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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise specified are taken from The Complete Jewish Bible by David H. Stern. Copyright ©1998. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Messianic Jewish Publishers, 6120 Day Long Lane, Clarksville, MD  21029.
If you haven't yet done so, now is the time to get your copy of "As It Is Written: Ancient Torah Lessons for the Modern-day Believer." If you have a copy, get some copies for your friends and loved ones. Whether you've been studying Torah for years or are just beginning, you're sure to find pearls of wisdom and insight in this book. To get your copy, please click here: http://bnottziyon.com/christina_oakes

Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement.
Most sincerely in our Messiah Yeshua,
Christina Oakes/Hadassah

 Please note, for the 5775/2015 Year, Hadassah is considering the idea of writing another book. While we will miss her missives, we invite you to visit the archives of her past works. In these archives you will find selections on the parshiyot, haftarah and Tehillim (Psalms) according to the annual cycle of Torah readings, going back a few years. Todah!

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Entries for November 2011

Parashah #7 Vayetzeh: "And He went out"
Genesis 28:10-32:3 (Jewish numbering)

In this week's Torah portion, Ya'akov is exiled for all intents and purposes from his father's house. He is sent empty-handed to Lavan's house in hopes of somehow gaining the means to get a bride. As Rav Mike Lohrberg often points out, Ya'akov is reduced to utter spiritual poverty, but it is in this destitution where he discovers the Source of all riches and true blessing. Interestingly, there is one English word which occurs ten times in this portion that reveals HaShem's character to Ya'akov. It is a seemingly insignificant word in the English, but its Hebrew equivalent is a treasure trove. this word is "place," or in the Hebrew "makom."
The word "makom" (mem qoof vav mem sofit for our Hebrew scholars) comes from the root "kum" (qoof vav mem sofit), which means "to rise" or "to get up." Thus, in B'reishit 28:11, when it says that Ya'akov comes to a certain place, it is more than that he chances upon a spot to spend the night. Rather, it is a very specific location where an encounter with the Divine happens. In fact, in the Hebrew, it says that Ya'akov arrives in "the place." Ya'akov consequently has the dream of the ladder bridging earth and Heaven (see John 1:51 concerning the symbolism of the ladder), and the promise given to Avraham and Yitzchak is conferred upon Ya'akov by HaShem Himself. Later, "makom" is mentioned five other times during Ya'akov's vision (B'reishit 28:11, 16, 17, 19), two times while he is staying with Lavan (B'reishit 29:22, 30:25), and two times when he returns to the land of Canaan and encounters the angels of G-d (B'reishit 31:55; 32:3). Why would one word be mentioned so many times in one Torah portion? Our Jewish brothers and sisters have the answer to this riddle. HaMakom is a name for G-d, denoting His omnipresence. In fact, a traditional greeting to say to one in mourning is, " HaMakom yenachem etchem betoch sh’ar aveilei Tziyon V’Yerushalayim," ("May G-d (i.e. the Omnipresent) console you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem." (See the web sites
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_God_in_Judaism, and http://www.myjewishlearning.com/practices/Ethics/Caring_For_Others/Comforting_Mourners/Words_of_Comfort.shtml respectively.) This seems appropriate when considering Ya'akov's plight. With what befalls him, he has every reason to mourn and be afraid. However, despite being sent away from his family empty-handed, and Lavan's attempts to enslave and destroy him (see B'reishit 31:43 and commentary on Vayetzeh at: http://www.hebrew4christians.com/About_HFC/Site_News/site_news.html), HaMakom, the Omnipresent One, safeguards Ya'akov and brings him, his family, and all he has honestly worked for back to the land promised him in the vision of Beit-El (Beth-el). Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, watches over and protects Ya'akov, so He watches over and protects us who are in Messiah Yeshua. As it is written: "My sheep listen to my voice, I recognize them, they follow me, and I give them eternal life. They will absolutely never be destroyed, and no one will snatch them from my hands. My Father, who gave them to me, is greater than all; and no one can snatch them from the Father's hands. I and the Father are one."" (John 10:27-30) HaMakom is with us through the twists and turns of life.

