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Why God Hates Astrology

By Mark Gerson

Jews and Christians are accustomed to think of God in conjunction with “love.” But the author of the Torah, who taught us to think of God this way, occasionally injects something that is discordant and thus causes us to consider deeply the source of and reason for this discordance. This is when the Torah tells us that God “hates” someone or something—particularly when that person or practice is obviously evil, like a murderer of innocents. 

One of those examples is in Deuteronomy 18, when the Torah tells us that God “hates” the practice and practitioners of “divination,” including “an astrologer, one who reads omens, a sorcerer, an animal charmer…or one who consults the dead.”

There are forbidden practices in the Torah that we confidently say are of little relevance, at least in their literal sense. For instance, the prohibition immediately preceding the one about “diviners” concerns causing one’s “son or daughter to pass through the fire.” That prohibition, thankfully, has worked. But astrology has made up for it. In 2019, Vice magazine reported “We’ve hit peak astrology”—and there is plenty of evidence, from surveys to app downloads, that this is correct. The data is unambiguous that this popularity is universal, from secular millennials to adherents of every traditional religion. Indeed, it seems as though the one commonality among people of the most divergent philosophies is a belief in, and devotion to, astrology and other forms of divination.

Why? Why would people who profess belief in scientific rationalism and/or the sovereignty of an almighty God also rely on palm readers, tarot cards, astrology apps, and fortune tellers? Similarly, why would the belief in the latter be so persistent? It obviously existed in the time of the Torah and subsequently in the ancient world (despite the prohibition within Judaism and Christianity; the common Hebrew expression “Mazel Tov” does not mean “good luck” but “good constellation”) and, per Vice, it is more popular than ever today. The persistence of the belief in divination despite its religious prohibition, ignorance of any scientific principle, and immunity from any rational claim is so astonishing that it must have something profound to teach us. 

I am not sure that I know what it is. Perhaps it is just that the future is a terrifying place. We all know that our lives could be transformed at any instant by disease, natural disaster, man-made catastrophe, the loss of a livelihood, the disappointment in a partner, or the sadness of a child. It could be later today or in many years that we face the ultimate uncertainty.

Of course, the future could also contain plenty of good things. But as animals conditioned by evolution, we are trained to be “loss avoiders”—which means, in the words of psychologist Daniel Kahneman, “The response to losses is stronger than the response to corresponding gains.” Even if the chance of a good event is equal to the chance of a bad event, we will focus on and prepare for (correctly or incorrectly) the bad event. It is no wonder that people are unified around their commitment to anything—even the most prohibited and ridiculous things—that could help them control or at least understand the terror that lies ahead.

So why would God, as we are told in the Torah, “hate” these practices? They are not necessarily opposed to any of the core tenets of ethical monotheism. One could believe, without any contradiction, that God is the ultimate and only sovereign and that He, by exercising His omniscience and omnipotence, dictated the future in our palms and His stars. 

However, there is a significant contradiction, and it is not only logical—it cuts to the very nature of God’s project in the world. God may be omniscient in that He knows everything that we are doing, thinking and feeling, but the God of the Torah gives people—most importantly Abraham and later Moses’ Pharaoh—“tests,” indicating that God does not know what people will do. In fact, the God of the Torah is often surprised—at Jews who worship the Golden Calf, at spies/scouts who produce a negative report of the land, at the daughters of Zelophehad who demand to be able to inherit in the land, and at nameless men who tell Moses that their inability to celebrate Passover just because they were in a state of impurity is unjust. 

In each of these instances, God changes. After the Golden Calf, God fires the firstborn and gives their authority to the Levites (who did not participate in idolatry). After the spies/scouts incident, God delays our entrance into the land by several decades. After hearing from the five daughters of Zelophehad, God changes the laws of inheritance and hence decrees a new system of gender justice. After considering the complaint of the nameless men, God institutes a new holiday, “Pesach Sheni,” which provides those who were impure or “on a faraway journey” the opportunity to celebrate the most important Jewish occasion.

