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Torah Reading Commentary: The Truth of Multiple Truths

By Mark Gerson

Every generation produces, in unplanned, organic, and ultimately mysterious ways, its own ways of describing the world. Sometimes the outcomes are of only mild curiosity. For instance, perhaps no one knows or cares why the term “groovy” came or went. Other times, it is knowable how expressions started—but not why they persist. We say, “Close, but no cigar,” but imagine a cigar being the prize at a carnival game in 2020! We still refer to projects as having “run out of steam” and tell people to “hold your horses” many generations after we have deployed better transportation solutions. Moreover, we still say that people are “worth their weight in salt” millennia after salt ceased being an important measure of value. 

Consequently, it would be as futile to predict which current expression will last as it would be to decide which new ones will “crop up” (irony noted, for this city dweller). But there is a curious expression that has become ubiquitous in the past couple of years—particularly, but not universally, among young people. It is “your truth”—sometimes offered with the encouragement to “speak your truth.”  

Understood one way, this expression is ridiculous. There is nothing personal about a truth. The truth is always something that exists outside of perception, which is why the experience of human yearning is one of “seeking” the truth. This yearning applies existentially (What is my life about?) and practically (Did the accused commit the crime? Who deserves the commission for the sale?).   

The idea that truth can be personal—that there can be “my truth” and “your truth”—just proclaims the omnipotence of opinion while making the idea of people searching together for truth completely futile. Given that the purpose of such interpersonal engagement is either to discover or to create truth, there is no point to doing so unless objective truth exists independently of individual perspectives and personal opinions. 

Understood another way—and this is not the way that the term “your truth” is customarily used—there can be a deeply profound purpose to conceiving of “my truth.” As Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, the founding CEO of Mechon Hadar, writes, “Understanding something as having multiple meanings is one of the deepest expressions of freedom.”

I participated in an example of Elie’s insight last week during a recording of my podcast, “The Rabbi’s Husband,” where I am in conversation with a guest about a biblical passage of his or her choosing. The guest was Tali Farhadian Weinstein, a brilliant, deeply thoughtful and learned attorney who is now a candidate for Manhattan District Attorney. We were discussing her chosen passage, Bava Metzia 30b, from the Babylonian Talmud. The question being discussed in that passage is why Jerusalem was destroyed. Rabbi Yohanan said that it was destroyed because the people “did not serve inside/beyond the line [letter] of the law.” 

The questions raised by this passage (and all others) are: What does it mean? and How can this passage help me live a better, happier, and more meaningful life today? 

In the course of the discussion, Tali and I realized that we had two very different perspectives. I immediately thought of the wisdom of Nachmanides, the 13th-century Spanish rabbi. Nachmanides talked about a “scoundrel with Torah license.” This is someone who abides by the law entirely and is still a scoundrel. An example: Chocolate cake is kosher and television viewing is permitted. Could, then, someone eat chocolate cake in front of the television all day in accordance with Jewish law? Yes. But the Torah also instructs us to be a “holy people” and to “walk in God’s ways.” Is eating chocolate cake in front of the television all day appropriate for someone who aspires to be holy and to walk in God’s ways? No. 

This is not, of course, to say that it is unbecoming of someone who aspires to be holy to ever eat chocolate cake while watching television. For instance, a United Hatzalah volunteer who spent the day doing seven lifesaving calls can certainly unwind in front of the television with cake! 

How much of the television/cake activity can one do and still act in accordance with the divine call to be holy and to walk in God’s ways? God gave us remarkable rational facilities, the Torah, plenty of wise counselors to help guide us—and a complicated world with no easy answers. Each of us must figure out what it means to serve “inside/beyond the law.” 

Tali had a different interpretation of why Jerusalem was destroyed as a result of people obeying the law, but not going “inside/beyond the line.” She said that it refers to lawgivers who bring cases or deliver sentences that are legally permissible but do not incorporate any notion of mercy, common sense, or comprehensible philosophy of punishment. The United States Supreme Court confirmed, in a 1985 decision, what everyone involved in the criminal justice system knows: that “the Government retains ‘broad discretion’ as to whom to prosecute.” The responsible exercise of this discretion, and its counterpart in sentencing, requires wisdom on the part of the prosecutor and the judge. It is the moral necessity of this wisdom, Tali taught, that the Talmud means when it says that the health of a society depends upon its legal professionals going “inside/beyond the law.” 

Which interpretation of this passage is right? Tali and I concluded that although the interpretations are different, both are true. Both interpretations help us to understand how to be better individually and socially, and in no way do they conflict with each other. Indeed, perhaps the greatness of a truth is measured by the number of other truths that can be learned from it.  

This is certainly the case with God—the ultimate truth, from which every other truth derives. And it is also the case with the Torah. The prevailing way to understand the Torah is reflected in the Jewish teaching: Shivim Panim la’Torah: “There are seventy faces to the Torah.” This means that every Torah passage, and sometimes every word, yields seventy different truths. Consequently, one can study the Torah over a long life and continually learn new lessons and derive new truths.  

