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Broken on the Side of the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We can find ourselves so caught up in our tasks, even our tasks for God (or, even worse, believing the hype that surrounds us), that we fail to see the broken, poor, and suffering on the side of the road crying for help.

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

PRAYER

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

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The Torah’s Compelling Case for a “Why Do” List

By Mark Gerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare 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 and the United States: In it Together

By Arlene Bridges Samuels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Complaining to God

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

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

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

The Bible, however, invites us to be real. It encourages our frustrations and our emotions of abandonment, especially abandonment from God. The psalms contain a number of laments, both individual and communal. The lament is simply a complaint to God. A holy complaint. It expresses raw feelings, emotions, and frustrations. Reading the laments in the Bible should teach us how to complain to God—and get real with our emotions before Him and before ourselves.

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

The author of Psalm 13 addresses himself to God and openly describes his complaint. He acknowledges feeling ignored by God, that God has hidden Himself from the psalmist. His cares and grief seem never-ending. Those he considers his enemies have come against him. He asks God to be moved to action and come to his aid, lest he be overwhelmed. He concludes by affirming his trust—despite his feelings and frustrations—in God’s faithfulness. God has been good to him in the past; he expects Him to be the same in the future. Notice, however, the psalm does not end with the resolution of his problems. He simply articulates his trust in God.

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

The biblical lament never allowed for the person to be consumed with their feelings. The lamenter always returns to an affirmation of hope and trust in God. We can complain to God. We would grow in our faith if we genuinely allow it in ourselves and others. Our communities could become true places of refuge and healing if we allowed such raw, unfiltered expressions of our frustrations and emotions framed within our trust of God, even when He seems hidden.

PRAYER

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

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Caleb, Joshua, and the Grasshoppers

By Mark Gerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Gerson, a devoted Jew, is an entrepreneur and philanthropist who (along with his wife, Rabbi Erica Gerson) is perhaps the world’s largest individual supporter of Christian medical missions. He is the co-founder of African Mission Healthcare 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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COVID-19 Food Distribution in Ramla

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Rabbi Levi Welton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website: rabbiwelton.com

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What Kind of Disciple Are You?

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name” (Psalm 86:11 NKJV).

Are you a lifelong learner? Do you desire daily to learn from the Lord? Walking with the Lord, walking in His truth, means that we seek to learn from Him, to be taught by Him.

The word for disciple in both Greek and Hebrew means “a student.” Being a disciple, then, requires us to daily seek to learn from God, knowing His way, and walking in His truth.

When Jesus commanded His disciples to go and raise up disciples, He expected that their efforts would produce a community of students eager to learn God’s way and walk in His truth. But in order for His disciples to create such a community, they first had to be that kind of disciple.

The actions of Ezra, the scribe, describe biblical discipleship: “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the Lord and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10 nasb)—to study, to do, and to teach others. This provides the process of biblical discipleship: Study leads to action, and both provide the foundation from which instruction to others can occur.

The second clause of the Psalm—“unite my heart to fear Your name”—indicates that one of a divided heart cannot truly fear (or revere) God’s name. In other words, a person cannot be truly devoted to God with a divided heart.

What is the connection between requesting to learn God’s way and receiving an undivided heart? Learning from God is not simply learning an algebraic equation or the history of the United States. Being taught by God requires a diligent obedience, which is what the Bible means by walking in His truth. One cannot obey God with a divided heart. To learn from Him, we must passionately pursue Him with singularity. We must seek to study His word, then do it, and then we must instruct others in what we have learned.

This is what Jesus envisioned when He commanded His disciples to raise up disciples. As students, they would raise up other students—all to live out His word and message.

PRAYER

Father, teach us Your way so that we may walk in Your truth. Give us an undivided heart, so that we may fear and revere Your name. Amen.

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No Perfect People

By Mark Gerson

Everyone in the Torah is flawed. In fact, it is often the best people in the Torah who have the greatest flaws. While the Torah says and shows that a good relationship can help repair a personality defect, no Torah character is without his or her flaws.

Personality flaws often weave through the whole of who we are and color most of our words and actions. That is why, given that our most frequent activity is engaging in relationships, even the best relationships in the Torah have flaws.

As we see in Numbers 12, even the best sibling relationship in the Torah—between Miriam, Aaron, and their younger brother Moses—has significant flaws that yield dramatic consequences.

One of Moses’ great flaws is his failure to be a good husband and father. Moses is married to a remarkably courageous and competent woman, Zipporah. They have two children together. Yet he seems to have conducted the Exodus, the greatest and most logistically difficult event in the history of the Jewish people, without them nearby.