If God changes, how about those created in His image? In an iconic moment in Genesis, Jacob wrestles with an angel—or was it a man? Jacob, after a long struggle, tells his assailant that he will not let him go. The assailant changes Jacob’s name to Israel—from “heel” to “you have struggled with God and men.” And then Jacob lets him go. 

Rabbi David Wolpe reminds us that Jacob says he would not end the encounter without a blessing—but Jacob ends the struggle without receiving a blessing. What happened? Jacob did receive a blessing. In the changing of his name, Jacob receives the seminal human blessing: the ability to transform himself.

This, perhaps, is why God hates all forms of divination. Card readings, astrology, and fortune- telling all share one heresy: They presume that the future is set, and thus that change is impossible. Accordingly, there would be no point in trying to improve oneself or to enact social change. Divination embodies one of the worst philosophies: nihilism.

This would explain what immediately follows God’s condemnation of divination. Moses, channeling God, tells us to pay special attention to prophets. We might regard this as confusing. After all, the Oxford English Dictionary tells us that the word “prophetic” means, “accurately describing or predicting what will happen in the future.” This is completely wrong. The biblical prophets warn us what will happen if we behave—or, more frequently, keep behaving—in a particular way. As with anyone who warns, they want us to change so that their prediction does not come true!    

With God’s help, we can all be prophets by identifying what is good, how we are falling short, calling attention to the consequences of right and wrong, and calling us to change personally and socially en route to a more sacred place. That task is much more difficult than learning the “future” from a palm reader—but it is our highest task, gifted to us by God.

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.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

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Brokered by the U.S. the Abraham Accord Goes Modern

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Ancient history is once again surfacing in modern times. Several generations have passed since the first of a series of world-changing events occurred—when Israel was reestablished as a modern state in 1948. Later, the Israeli-Arab peace treaties of 1979 and 1994—followed by the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem in 2018also marked significant moments in history. Now the Abraham Accord of 2020 takes its place as part of God’s design for the world in His redemptive plan of love, with Israel as His centerpiece. 

The Abraham Accord traces its roots to Father Abraham. He loved both his sons: Ishmael, his first-born, and Isaac, his son of promise. In Genesis 17:20, God assured Abraham that He would not forget Ishmael. “As for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation” (NIV).

God fulfilled promises to both sons. He granted Ishmael vast tracts of land and the promise of becoming the father of the Arab nations. God deeded the Jewish homeland with His engraved commandments and eternal covenants through Isaac and his 12 grandsons. Since Judaism birthed our Christian faith, the Abraham Accord connects three monotheistic faiths. While Christians use the name “Abraham,” for Muslims he is “Ibrahim” and is called “Avraham” in the Jewish faith.

The Abraham Accord announced by President Trump last week enshrines a modern-day version of God’s promises kept for the “Semitic cousins.” The Accord formalizes diplomatic relations between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel. The nations will exchange embassies and ambassadors. Wide-ranging collaboration will ramp up many sectors, such as tourism, education, and healthcare. Flights will take to the skies between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Tel Aviv. The positive implications of God’s plan through His ancient friend Abraham are once again manifesting in the 21st century.

The historic breakthrough comes after years of a behind-the-scenes relationship between Israel and UAE, during which Prime Minister Netanyahu and Crown Prince Bin Zayed have held many common interests and concerns. Chief among them is the threat posed to the region by Iran, the biggest terror-supporting nation in the world. The Prime Minister and Crown Prince both disagreed with the Obama administration’s Iran deal and also wanted financial and defense interests to increase in the region. Then, under the Trump administration, negotiations jumped onto a fast track after the U.S. President won the trust of Arab nations in the Middle East, already matched with his clear, supportive policies toward Israel.