One may find one truth to be more resonant, more meaningful, and more evocative at a moment in one’s life—and, in that sense, that can be “my truth.” In so doing, it allows and actually invites the arrival of other truths without sacrificing—and indeed demonstrating—how objective truth exists independently of any individual perspective.    

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 Launches Another Exodus of Ethiopian Jews

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Last week, the Israeli Knesset approved another round of immigration for 2,000 more Ethiopian Jews in 2021—an endeavor bearing a $51 million price tag. The decision represents decades of welcoming this branch of the African diaspora home—an effort that began in the 1980s and regained traction in the last several years. Israel holds the singular distinction among the nations for bringing black communities to freedom, not slavery. 

The Ethiopian journeys to Israel are fascinating. They read like a spy novel. Almost 40 years ago, mass immigration (Aliyah) of Ethiopian Jews literally took off when Israel sent large transport aircraft to rescue Ethiopians from their drought-ravaged lands. In 1984, 1985, and again in 1991, Israel launched Operations Moses, Joshua, and Solomon. 

These airlifts linked intrigue and ingenuity—relying on stealth, detailed plans, and courage. The 1984–85 rescues took place under cover of night when 7,500 Ethiopian Jews were flown out in clandestine operations. Ethiopians had walked for three to four weeks to refugee camps in Sudan that were operated by Israel’s Mossad and the Red Cross—a perilous journey over hundreds of miles that resulted in deaths from disease and starvation. They walked by night to hide from marauding soldiers. With 28 covert airlifts during this period, Israelis used Boeing 707s routed through Belgium to avoid any suspicions before landing in Israel. 

Due to Ethiopian famine, internal civil wars, and tough negotiations with Marxist/Leninist Ethiopian leaders, six years passed before the next airlift could take place. Finally, in 1991, the rescues resumed, once more like a spy movie and with the Israeli and the U.S. governments again working hand in hand.  

Named after the ancient King who was theoretically their ancestor, the 1991 Operation Solomon rescued more than 14,000 Jews from the Sudanese refugee camps and flew them to their homeland, Israel. The timing was critical—and miraculous. Thirty-four El Al jets and American C-130 military transport aircraft flew in and out during this grueling 36-hour mission. All passenger seats were removed from the C-130s to make room for the frightened, yet hopeful, Ethiopians. You can imagine their fearful reactions, especially from older people who had never seen an airplane—and those who thought these transports a wonder. As then-8-year-old Michal Samuel recalls: “One night we were told it was our time to go. I remember the darkness of the desert, walking through Sudan to the trucks that drove us to what I thought was the wings of an angel to take us to Jerusalem.” Today, 30 years later, Michal leads a large charity that helps her community.  

How did these Ethiopian Jews end up on big Israeli airplanes? Mentioned in the Bible by their other name, Cush, the Ethiopian Jews thought of themselves as Jewish even before Christianity became an official religion in the fourth century. The world knew little about them for centuries. They were extremely poor and isolated, yet practiced Judaism based on the Torah, the written law. They were persecuted by their neighbors, who called them falasha (“strangers”) due to their culture and customs. 

In the 1700s, Christian missionaries began going to Ethiopia, met the community, and called them the “exotic Jews of Ethiopia.” For several hundred years, more information emerged about “black Jews.” Interest deepened when Israel was established as a modern Jewish state in 1948. Israel’s Law of Return was created and enacted to welcome all Jews, no matter where they were scattered, whether in Iraq, Iran, China, India, Ethiopia, or beyond.  

Finally, Israeli rabbis began visiting the African nation to verify the Ethiopians’ Jewish ancestry. In 1975, Israel’s Inter-Ministerial Commission officially recognized them as Jews. The complicated rescue plans soon began.  

More than 135,000 Ethiopian Jews live in their homeland today. Ninety percent graduate from high school, serve with distinction in the Israel Defense Forces and the Knesset, and attend college. They have made remarkable adjustments with the help of Israeli absorption centers for new immigrants, especially in the early days of Aliyah in the 1980s. Since these people had lived in huts in Africa—without electricity or running water—the absorption centers’ staff members had to start from scratch, teaching the immigrants how to use appliances, turn on water taps, and use can openers. Subsequent generations, born in Israel, have found the adjustment much easier. 

Since Operation Solomon in 1991, evangelical Christians worldwide have played a big part in sponsoring flights and helping settle Ethiopians in the Promised Land. Many have done so through International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (www.ICEJ.org). In the last five years alone, ICEJ has sponsored Aliyah flights for around 2,000 Ethiopian olim (immigrants). 

ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler observes, “Aliyah is clearly a biblical and historical mandate for our global organization, and many times it also is an urgent humanitarian mission, which is so obvious in the case of the Ethiopian Jewish remnant still living in transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar after all these years. We will maximize our efforts to now assist Israel with this accelerated plan for the Ethiopian return.” 