Shalom uvracha,
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Parashah #6 Tol'dot: "Histories" Genesis 25:19-28:9
This Torah portion begins with the same dilemma that Avraham and Sarah had. B'reishit 25:21 tells us that Yitzchak prayed for his wife because she was barren. HaShem answers his prayers, and Rivkah conceives and bears twins. According to this same passage, Yitzchak is forty years old when he marries Rivkah, and he is sixty years old when his sons are born. Whereas Avraham and Sarah wait twenty-three years before their promised son is given to them, Yitzchak and Rivkah only wait twenty years. An interesting event occurs when Rivkah does finally become pregnant. Through a simple yet profound observation, we see that Rivkah makes the faith of Avraham, Sarah, and Yitzchak her own.
B'reishit 25:22-23 says: "The children fought with each other inside her so much that she said, "If it's going to be like this, why go on living?" So she went to inquire of ADONAI, who answered her, "There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger."" This is the only time in Scripture where a woman inquires of HaShem concerning a matter. This is not to say women didn't pray, but Rivkah actively seeks HaShem concerning the children struggling in her womb. In turn, HaShem answers her with the prophecy that these two children are the beginnings of two nations, the one will be stronger than the other, and that the older will serve the younger. Later, when her sons are grown and Esav (Esau) would have received the blessing of the firstborn from his father, Rivkah sends Ya'akov in to receive the blessing instead perhaps because of the words she heard from the L-RD so many years before. Thus, we see that Rivkah is proactive about her faith perhaps to a fault, but she is willing to take risks for what she believes.
All too often, we blame Rivkah for running ahead of G-d and taking matters into her own hands. This is certainly a valid concern, but do we stop to consider that she, not her husband, receives the word from HaShem about her sons' destinies? On a more personal note, don't we struggle with the same weakness as Rivkah, running ahead of G-d and taking matters into our own hands because things aren't happening the way we think they should? Rivkah teaches us that the Holy One, blessed be He, honors our faith despite our flaws. Like her, we have moments when our faithfulness and godliness shine brilliantly for all the world to see. Then again, we have moments when we do, say, and think really foolish things and we feel like we've taken one step forward and ten steps back. This is not hypocrisy. Rather, it is HaShem refining us and causing us to grow into the fullness of His Son, Messiah Yeshua. As it is written: "Brothers, I, for my part, do not think of myself as having yet gotten hold of it; but one thing I do: forgetting what is behind me and straining forward toward what lies ahead, I keep pursuing the goal in order to win the prize offered by G-d's upward calling in the Messiah Yeshua." "Therefore, as many of us as are mature, let us keep paying attention to this; and if you are differently minded about anything, G-d will also reveal this to you. Only let our conduct fit the level we have already reached." (Philippians 3:13-16) Like Rivkah and the holy ones of old, we are ordinary people in the Hands of an extraordinary G-d.

Shalom uvracha,
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Parashah #5 Chayei Sarah:  Genesis 23:1-25:18
In this Torah portion, we see the baton of faith being passed from one generation to another. As Avraham's servant seeks a bride for Yitzchak, he is admonished by his master not to take a wife from the Canaanite women. When considering this injunction, we usually conclude that it is because of the negative aspects of Canaanite culture that Avraham insists on such a stricture. Though this is probable, there may be another reason entirely which, when examined, harkens back to ancient promises and highlights G-d's faithfulness in brilliant Hughes. B'reishit 24 records the events surrounding Avraham's servant arriving at the city of Nahor and discovering Rivkah, Avraham's great niece. In good Middle Eastern decorum, the servant speaks with Rivkah's family, telling them how he was sent to find a wife for Avraham's son, and requesting their permission to take Rivkah as a bride for Yitzchak. The family consents, and Rivkah is sent off with a peculiar blessing. Verse 60 of B'reishit 24 says: "And they blessed Rebekah, and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions, and let thy seed possess the gate of those which hate them." (AV) There is far more than meets the eye in this blessing. It is unfortunate that the English translation doesn't do this particular verse justice. There are two aspects to this blessing that, if read in the Hebrew are striking. First, in Biblical language, the man is said to have "seed," not the woman. Thus, when Rivkah's family blesses her and refers to her "seed," this should make us stop in our tracks. The only other time the "seed" of a woman is mentioned is B'reishit 3:15, which says: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." (AV) This is the first Messianic promise and prophecy given in Scripture. Could the blessing conferred upon Rivkah be a Messianic promise as well? Second, the word "seed" is singular, unlike what is reflected in the English text. A more correct translation would be: "You are our sister. May you be the mother of thousands of millions, and may your seed (singular) possess the gate of [those who] hate him." (The words in brackets are inferred in the Hebrew.) Though we find later that Lavan, Rivkah's brother, worships idols, this particular passage shows us that the promised Seed of the woman is recognized and hoped for among Avraham's relatives. HaShem always has His remnant. Could it be that Avraham sends his servant back to his relatives to find a wife for Yitzchak because they share his faith to some degree? If so, it would be important for Yitzchak to be equally yoked. In fact, next week's Torah portion supports this thought by portraying Rivkah as a woman of faith, despite her faults and flaws (Genesis 25:22-23). As we continue to study these patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith, let us remember that we are part of something far bigger than our own experiences, likes, and dislikes. We have been given that same baton of faith that passed from Avraham and Sarah to Yitzchak and Rivkah, to Ya'akov, Leah and Rachel, the twelve tribes of Yisrael, to Ruth and Boaz, to king David, to Isaiah and Jeremiah, and so on. As it is written: "All of these had their merit attested because of their trusting. Nevertheless, they did not receive what had been promised, because God had planned something better that would involve us, so that only with us would they be brought to the goal." (Hebrews 11:39-40) Let us pass this precious faith on to the next generation, praying they in turn will pass it on to a thousand succeeding generations.