In the past six weeks, the deal reached its zenith with President Trump’s announcement on August 13th after a three-way call between President Trump, Netanyahu, and Mohammed bin Zayed. The Crown Prince stated, “This is the best news of 2020.” President Trump, who brokered the accord, tweeted, “This is a HUGE achievement.” It is expected that other Arab countries will follow UAE’s lead. We can also look forward to an official ceremony welcoming Netanyahu and Mohammed bin Zayed to the White House, which promises to be a memorable celebration.    

On Sunday, in his remarks at the Knesset, Netanyahu reflected on the Abraham Accord: “It is different from its predecessors because it is based on two principles: ‘peace for peace’ and ‘peace through strength.’ Under this doctrine, Israel is not required to withdraw from any territory and together the two countries openly reap the fruits of a full peace: investments, trade, tourism, health, agriculture, environmental protection and in many other fields, including defense of course.”

Only two peace treaties existed prior to the Abraham Accord. Egypt signed a formal peace treaty with Israel in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter. Then in 1994, Israel and Jordan reached a peace agreement during the Clinton administration. In the United States, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers are applauding the Abraham Accord brokered by President Trump. 

Since 9/11, many Americans have looked at Muslims with suspicion. Yet the UAE has been a friend to the United States with military-related agreements for several decades. The Gulf nation is also serious about combating terrorism.

In addition, the UAE shares many values with the U.S. and Israel. UAE’s Constitution provides voting rights for women along with religious freedom, including for its 13-percent Christian population. Like Israel, though, they frown upon proselytizing. Humanitarian aid is national policy; they gave $173 billion to 178 countries between 1971 and 2014.

This nation—formed by seven emirates in 1971—has a fascinating history. From the 1770s to the late 1930s, diving for pearls was their main livelihood. Oil surveys, beginning in the 1930s, swelled into huge liquid “black pearls” when oil was discovered in the Persian Gulf under an old “pearling” location. Oil shipments commenced in 1969, and today the UAE is the third-largest oil-producing nation in the Persian Gulf.

UAE’s capital is Abu Dhabi, and its largest city, Dubai, sports the world’s tallest building, the glamorous Burj Khalifa. More than 5 million citizens live in the UAE and, along with oil exports that have enriched and transformed their nation, they enjoy vigorous global tourism, finance, and retail activity. The literacy rate is over 90%.

The official website states: “The UAE includes more than 200 nationalities that enjoy a decent life, respect, and equality. It is also an incubator for the values ​​of tolerance, moderation, and acceptance of others.”

Join CBN Israel to pray for the Middle East at this momentous time.

  • Pray that other Arab nations will soon formally join the alliances between Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and now the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
  • Pray that the UAE will reap practical and spiritual benefits from the Abraham Accord, thus fulfilling Scripture.
  • Pray for Iran, a Persian nation, where thousands are coming to Christ. Pray that Iranian leaders will not achieve nuclear capability, which threatens the entire region and the United States. 
  • Pray with thanksgiving for the leaders of all three nations and their governments, that their commitment to the Abraham Accord will drive a stake of peace into the ground.
  • Pray that the United Nations refusal to extend the Iran Arms embargo will not deepen Iran’s threats to the region in their unrelenting quest for nuclear weapons.   

As we pray, let us remember God’s long-ago promise to Abraham: “I will surely bless him … and make him into a great nation.”

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 ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

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Supplies for the Elderly During COVID-19

It’s tragic that so many of Israel’s elderly survived World War II and the Holocaust—only to face the deadly COVID-19 virus. It hit this group the hardest, with almost all of Israel’s coronavirus-related deaths occurring in nursing homes. And it left the survivors feeling completely helpless.

Unlike the rest of the population, Israel’s seniors were quarantined in their apartments, and IDF soldiers made sure no one went in or out. With no visits by family or friends allowed, their only contact was by phone or video chatting—and many don’t own a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

A great number live in government care homes, which offer good medical attention—but lack other amenities of the better private homes. And residents often can’t afford the extra items they need. Most aging Holocaust survivors have no family to look out for them and could not leave their rooms. But thanks to compassionate friends like you, they were not forgotten—CBN Israel was there!