Israel’s government and the kindnesses of many individuals and charities have helped navigate the ongoing challenges that face any nation welcoming new citizens. One of the biggest, most effective charities is led by Sigal Kanotopsky. At the age of five, Sigal walked with her family for three months on a harrowing 1,500-mile journey before finally arriving in Israel. Now this outstanding leader walks into Israel’s many professional venues to elevate job opportunities for her community.

Clearly, Israel is singular in bringing its people home. What other country would go to such lengths to do so? These efforts were eloquently voiced on January 8, 1985, when then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres spoke to the Knesset and offered this inspiring explanation about Israel’s commitment and the Ethiopians’ age-old dream to live in Jerusalem:

“For 2,600 years, our brothers and sisters from ‘the land of the buzzing of wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia’ in Isaiah 18:1 have been waiting to attain this moment. … They have waited, and we have waited. They have arrived, and we are richer for it. This wonderful tribe gloriously and stubbornly upheld the banner of Jewish belief even from the days of Moses, and certainly after the oppressive Roman rule. 

“Neither mountain nor sword, nor decree nor foreign land could prevail over their Jewish devotion, their human nobility, and their Zionist hope. And we here have born within us the ongoing, never-ending hope of the unification of our people. …  [an] immigration effort enwrapped in ancient splendor and enveloped in secret heroism. We have seen them prostrating themselves and kissing the soil of our land. A light shone in their eyes, while tears welled up in ours.” 

Thankfully, there is no more need for secrecy. The new efforts underway will not take place under cover of darkness. And when the current relocation has been completed, it will add another chapter of welcome to the worldwide Jewish community.  

Pray along with us at CBN Israel that every Jewish community worldwide will come home:  

  • Pray that facts about Israel’s inclusivity will be made clear to all nations.
  • Pray with awe that God is fulfilling His word in Isaiah 49:22: “Behold, I will lift My hand in an oath to the nations, and set up My standard for the peoples; they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.” 
  • Pray that the Ethiopian community will continue their achievements to grow and prosper using their talents and motivation with help from many sources. 
  • Pray that Ethiopian Jews still awaiting rescue from an unfriendly land will also experience Aliyah and reunification with their families.  

For Christians, it is a privilege to be part of praying and acting so that the worldwide Jewish community can return to their ancestral homeland. 

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: Oksana’s Story

Life seemed ideal when their family moved to Israel from Russia. Oksana’s husband found an excellent job, and she was able to stay at home with their four children. Then her world came crashing down: She discovered her husband had a severe case of alcoholism.

For years he hid his drinking—running up big debts and taking expensive overseas trips he lied about. Secretly, he took out bank loans in both of their names to cover his spending. When Oksana found out, the couple separated, and his drinking got worse. He soon abandoned their family, leaving Oksana to support their four children. His massive debts took everything, forcing her to close her successful sewing business. Where could she turn?

And then, she heard about CBN Israel’s program for single mothers. Caring friends like you gave her a professional new sewing machine to restart her business. Through our course, Chazak Ve Ematz, which means “brave and courageous,” she found career guidance. We also granted her a scholarship to learn bridal and evening gown design. She was so grateful!

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit Israel’s economy, Oksana’s business stalled. Praying, she felt God redirecting her to sew quality facial masks to meet the high demand. Selling them at one of the best rates, she now has plenty of work from multiple companies!

You can extend a lifeline to people like Oksana, as well as aging Holocaust survivors, refugees, and others struggling to survive in the Holy Land. During this COVID-19 crisis, when the needs are so great, your continued support is crucial as CBN Israel offers food, shelter, financial assistance, and more to hurting families. Please let us hear from you today!

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Weekly Devotional: A Fast that Pleases God

Have you ever noticed that we can approach God with seemingly the right intentions and desires, but in His eyes, our motivations and desires matter little in light of how we treat others?

The prophet Isaiah says the people “seek [God] daily, delight to know [His] ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God” (Isaiah 58:2 NKJV). They even delight in the “nearness of God.” Sounds like they’re doing everything right. Isn’t that what we tell people to do—seek God daily and delight in His nearness? Yet God calls upon Isaiah to announce to the house of Jacob their guilt and sin (58:1).

The people ask God why their fasts are ineffective. They fasted. They starved their bodies (58:3). That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? Shouldn’t God answer us then?

God responds with a jolting message: On your fast day, you do what pleases you. You exploit your workers; you cause strife and contention (58:3-4). While they may have the proper desires towards God, and even carry out their fasts properly (see 58:5), their reprehensible behavior toward others causes their voices not to be heard on high.

God doesn’t care that they starve themselves, putting on sackcloth and lying in ashes. Such a fast does not move Him.

The prophet then offers the fast that God desires, “a day pleasing to the LORD,” the kind that moves Him to act on the people’s behalf “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free” and “break every yoke” (58:6). He calls upon the people “to share your bread with the hungry,” to bring to your house the poor who are cast out, to cover the naked, and “not hide yourself from your own flesh” (58:7).

Instead of starving themselves, donning sackcloth, and lying in ashes, they should treat others with care and compassion, which will then motivate God to act on their behalf. “Then shall your light burst forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily and … the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ (58:8-9).