Immediately following the Exodus, Moses’ family comes to greet him in the desert. Although Moses “prostrates himself” and “kisses” them, he only asks about the “well-being” of Jethro, his father-in-law. Subsequently, we never see Moses saying anything loving, tender, or supportive of his wife or children. Perhaps consequently, his children (unlike those of his brother Aaron) are never mentioned in Scripture for doing or saying anything distinctive.

Moses may have been the greatest man in the Torah—and, as we Jews believe, in the history of mankind—but he is still a man. And it is not good, as God tells us in early Genesis, for man to be alone. While the term is not used, Moses seems to have divorced Zipporah and married (according to Numbers 12:1) a “Cushite woman.” The Cushites are a people from modern-day Ethiopia/Sudan.

We know only one thing about Moses’ Cushite wife, and it is explained by the discipline called gematria. Every Hebrew letter corresponds with a number, and words that have the same number are considered by the Jewish tradition to be intimately related. The gematria for “Cushite” is 736—as is the gematria for “beautiful of appearance.” This is the term that often describes physical beauty in the Torah—as with Sarah, Rachel, Joseph, and the first set of cows in the Pharaoh’s dream.

Moses, therefore, seems to have left Zipporah (who would have been advanced in years, as this is nearly four decades after the Exodus) for a presumably younger and certainly beautiful woman. Miriam and Aaron are deeply disappointed in their younger brother, and they “spoke against Moses regarding the Cushite woman he had married.”

Yet God is furious with Miriam and Aaron, not Moses. Numbers 12:9 says, “The wrath of the Lord flared up against them.” Miriam is afflicted with a devastating skin disease.

The existence and extent of God’s anger at this moment is, at first glance, puzzling. Certainly, God does not approve of Moses leaving Zipporah for a new and beautiful woman! It would go against everything God had previously taught us about marriage, beginning in Genesis. And God never mentions the Cushite woman or incorporates her in the partnership and plans that He has with her husband.

Does God approve of Aaron and Miriam rebuking their brother? Given the centrality of rebuke in the Jewish moral system—God commands us in Leviticus 19:17 to “Rebuke, rebuke your fellow”—it certainly seems as though their criticism is warranted and perhaps even required.

Then why is God’s fury turned toward Miriam and Aaron?

Because Aaron and Miriam do not actually rebuke their brother over his sin. They never confront Moses about the hurt he’s presumably caused Zipporah and his children, they never tell Moses that he is not exemplifying and modeling the importance of family that had been painstakingly forged in Genesis, they never ask Moses to consider his actions in the context of their parents’ legacy. There is a lot Aaron and Miriam could have said to Moses to get him to see his mistake, but they chose to say nothing.

Instead, they speak behind his back. This is the sin of lashon hara (“idle speech”) that is considered in Judaism to be akin to murder, adultery and idolatry. Importantly, it does not matter that Miriam and Aaron speak the truth about Moses. False speech is almost always prohibited in Judaism, and true speech about another person that serves no productive or elevated purpose is almost always prohibited, as well. 

God, who could have created the world with a proverbial snap of His fingers, instead does so with nine “God saids.” Just as God created the world with His words, we create worlds with our words. This passage in Numbers shows that we need to be as careful with our word creations as God was with His.

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 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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Single Mother | Faina’s Story

When they moved to Israel from Belarus, Faina and her husband had just come to faith in Christ and attended a local congregation with their baby boy. Life was good, and she was happy.

But when she became pregnant again, she noticed disturbing changes. Money began disappearing, along with their electronic devices that could be sold. Then, her husband started staying out late at the bars after work—and when he finally stumbled in, he reeked of alcohol.

With a baby on the way, she feared for their future, as her son witnessed his father’s drunken behavior. She tried to help her husband and reached out to their pastor for counseling and support—but it was no use. He had stopped caring, and his self-destructive behavior grew worse.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and her husband suddenly left, with no warning. Alone with two small children, a pile of debt, and no income, Faina was lonely and afraid.

And then, hope arrived. Thanks to friends like you, Faina discovered CBN Israel. We paid Faina’s rent, and provided her with food, baby supplies—and food coupons for an entire month! As our staff helped her get back on her feet, she said gratefully, “I wish I could tell everyone who helped me how much I appreciate their support!” Faina found a new beginning.

And CBN Israel is also bringing hope, aid, and new beginnings to others in need, especially during this global pandemic. As the number of people in Israel needing our help soars, your support is crucial. You can share God’s love with elderly Holocaust survivors, refugees, and more—by offering groceries, shelter, and other necessities. Please consider a gift today!

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