We found out that many of the residents desperately needed small appliances, including microwaves, stoves, and kettles. When the stores reopened, we immediately bought and delivered these items, to their great joy!

Arkadi is a World War II veteran and Holocaust survivor, who lost his family during the war. He shared, “I was so lonely and reached out for help many times, but I was told there was nothing that could be done due to COVID-19. Then you arrived and provided me with the things I needed the most right now. Thank you so much!”

And your gift to CBN Israel can share God’s love beyond this health crisis, bringing a lifeline of food and essentials. Your support is crucial as the cries for help increase. You can provide hope to families struggling to survive in the Holy Land. Please let us hear from you today!

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The Cares of Life

We refer to the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 8 as “The Parable of the Sower.” The problem, however, is that the sower is not the point of the parable, neither is the seed. The parable is about the soil and the question: What kind of soil are you?

The point of the parable is to be the good soil, to have a “good heart” (8:15), which means to be receptive to God and to live out His will. However, we need to pay attention to the third type of bad soil—the thorns. They choked the seed as it tried to grow.

Jesus likened the thorns choking the seed trying to grow to people who are choked by the worries, riches, and pleasures of life; therefore, they cannot bear fruit to maturity.

Our lives are often filled with stuff or the pursuit of stuff. Stuff isn’t necessarily bad. However, it has the possibility of taking our eyes and focus off the things that truly matter.

Jesus saw life as having the potential to create worry and anxiety in us. We find ourselves concerned about what we will eat, drink, and wear (Matthew 6:25-34). And those cares can choke us from producing fruit or bringing it to maturity.

Cares, riches, and pleasures. When you take them out of the critical context of Jesus’ words, they form the core of what many in our world pursue. They are the secret to a happy and fulfilled life. How many of us want to be carefree? How many of us want the “good life”?

Jesus noted a connection between these forces and anxiety, which He connected with paganism (Matthew 6:32). Even more, they have the power to severely hinder the growth and development of the fruit God wants to produce in our lives.

The foundation of Jesus’ instruction not to worry and not to allow the thorns to choke our growing seed, is based on the vital realization that God cares for us. He takes care of us and has a responsibility to us. For that reason, and that reason alone, we should not worry.

Thorns can take over a field very quickly if we are not careful. So, too, can the cares of life invade and affect the growth of the fruit God wants in our lives. The question, then, is what kind of soil are we going to be?

Will our hearts and lives be receptive to what God is wanting to accomplish in and through us?

PRAYER

Father, help us not to lose sight of You or bearing the fruit You desire. May we never cease to realize that You take care of us. Amen.

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The Fundamental Question

By Mark Gerson

In Deuteronomy 11:26, God announces what might be the foundational statement of human responsibility: “See, I present before you today a blessing and a curse.” This is the great biblical assertion of free will. The word “present” in the Hebrew is in the present tense, and the “you” is in the singular. The responsibility is personal, and the opportunity is ongoing. 

One of the important dynamics about choices is path dependency and the other choices that they create. One who chooses a spouse will face a set of subsequent choices that are entirely derivative of the first choice. One who chooses a profession will subsequently make decisions that are only presented because of the first choice. One who chooses to devote himself to a faith will have to exercise his free will in ways that are solely a consequence of that decision. 

God’s great declaration of free will in Deuteronomy leads us to ask: What is the foundational decision for all of us, for all time? There are, as is common with Torah passages, many right answers—each true, none contradictory. But the one I would suggest is captured in a story about Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. 

Born in Poland in 1907, Rabbi Heschel narrowly escaped the Nazi death machine that killed much of his family and later moved to New York in 1940. In the United States, he wrote several seminal works, was a legendary teacher at two Rabbinical schools, and was an ally and confidant of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

As Rabbi David Wolpe recounts, Rabbi Heschel was walking to synagogue one Shabbat morning in New York when he was stopped by a man who was not going to the same place. The man explained that he had no need to do so because he regarded himself as a good person. “I envy you,” Rabbi Heschel responded. “I don’t feel so good—I am always saying or doing the wrong thing, hurting someone by words or by silence. I need God, and I need prayer.” 