Isaiah’s message: God is far more concerned with how you treat those around you, especially the poor and needy, than He is with your religious piety or even your desire to seek Him. The mark of true spirituality is not only our pursuit of God, but also our actions towards others. Our intentions and desires may seem spiritual, but if we do not treat others with care and compassion, then our desires for God matter little to Him.

What motivates God to answer our cries? How we treat those around us, especially those in need.

PRAYER

Father, forgive us for not seeing those around us as the true path to showing our desire and delight for You. May our actions be pleasing before You, O Lord. Amen.

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Archaeology Proves Israel is the Jewish Homeland   

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

No one questions the historic legitimacy of Egypt’s Sphinx, Italy’s Pantheon, or Greece’s Acropolis—nor the indisputable claims to their ancient heritage. Yet many individuals and organizations attempt to submerge Israel’s history and liquidate its claims to their ancient Jewish homeland.

Yet, ancient discoveries once again serve as proof for the biblical account with a new discovery in Jerusalem, which thrilled archaeologists last week. They described it as a “once in a lifetime” find. While digging near the City of David, they were astonished to discover—in their words—“three immaculately preserved 2,700-year-old decorated column heads, or capitals, from the First Temple period indicate a connection to the Davidic Dynasty.” Their photographs show beautifully designed stone capitals that likely were once situated atop columns of a palace or estate. Five-shekel coins from the 3,000-year-old era display the same design motif!

Who would deny Israel its historic significance? A complicit United Nations, filled with those possessing a fierce anti-Israel bias, is quick to distort history. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is one of the chief purveyors of such bias. UNESCO’s stated purpose is to assess cultural landmarks and designate World Heritage sites to “promote cultural heritage and the equal dignity of all cultures.” Shamefully, UNESCO has targeted Israel’s holiest sites, thereby undermining that nation’s dignity and removing the equality given to other nations. 

In a controversial 2016 Resolution, for example, UNESCO decided to use only Arabic terminology for the Temple Mount, naming it Haram al-Sharif—not the Hebrew Har HaBayit, or Temple Mount as we call it. UNESCO calls Judaism’s holiest site—the Western Wall—by its Arabic name, al-Buraq, rather than its Hebrew name, Ha-Kotel Ha-Maʿaravi (Kotel for short). 

By doing so, UNESCO deliberately ignores 3,000 years of Jewish geographical and cultural lineage. It attempts to rewrite Israel’s history one word at a time. Just consider: The Jewish First and Second Temples were built in 957 B.C. and 515 B.C., whereas the Muslim Dome of the Rock Shrine wasn’t built until between A.D. 685 and A.D. 691. That’s roughly 1,000 years after the Second Temple where Jesus and His disciples walked and taught. Not surprisingly, then, when UNESCO made its erroneous resolution, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted, “To say that Israel has no link to the Temple Mount is like saying that China has no link to the Great Wall or that Egypt has no connection to the pyramids.” Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley correctly branded it “an affront to history.” 

For the last 20 years, numerous archaeological discoveries all over Israel have been literally written in stone. The discoveries are physical proof, not a UNESCO document. It is rock-solid evidence that God gave Israel to the Jews, a divine deed to their ancestral homeland. Archaeology proves that the Bible is true. 

In Genesis 15:18-21, God visited Abraham and made His plan clear. “I will assign this land to your offspring.” When Isaac was miraculously born, God’s plan was in motion with His covenant, a contract. It is eternal and unconditional. Despite millennia of catastrophic wars, dispersions, exiles, diaspora, Ottoman and British occupation, and the Holocaust, God re-established the Jewish homeland when Israel was reborn as a modern state in 1948. 

Many of you reading my column have visited Israel. You have marveled at some of the antiquities uncovered in the tedious yet rewarding work of meticulous archaeologists. The finds have ranged from small ancient coins inscribed in Hebrew to a tiny bell worn on a Temple priest’s hem. The last 20 years of archaeology have proven exceptional. Sixteen years ago, expansive finds like the Pilgrim Road in Jerusalem opened a new world of facts. The Pilgrim Road was discovered by what I call “divine coincidence.” An alert workman saw light coming up through an opening in a street in Silwan, an Arab town. When he walked over to look into the hole, he viewed part of a subterranean road. Excitement escalated when the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) was summoned. The IAA evaluates and oversees all discoveries. 

The Pilgrim Road was not open to the public yet, but a good friend set up a VIP tour for two of us who were attending the GPO Christian Media Summit in 2019. Our CBN Israel news team dubbed the Pilgrim Road “The Beating Heart of Jerusalem.” I experienced my own heart beating in awe with each step along the 2,000-year-old road. It’s part of the larger area, the historically significant City of David. It took almost no imagination for me to envision Jesus and His disciples walking this road for the three major Jewish festivals: Pesach (Passover), Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). Tens of thousands of Jews walked on the road constructed with big paving stones leading up to the Temple Mount. While they walked, they sang Psalms 120 through 134, the Pilgrim or “Aliyah” (Hebrew for “ascent”) Psalms. In ancient times, Aliyah on the Pilgrim Road meant “the act of going up” to Jerusalem. Today, it often refers to immigration to Israel. My emotions ran deep knowing I walked in the footsteps of Jesus, His disciples, Mary, and Joseph as they sang psalms making Aliyah to the Temple.   

