigated as illiterate, barbaric outsiders and forced by the media to wear the label of “Ultra-Orthodox,” effectively dehumanizing us as obstinate extremists. We’re even targeted by our very own public officials, like Mayor de Blasio and the New York State Education Department.

All this fans the flames of the “us vs. them” mentality that endangers minority groups like mine. In this regard, implicit bias is a pandemic that swiftly spreads through the bloodstreams of our communities and institutions, unchecked and devastatingly destructive.

I believe these flames of insidious bigotry must be quenched with the soothing waters of public education. Furthermore, that educational training must begin with an evisceration of the social pressure to culturally assimilate. The viral and vile judgmentalism against my brethren obscures the healthy multiculturalism our proud republic was founded upon.

My ancestors, who immigrated to this country pre-Revolution and died fighting to abolish slavery during the Civil War, believed that all their fellow Americans were endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights and liberties. They believed it so much that they fought for it and paid the ultimate price. I believe that it is only due to the sacrifices of the giants of our past, upon whose mighty shoulders we now stand, that the evolution of our democracy can continue to march forward.

And that begins with one salient step: Stop making me feel that I have to apologize for being a Chassidic Jew. I won’t apologize for being who I am. And I won’t tolerate being maligned as ethnographically “insulated” or otherwise “Othered” from the diverse tapestry of American society. My “Ultra-Orthodox” brethren patriotically (and accurately) refer to our nation as a Medina Shel Chessed—a “Country of Kindness”—and for one simple reason: Here we are armed with the freedom to be who we are and to believe what we believe.

For centuries, my ancestors lived under regimes where adherents of the Jewish religion were told what jobs they were allowed to have, which Shtetl they were allowed to live in, and when they were allowed to fight back against the rampant riots of anti-Semitism. And those were the good days.

Today, more than half of the global Jewish population has ended up in the United States because the First Amendment protects our right to freely observe the First Commandment. And it is gratitude for our nation’s values that inspired Irving Berlin, an American Jew, to pen those words during World War I that are now chanted by everyone from sports heroes to politicians: “God bless America.”

I’m an unapologetic Chassidic-American because I believe it is specifically my Chassidic heritage that makes me more American. After all, who is living the American dream of freedom and liberty more: the overtly visible Jew who wears his minority status like a badge of honor or the assimilated Jew who desperately tries to fit in with the Anglo-Saxon, Brady Bunch subliminal expectations of the 1950s? And no, I’m not bashing “white America.” What I’m saying is that America is great because this is the land where liberty rings free in a thousand sounds of individuality.

Black Americans. White Americans. Muslim Americans. Chassidic Americans. America is neither a homogenous “melting pot” nor a heterogenous “salad bowl” of peoples, but rather a cholent (traditional Jewish Sabbath stew) that incorporates distinct cultures fused together by our common pride and fealty to our nation.

This is why it is our responsibility to fight that “Black Lives Matter,” “Native American Lives Matter,” “Jewish Lives Matter,” “Muslim Lives Matter,” “Evangelical Lives Matter,” “Latter-day Saints Lives Matter,” “Hispanic/Latino Lives Matter,” “Asian Lives Matter,” and more. Our individual cultural and historic narratives of prejudice and discrimination each have their own unique, tragic trajectory.

Now is the time for American citizens to rise up against that often-unspoken pressure to fit in to someone else’s monochromatic version of America.

Now is the time for us to be a shining beacon of hope to the world and show that we can have different states of mind and even different states of reference but still be truly united.

As the great first-century sage Hillel taught in the Talmud, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? And if not now, when?”

Rabbi Levi Welton is a pulpit Rabbi, U.S. Air Force Chaplain, and writer who lives in New York City with his beloved wife and son.


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