Rabbi Heschel and the interlocutor were not, fundamentally, discussing synagogue attendance. They were discussing two views of what might be the fundamental question each of us faces: Is the moral life easy or hard?  

The interlocutor thought that the moral life was easy. This view manifests itself when people say that all religions are really the same because they all boil down to treating others well. It is manifested when people select a verse from Scripture and say that a political position or even a philosophy flows naturally and purely from it. It is manifested in the position (stated or, more frequently, just lived) that the abundance of laws, rules and stories in the Torah are unworthy of one’s time and devotion. If the moral life is easy, then the Torah and all subsequent commentary are just an exercise in needless, if sometimes interesting, complication. 

Rabbi Heschel thought that the moral life was hard. This view is manifested in Proverbs 3:6, which instructs us to “Know God in all your ways”—with the emphasis on “all.” It is manifested in the statement of Maimonides that “every human being should regard himself as if he were equally balanced between innocence and guilt” and that his salvation will be determined by his next decision. It is manifested in the belief that the infinitude of the Torah must be related to its purpose as revealed in Deuteronomy 10:13—“for your [our] benefit.” Accordingly, all of its complexity purposefully exists to guide us through difficult decisions. 

The Torah itself addresses the question of whether the moral life is easy or hard through one word. In Numbers 16, Korach leads the most sustained rebellion against Moses—out of many. He stages this rebellion—or even revolution—by issuing very few words. He says simply, “You have taken too much! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

His central complaint: “The whole community is holy.” It is a magnificently constructed sentence, as it leads right to the author’s intended invitation. Such a seemingly nice statement of religious egalitarianism, set against the fierce response in the Torah and subsequent commentary, leads one to ask: What could possibly be so wrong with it? And the answer, the Torah effectively says in interpreting itself, is: Everything.

In Exodus 19:6, God declares the seminal purpose for the Jewish people: “You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” There is an existential difference between God’s “You shall be” in Exodus and Korach’s “is” in Numbers. In God’s construction, our purpose is to constantly be yearning, striving, working, and attempting to be that Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation—while never actually getting there. In Korach’s construction, we have arrived: We are holy. 

The problem with Korach’s philosophy is revealed in his name. Korach means “bald.” On a bald head, nothing grows. And when one already believes that he is holy, there is no need to grow. When one believes that the whole congregation is holy, there is no opportunity for the society to improve. For building a politics around that philosophy—and for articulating it in a way that is so appealing—Korach is reviled in the Jewish tradition and is perhaps the worst Jew in the Torah. 

One need not aspire to lead a populist and nihilistic revolution to share in Korach’s philosophy. Rabbi Heschel’s interlocutor, who was probably a nice guy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, did—surely without knowing it. In believing that the moral life is easy—and that he had, consequently, mastered it—he rendered himself incapable of improvement. It is that improvement of self and of society that is the real “benefit” that the Torah, through the challenges, opportunities, subtleties, and consequences it surfaces, offers us. 

The choice of whether to regard the moral life as hard or easy has implications that are political, societal, religious, psychological, and personal. If one regards the moral life as easy, then some of the most pleasant feelings are available and accessible—especially tranquility and satisfaction. The Jewish tradition has a lot to say about both. The late legendary scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, upon surveying the widespread criticism of the biblical Jacob for settling down to “dwell,” reflected: “God bestows many favors and gifts upon the righteous … but tranquility is not one of them.” 

The late President of Israel, Shimon Peres, had an important insight as well. President Peres was a champion of Jewish innovation, as he saw the dynamism of the Israeli economy as the way to both prosperity and peace. When he was asked to name the seminal Jewish contribution to mankind, he had an abundance of medical, technological and political achievements to choose from. Yet this famously secular man had a very different answer—one that is religious in nature, even though he might not have identified it as such. He said, simply, “Dissatisfaction.” 