Each archaeological discovery adds another layer of truth to the fact that Jerusalem and all of Israel is the Jewish homeland. A few years ago, workmen were digging near Jerusalem’s western entrance and noticed a broken stone pillar around three to four feet tall. They immediately called the Israeli Antiquities Authority. When the experts arrived, they were astonished to read this inscription: “Hananiah son of Dodalos of Yerushalayim.” The Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in 1947 used the same Hebrew spelling of Jerusalem, but the pillar was the first example of Jerusalem’s name written in stone, the way “Jerusalem” (Yerushalayim) is written today!

The 100 B.C. pillar is now on display at the Israel Museum. I made a point to visit the exhibit during one of my trips to Israel and asked someone to take a picture of me standing next to the glass-encased pillar. I found myself wishing that the UNESCO members would see the proof in stone. I wondered if they would finally accept the fact about the ancient/modern spelling of Yerushalayim. No matter. UNESCO does not carry the weight of authentic history; the Bible and the Yerushalayim pillar fill that role. UNESCO has utterly failed the Israeli history course, but the Bible remains accurate, proven by the very stones that silently broadcast the eternal message from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 

One of the Aliyah psalms, 125:2, reminded ancient Jews of Gods faithful protection (as it reminds us today): “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.”

Joining CBN in prayer, let us recall this wonderful pilgrim song sung on the Pilgrim Road. 

  • Pray for these expert archaeologists and their teams to discover more treasures that add to the facts of the Bible’s historical veracity. 
  • Pray—in this era of warm relationships developing between Israel and several Arab nations—that the Arabs will accept the facts uncovered about the Jewish homeland.
  • Pray that thievery at important archeological digs will stops. 
  • Pray for discovery of any additional Dead Sea Scrolls that will again verify the enduring truths of the Bible.

Let us pray that Israel’s rich history will continue to unfold as archaeological finds reveal this land’s extraordinary past—and point to a remarkable 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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Single Mother: Nadia’s Story

The teenage girl’s future looked bright. Immigrating to Israel from Russia for an academic program, Nadia finished her economics degree with honors. She found a good job in her field, and her parents and sister planned to move to Israel and join her. Then, tragedy struck.

Suddenly, Nadia’s father was diagnosed with cancer. Her family needed her help, so she moved back, transferring to her company’s Russia office. Soon, she fell in love and got married, and gave birth to a baby boy. But within six months, her world fell apart. The cancer took her father’s life. And then, without warning, her husband deserted her and their baby.

Devastated, Nadia moved back to Israel to start over. She had lost her good-paying job and worked several jobs to make ends meet. Juggling the demands of motherhood alone was overwhelming. One day, a friend at work shared her faith with Nadia, and invited her to church.

There, she discovered CBN Israel’s outreach to single mothers. We provided her with two months’ rent—and a plan to pay off her debts and get financial relief from the banks. We also helped her find a better job. Today, she is remarried to a man from her church, serving there together in ministry. And CBN Israel is training her to offer financial guidance to others!

CBN Israel is helping many like Nadia, who are in crisis situations. Friends like you are there with food, financial aid, job training, and vital encouragement.

And your support is crucial, especially during this global pandemic. You can bring Holocaust survivors and refugees essential relief aid—while sharing Israel’s story with the world through CBN News and insightful documentaries. Your help is so important—thank you for caring!

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Weekly Devotional: The God Who Makes the Axe Head Float

“They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. ‘Oh no, my lord!’ he cried out. ‘It was borrowed!’ The man of God asked, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float. ‘Lift it out,’ he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it” (2 Kings 6:4-7 NIV).

Do you ever imagine that God is too big and that His responsibilities are too vast to care about the daily details of our lives? After all, He has the universe to run, right?

The man lost a borrowed axe-head in the water. That was his problem, nothing that God should concern Himself with. Yet He did.

The Bible never presents God as so transcendent that the common, everyday details of our lives do not move Him. Jesus stated, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:29-30 NIV).

God is not distant from us even if it may seem like that at times. He cares deeply for us, and He is near to us. He cares enough to involve Himself in the issues of our daily lives.

The man in the Scripture did not own the iron axe-head. It was borrowed. Its loss troubled him, as anyone could imagine it would. God caused the axe-head to float, permitting easy retrieval.

Many of the stories about Elisha describe miracles he performed for the common, daily life of the people: multiplied oil in a jar (2 Kings 4:1-7); revived the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37); purified a pot of stew (2 Kings 4:38-41); fed 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44). And he made an axe-head float. These stories demonstrate that the God of Israel was concerned about the daily needs and lives of the people. He is for us, too.

No issue is too small for His concern. He is a loving Father. Like any parent, He delights in taking care of His children.