Shalom uvracha,
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Parashah #4 Vayera:  Genesis 18:1-22:24
This Torah portion contains such famous episodes as the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, the birth of Yitzchak (Isaac), and the akedah or binding of Yitzchak. We also see the beginnings of HaShem's promise to Avraham being fulfilled as attention is drawn to the progenitors of the nations of Moab, Amon, and the Yishma'elite clans. In the midst of all of this, there are three instances which teach us about prayer and how we should employ it. B'reishit 18:20-22 records HaShem's plan to visit Sodom and Gomorrah to see if the wickedness of those cities matches the outcry concerning them. Hence, two messengers are sent ahead (verse 22). However, B'reishit 18:23-26 says: "Avraham approached and said, "Will you actually sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Maybe there are fifty righteous people in the city; will you actually sweep the place away, and not forgive it for the sake of the fifty righteous who are there? Far be it from you to do such a thing-- to kill the righteous along with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike! Far be it from you! Shouldn't the judge of all the earth do what is just?" ADONAI said, "If I find in S'dom fifty who are righteous, then I will forgive the whole place for their sake."" Thus begins Avraham's Middle Eastern bargaining session, and HaShem graciously participates in this transaction. We know the outcome:  HaShem agrees that if there are only ten righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, He would spare those cities for their sakes. Apparently there aren't even ten righteous people because the cities are destroyed after all. However, one wonders how history would be altered if Avraham hadn't pleaded for Sodom and Gomorrah. His boldness in approaching HaShem and the covenant HaShem made with him (Genesis 15) save the lives of Lot and his daughters. Lot, though in Sodom, reflects Avraham's influence in his life, albeit in a different set of circumstances.
In B'reishit 19, Lot is hastily extracted from Sodom before its destruction. Verses 17-21 record Lot's own bargaining with the divine: "When they [the angels] had brought them out, he said, "Flee for your life! Don't look behind you, and don't stop anywhere in the plain, but escape to the hills! Otherwise you will be swept away." Lot said to them, "Please, no, my lord! Here, your servant has already found favor in your sight, and you have shown me even greater mercy by saving my life. But I can't escape to the hills, because I'm afraid the disaster will overtake me, and I will die. Look, there's a town nearby to flee to, and it's a small one. Please let me escape there-- isn't it just a small one?-- and that way I will stay alive." He replied, "All right, I agree to what you have asked. I won't overthrow the city of which you have spoken." At first blush, this seems like a selfish prayer, "Save the city so I won't have to run so far." However, like his uncle Avraham, Lot is pleading both for his life and for each life contained in the city for which he's pleading. HaShem, through his messengers, graciously answers this prayer, too. The legacy of Avraham being a man of prayer continues as we visit the exile of Yishma'el.
B'reishit 21:14-17 tells us of the plight of Hagar and Yishma'el after Avraham sends them away at Sarah's behest. Hagar and Yishma'el wander in the wilderness, their provision of water runs out, and Hagar despairs of life, especially for Yishma'el. In verse 16, Hagar lifts up her voice and cries, but verse 17 says that G-d hears the voice of Yishma'el. The name "Yishma'el" means "G-d hears," but there seems to be more to this passage than a simple word play. Why does Scripture speak of Hagar lifting up her voice and crying, but G-d hears Yishma'el's voice, not Hagar's? Could it be that Yishma'el is praying at this point? Scripture doesn't tell us, but the angel of G-d does answer, both Hagar's and Yishma'el's lives are spared, and verse 18 of B'reishit 21 says that G-d continues to be with Yishma'el as he grows into full manhood. These three incidences of prayer and intercession raise some challenging questions for us as believers.
Let me qualify what I'm about to say by stating that I am not in favor of the name it and claim it, blab it and grab it theology. That being said, how many of us are willing to approach the Throne of Grace and plead for the most wicked of cities, families, people, etc., for the sake of the righteous? What answers to prayer are we missing out on because we don't ask? Are we willing, like Lot, to intercede for the communities and places where we live, even though we may not like them so well? Do we remember that, as with Yishma'el, G-d hears our voice in the proverbial wilderness whether we're praying or not? From this Torah portion, we see that prayer isn't some passive process of communication. It is interactive dialogue with the Holy One of Yisrael, and it can change the course of history. Most importantly, when we pray, we are speaking to the True and Living G-d whose heart and hand are moved by our words. As it is written: "Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear." (Isaiah 65:24) ""Keep asking, and it will be given to you; keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps asking receives; he who keeps seeking finds; and to him who keeps knocking, the door will be opened. Is there anyone here who, if his son asks him for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone? or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? So if you, even though you are bad, know how to give your children gifts that are good, how much more will your Father in heaven keep giving good things to those who keep asking him!" (Matthew 7:7-11) Like Avraham, Lot, and perhaps even Yishma'el, let us persist in prayer.

Shalom uvracha,
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