Dissatisfaction: the result of believing that one has not and will never arrive, the consequence of recognizing that there are aspects of one’s personality and society that demand improvement, the effect of acknowledging God’s expectation that we show our love for Him in “all our ways,” the outcome of confronting the truth that every moment presents the responsibility to create a blessing or a curse, the inevitable disposition of one who believes that the moral life is hard.

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.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
Twitter: @markgerson
Podcast: The Rabbi’s Husband

 

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Israel Offers Aid to Lebanon Amid Catastrophe

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Once considered the “Paris of the Middle East,” Beirut has been in decline for decades. When 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were recklessly stored (and then neglected) for years in a port warehouse, it was a recipe for disaster. And on August 4, a massive explosion blasted a 141-foot-deep crater into the capital city, leaving the country in far worse shape than before. The toll is mounting daily, with hundreds killed, thousands wounded, and more than 300,000 homeless. The blast registered as a 3.3 earthquake on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 125 miles to the west.

Driven by anguish and rage, thousands of Lebanese citizens have filled the streets protesting their corrupt and criminally negligent government. For decades, elite officials from different parties stole monies collected in the import-based economy, divvied it up, and lived the good life at the expense of ordinary citizens—a kleptocracy with politicians stealing money from government coffers.

The Lebanese Prime Minister and his cabinet have now resigned en masse, and the protesters reacted with an outpouring of joy. On Sunday, a hastily convened donor conference of nations pledged $298 million dollars for immediate relief, but it will take billions to restore the beleaguered nation.

Israel was one of the nations that stepped up to pledge assistance, even though Israel and Lebanon do not have a peace treaty. Despite a history filled with conflict and war, Israel immediately reached out. Israeli President Rivlin was quick to remark, “We share the pain of the Lebanese people and sincerely reach out to offer our aid at this difficult time.”

As with any democracy, opinions in Israel differ. Some Israelis are sympathetic to giving aid despite past hostilities. Others object to reaching out, especially with the Israel-Lebanon border heating up again and the feeling that Israel is not doing enough on the home front in helping with the COVID-19 crisis.

A spokesman in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stated, “This is the time to transcend conflict.” In recent remarks to the Knesset, Prime Minister Netanyahu summed it up: “We distinguish between regime and people. That is our way.”

Yet, with a history of humanitarian aid to the nations, it should come as no surprise that Israel quickly reached out to Lebanon. Several Israeli hospitals have offered to help. The IDF spokesman to the Arab world sent out this message from Masaad Barhum, Director of the Galilee Medical Center near the Lebanon border: “We only want to help you. Rest assured those who come in wounded and hurt will leave safe and sound, with the grace of God. We’re waiting for you.”

The Israelis have a lot to offer in expert skills and superior resources that they have developed out of necessity, with decades of terror against them. Among these, IsraAID is a superstar. Established as a non-governmental entity in 2001, this humanitarian aid agency has worked in 50-plus countries on projects both large and small. In Nepal, for instance, they set up HoneyAID, which gives women an income through beekeeping. In Lesbos, Greece, where thousands of refugees escaped the Syrian civil war, IsraAID set up the School of Peace for 4,000 refugee children. Kenya receives help year after year. IsraAID has even come to the United States—immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 and to help evacuees from California wildfires in 2018.

A few years ago, I observed Israel’s humanitarian outreach firsthand, when I led a group of Christian leaders for a briefing from officials at Ziv Hospital. Afterward, they allowed us to meet and speak with Syrian adults and children through a translator. The IDF had set up a field hospital as part of their Operation Good Neighbor during Syria’s civil war. From the Israeli-Syrian border the IDF had transported the gravely wounded to Ziv Hospital in Safed. Like Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, most Syrians hate Israelis, so I will always remember what one of the wounded Syrian teenagers said to us. “We were taught to hate Israel, but we know now they are our friends.”