He is the King of the universe, the all-powerful, the creator of everything. He is awesome and majestic. He is also the God who makes the axe-head float. Never forget that.

PRAYER

Father, show us today that even in the smallest details of our lives—those things that matter to us—You are near and they matter to You, too. Amen.

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Torah Reading Commentary: Like a Blind Man Groping in the Darkness

By Mark Gerson

The Jewish year and, thus, the annual cycle of the Torah reading is coming to an end. As we reach the latter half of the concluding book of the Torah, Deuteronomy, Moses knows that he is soon to die without being able to enter the Promised Land. But he is determined to leave his people with the disposition, ideas and attitude they will need to survive and thrive.

In Chapter 27 (of 34), Moses says that we will see two mountains upon entering the Land. There will be a mountain of blessing, Mt. Gerizim, and a mountain of curses, Mt. Ebal. Why does he associate blessings and curses with different mountains? The Torah, which always privileges the unseen over the seen and hearing over sight, is too sophisticated to have a physical place of goodness and one of badness. But the Author of the Torah knows us well. He knows that people have a remarkable capacity to either mischaracterize or justify cursed ideas and actions. When you enter the Land, he is telling us, remember: you can, if you choose, tell the difference—just like you can between two mountains.

And the consequence of our choice of blessing or curse is everything. The listing of blessings is a catalog of delight and the listing of curses is an exercise in horror. The curses include drought and floods, military defeat, robbery, madness and blindness, incurable hemorrhoids, fever, lesions and marriage followed by infidelity. Then there is: “You will grope at noontime as a blind man gropes in the darkness.”

What could this mean? The experience of being blind is one of perpetual darkness. There is no difference for the blind between “noontime” and the dead of night. Why, then, would a curse be that of a blind person groping in the darkness—as if his daytime experience is different?

Rabbi Yossi Bar Halafta stated, as is recorded in the Talmud, that he spent his entire life troubled by this verse. Then he saw a blind man walking at night and holding a torch. He asked the blind man why, given that he couldn’t see, he was carrying a torch. 

The blind man answered, “So long as I carry this torch, other people can see me and they can save me from the pits and thorns and thistles.”

In a good community, a blind man never has to grope in the daytime. There are always people around who will identify his suffering and seek to diminish it. A community is  biblically cursed when suffering goes unnoticed, unrelieved and unredeemed. One is cursed when one has to suffer in silence, alone.    

This curse was foreshadowed in a previous passage in Deuteronomy. 

In Deuteronomy 21, Moses addresses the problem of what to do with an unidentified corpse found in a field. The priests and the elders of the city are commanded to perform a ritual and proclaim that they did not kill the man nor see what happened. Then, they offer an atonement. Why do the leaders of the society—the elders and the priests—atone for something that they did not do? Because having an unidentified corpse near their city—having someone die with no one to mourn for him—shows a systemic failure that requires atonement by those with responsibility. Such a community will soon be considered cursed, and it does not have to— and should not be— that way.

There is nothing theoretical, anachronistic or necessarily ancient about this curse or anything else in the Bible. The Torah is our great guidebook, specifically designed “for [our] benefit”— to help us live better today. There are no easy answers or pious declarations that might help us determine the extent to which our society is, along the lines of the blind man groping at noontime, acting as if it is cursed. On the one hand, life expectancy in the United States has declined three years in a row (and that is pre-COVID-19 ) and is nowhere near the global top fifty. This is a consequence, as numerous studies in the past several years have demonstrated, of the “deaths [or ‘diseases’] of despair” that afflict people in a state of loneliness, hopelessness and desperation.

On the other hand is what my wife Rabbi Erica Gerson and I first saw two years ago at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. Dr. Paul Osteen, a pastor at the church and a missionary doctor who spends much of his time each year doing surgery in impossible conditions in the most deprived places in the world, showed us the chapel—a vast space that once served as the Houston Rockets stadium. There were boxes of tissues in front of many of the 17,000 seats. We had never seen anything like this in synagogue, so we asked Paul to explain. He said that there was a moment in each service when congregants were invited to go to a leader (of whom there are dozens) to say and pray whatever is on their minds. People often cry in these moments; hence, the tissues. The leader, upon hearing the pain of the congregant, is then able to direct the person to the social service within the church that can best help to alleviate the pain the congregant describes. We asked Paul how long this process lasts, and he replied,  “However long it takes.” 

A few months later, we spoke at Tabernacle Church in Buffalo, New York, which is run by the great church leader and Christian Zionist, Bishop Robert Stearns. We saw the tissues again, but this time we knew what they were for. There was a church leader in the front and behind each person who came to the front in order to, literally, catch them if they fell. And later still, we spoke at Revival City Church under the inspired leadership of Pastor George Searight, Jr. Again, there were tissues and a person in front and behind each penitent. This church had blankets alongside the tissues, so that one could be gently carried to the ground and rest comfortably.

This is the antidote to the curse of Deuteronomy 28:29. Each of these church leaders has created an institution with structures that ensures that no congregant is like a blind man groping at noontime. They have constructed a community where every person’s pain can be voiced, validated and eased — in the process effectively assuring Moses that they appreciate his concern and are always addressing it.

This is, for us Jews, the month of Elul, where we prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when we contemplate our shortcomings, failures and how we should improve. Perhaps the most helpful way to approach this holiday and its responsibilities is through contemplation of the blind man groping at noontime. The first question to ask is: Who might be the blind man suffering at noontime? The aforementioned American life expectancy statistics suggest that he is ubiquitous—and the Talmud suggests a way to help. If one is suffering in silence (emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically), like the blind man groping at noontime, he is in such a prison. A prisoner, the Talmud teaches, cannot free himself from prison. 

In this month of Elul, especially, we can ask: Am I sufficiently helping to ensure that my communities are those where a blind man would never need to grope at noontime? Or am I the blind man groping at noontime who should seek the guidance that a biblically construed community will provide? What, per Deuteronomy 21, are the structures and measures of accountability that ensure that each member of the community is provided the recognition and the dignity such acknowledgment confers?

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: Making Life Better for the World

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

Israel creates outsized innovations that sometimes border on the impossible. Making water from air and helping paraplegics walk are only two of this nation’s modern-day miracles.

Perhaps another of Israel’s most remarkable accomplishments is that it makes the world better against a backdrop of constant terror on three sides—from Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria. Slightly bigger than New Jersey, its narrowest slice of land is just eight miles across; its widest is 85 miles. From top to bottom, it is only 290 miles. Yet its diminutive size does not stop Israel from also being known as the “innovation nation.”

When the Bible describes Israel, the profound meaning stretches from ancient to modern history. In Isaiah 49:6 God declared, “I shall submit you as a light unto the nations, to be My salvation until the end of the earth.” God has kept His word by sending His son Jesus, the Light. Now, He uses Israeli innovations 2,000 years later empowered by His favor.

The Jewish nation has pioneered thousands of innovations and implemented them in virtually every realm of human endeavor. I want to highlight three of my favorites—Watergen, ReWalk, and OrCam—whose lifechanging inventions I saw demonstrated at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) Policy Conferences. To describe these as astonishing would be an understatement.

Watergen makes clean water out of thin air! When the Watergen generator was rolled out onto AIPAC’s stage, a company executive asked an attendee to participate in a demonstration. He set a glass into place, pushed a button, and we watched the glass fill with water on the big screens situated throughout the convention center. The 18,000 of us in the audience gasped and applauded when we saw the attendee drink fresh water. It wasn’t a magic trick; it was real! As Watergen’s website explains, the generator first cleans the air it draws in, then submits it to a heating and cooling process that allows condensation to occur—and high-quality fresh water is created!

You can imagine what such a tool has meant for nations around the world. Varying models are already installed in dozens of countries, many in partnership with humanitarian organizations.

One of the most poignant Watergen stories comes from Gaza. When Watergen’s President—Israeli Michael Mirilashvili—learned that Palestinian children in Gaza’s only pediatric hospital were not getting enough safe water, he collaborated with Fayez Husseini of Mayet Al Ahel, a Palestinian Authority company that facilitates water and power plants in Gaza. Watergen installed a generator for the hospitalized children. Mr. Husseini commented, “We are very proud of our partnership with Watergen to provide clean water and save lives.”

ReWalk is a robotic exoskeleton created for those with spinal cord injuries. The wearable device was invented by Israeli Dr. Amit Goffer, who was injured in an all-terrain vehicle accident that left him a quadriplegic. He founded ReWalk Robotics to enable people with lower-limb paralysis to walk again. In 2013, Dr. Goffer propelled his wheelchair out onto AIPAC’s stage and told the story of a middle-aged man who had become paralyzed after falling out of a tree—changing his life in an instant. Then, from stage right, the subject of Dr. Goffer’s story triumphantly came walking out in his exoskeleton with his specialized crutches. All of us in the audience rose to our feet with tears in our eyes as we applauded a walking paraplegic!

Another beneficiary of this life-transforming technology is U.S. Marine Captain Derek Herrera, who was paralyzed from the chest down by a sniper’s bullet while on a combat mission in Afghanistan. ReWalk changed his life after he was first fitted for a device in 2014. The retired Captain described his life with the apparatus: “My ReWalk system has afforded me the opportunity to participate in many important milestones in my life on my own two feet.” Through the Veterans Administration, he obtained the newer model, the ReWalk Personal 6.0. Then, in 2015, Captain Herrera walked out onto a stage to receive his Bronze Star, one of the military’s highest honors.

OrCam helps the blind and visually impaired to read and recognize faces and colors! The company describes its product in this way: OrCam MyEye provides independence by allowing access to visual information, conveyed by audio, on a tiny camera which can be attached to any pair of eyeglasses. Using Artificial Intelligence it reads text, recognizes faces, identifies products, and more. MyEye is helping tens of thousands of users in 25 languages and 50 countries, from ages 6 to 100+. The company is careful to say, “OrCam improves a person’s quality of life but it does not improve eyesight.”