Some may be surprised at the Lebanese refusal of aid. Israel offers aid even to enemy countries, although their offers are refused. Too many nations view the Jewish state with hatred and disdain. Exacerbated by decades of hatred, that loathing intensified from the terrorist Hezbollah in the mid-eighties, when it started spreading its Iran-backed tentacles into every sector of Lebanese society. Hezbollah’s control of the population made it almost impossible to kick them out—along with their 200,000 missiles. And with more than 25,000 fighters, this terror group has a medium-sized army, yet it’s stronger than Lebanon’s.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, claims no responsibility for the explosion, but unfortunately—with Hezbollah’s control—traumatized Lebanese citizens may not benefit from Israel’s humanitarian outreach. In the meantime, though, Dima Sadek, one of Lebanon’s most popular media personalities, posted a viral Twitter video addressing Nasrallah, “What has Israel done against us that’s worse than you? Answer me!”

The United States, Great Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Qatar, Canada, and Australia are already sending emergency aid, but it remains to be seen if Lebanon, leaderless at the moment, will allow Israel’s help.

It is heartbreaking to read about Lebanon, where their wealth has long been plundered, and now they must deal with this catastrophe. Lebanon appears around 75 times in the Old and New Testaments. Psalm 92:12 describes Lebanon’s beauty in ancient times. “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon” (ESV). The cedars of Lebanon were used to help build Solomon’s Temple. And Matthew 15:21-28 tells the story about Jesus’ visit to the region of Tyre and Sidon, where He cured the daughter of a Gentile Canaanite woman.

Sadly, most of what the world hears about Israel is another kind of blast filled with an ammonium nitrate of lies and anti-Semitism. In Isaiah 49:6 ESV, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob declared about Israel, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” A “light for the nations” is a title that endures forever.

Join CBN Israel in praying for the relationship between Israel and Lebanon:

  • Pray that all donations to Lebanon will be distributed with integrity through the Lebanese Red Cross and other reliable organizations. 
  • Pray for food, water, shelter, clothing, and medical attention for hundreds of thousands who are suffering during this crisis. 
  • Pray that honest, competent, and effective leaders will emerge and replace the corrupted Lebanese government.
  • Pray with thanks for Israel’s outreaches to so many nations which have improved the lives of millions worldwide. 
  • Pray that Lebanon will open its doors to Israel’s help, thus also changing hearts and minds toward Israel. 

It is my prayer that Israel continues to be a light to the nations, and that all might come to appreciate Israel’s long history of reaching out in friendship.

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 ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

 

 

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Single Mother | Wendy’s Story

Wendy was frantic… Abandoned by her husband, who refused to pay child support or alimony, she barely made ends meet. How could she possibly support three children on such a tiny income?

She worked any jobs she could find, just to put food on the table. Yet it was never enough, and Wendy constantly had to borrow money. Digging herself deeper in debt, she was on the verge of being evicted. Desperate, she was running out of hope.

But thanks to friends like you, she discovered CBN Israel’s group for single mothers, and met with Arik, the head of our family department. It was a turning point, and she recalled gratefully, “Meeting Arik saved me from being evicted from my apartment—and from giving up on life.”

Arik helped Wendy develop a budget and financial plan, negotiated with the bank to reduce her debt, and together they developed a long-term strategy. And for 10 years, her life was stable—until the COVID-19 crisis. After losing her job as a kindergarten teacher, she was battling to survive. Thankfully, caring people were there for her again as she reached out to CBN Israel. Arik immediately provided her with groceries—and a month of food vouchers!

Wendy is grateful for CBN Israel’s help to her—and to many single mothers who call Israel their home. And we are also offering aid to refugees, elderly Holocaust survivors, and those in need, especially during this global pandemic.

For many in the Holy Land, the needs are so great. Your support is crucial, and can provide families with food, housing, medical help, financial assistance, and the tools and training to become self-sufficient. Please join us in bringing God’s love to the hurting!

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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.

PRAYER

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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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.  

Website: therabbishusband.com
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 ArleneBridgesSamuels.com.

 

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