Here’s how OrCam works. Glasses are mounted with a small 13-megapixel smart camera on one side (called the “temple or arm”). The camera takes pictures of the wearer’s surroundings. The information is then sent to the wearer audibly. Their “sight” comes through hearing! It is real-time communication. When a blind woman was seated on AIPAC’s stage, huge screens showed us closeups of the demonstration. She was able to identify colors placed on the table in front of her and read the page of a book, which touched every one of us with awe and gratitude for such an unbelievable innovation.

In addition to the companies and products that were highlighted at AIPAC conferences, there are two others I want to mention: Netafim and Nanox.

Netafim is a global leader in a precision irrigation technique that can boast using less water to grow more crops. The company has developed systems that release exactly the right amounts of water and fertilizer at a lower cost than any other system available. Its stated purpose is “Helping the world grow more with less.” Since Israel is 60% desert, Israeli farmers set about to reclaim land from the Negev desert and make it thrive. Launching Netafim in 1965, these entrepreneurs are still impacting nations worldwide with projects like their premier drip-irrigation system. The benefit—more plentiful crops, no matter the climate—is especially critical in famine-ridden nations suffering severe food and water shortages. 

One of Netafim’s most recent projects is taking place in India. Netafim’s drip irrigation will boost crops for 97,000 farmers cultivating 247,000 acres of land. Israeli experts will train the farmers in a project that will save about 40% of India’s water in that locale over less-efficient irrigation techniques. Crops like onions, chili peppers, corn, peanuts, beans, and sunflowers will thrive and bless the lives of Indian families in more than 200 villages.

Nanox. Finally, I want to highlight an innovation that will impact millions of women: cold cathode imaging technology. This was developed by Israeli entrepreneur Ran Poliakine, who believes it will advance 125-year-old X-ray imaging “from the dark ages to the 21st century.” Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at www.Israel21c.org, which tracks thousands of Israel’s innovations. In an article she describes this technology’s benefits to women: “Imagine a single machine quickly scanning your whole body for signs of cancer during your annual checkup. It could perform tests such as computed tomography (CT) and a no-squish mammogram for women.” Poliakine hopes it will be on the market in two years.

Now that you have read a tiny sample of Israel’s blessings to our world, isn’t it even more baffling that her enemies want to destroy the “innovation nation”?

Join CBN Israel to pray in gratitude for Israel, “a light unto the nations.”

  • Pray first with thanks for many Israeli innovations that may help your own family, such as a drug for Parkinson’s Disease or a flexible stint to treat coronary heart disease.
  • Pray asking the Lord to open the eyes of Israel’s enemies to view Israel as a help to their own people. Perhaps they already use the Waze navigational app without realizing that Israel invented GPS.
  • Pray that the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement—economic warfare against Israel’s businesses and institutions—will fade away.
  • Pray that Israelis’ strength and can-do spirit will continue to increase and bless even more people.

Remember, God’s promise to bless the nations with light from Israel surely blesses us.

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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Weekly Devotional: Displeased with God

God’s mercy offends us. When God forgives our sins and we do not receive the reward of our disobedience, we revel in His mercy toward us, and we may even desire such for those like us. But what about those we don’t like, or even our enemies? That is more problematic.

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, the capital of the brutal kingdom of Assyria. Jonah went the opposite way. God tracked Jonah down. As a result, Jonah found himself inside a fish. Jonah then cried out to God for mercy, and God heard him and gave him a second chance.

Jonah went to Nineveh and preached its impending doom in forty days. At least, he’d now be able to see the destruction of this wicked city of the Assyrians. But the people believed in God, and they repented. And when they did, so did God. “Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it” (Jonah 3:10 HCSB).

You would think Jonah would be elated. The people listened to his message, and the city was safe. Shouldn’t Jonah, who recently tasted God’s mercy in his life, welcome God’s mercy to others? He didn’t. God’s mercy displeased him greatly.

We want God to be “merciful and compassionate … slow to become angry, rich in faithful love” (4:2) to us. But we want to keep those blessings for ourselves and those we deem worthy of receiving it. You would imagine that by this point, God would have reached the end of His patience with Jonah, but He hadn’t.

He provided shade for Jonah in the form of a plant, as the prophet awaited the destruction of the city. God still wanted to teach Jonah a lesson. He also appointed a worm that caused the plant to die. Once again, Jonah complained to God, “I’d rather be dead than alive!” (4:3 NLT). God now had Jonah where He could teach him.

“You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” (4:10-11 HCSB).

Too often we think of ourselves as special and as more deserving of God’s mercy than others. To Him, we are special, but so is everyone else, even those we don’t like or agree with—even our enemies. We find ourselves displeased and offended when God shows His mercy to those we deem unworthy of it.

We usually focus upon one aspect of Jonah’s story—him inside the fish. When we do, we miss the point of the book—God’s mercy comes in ways that may displease us, to those we do not like because God is gracious and merciful and cares for everyone.

PRAYER

Father, may we walk more like You showing mercy to those we may not like, those who have hurt us, but those You care about. May we be more like You in every way. Amen.

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