Sunday, October 23, 2011

Parshat B'reishit

Hey guys! Well, I am very sorry that this is getting posted much later than I'd hoped. Some comp issues came up at the last minute, I was out and about all of yesterday, but while I'm sure I can think of a number of other hindrances, I could've done a better job planning my time (and as you'll see, what I just said was an example of how we can apply the lesson of this message).

So, w/out any further ado, here begins our first drash. Many of you know that I'm much the science geek, myself, so given that this week's portion is "B'reishit" (lit. "In the Beginning"), I'm sure there are at least a few of you thinking I'm getting ready to launch into a spiel about the Creation story, what science tells us about the origins of the universe, were they literal 24-hour days, was there a pre-existing earth (a.k.a. "gap theory"), etc. Sorry to disappoint, but no (although if you're up for an interesting discussion, ask me about the first and seventh days in the story in light of Einstein's Relativity Theory.....long story ;-). You might also know that I'm somewhat the language geek, too, and that I love digging to find the deeper meaning of things. Hence, you might be thinking that I'm going to break into a lengthy lecture about the genealogies and the meanings behind the names. Well...not quite. Truth be told, this section of Scripture is filled w/ plenty of meaty material for the geek and non-geek alike, so having weighed this all out, here are the extractions from the Torah, Haftarah, and B'rit Chadasha portions I've decided to make:


"And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee [shall be] his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where [is] Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: [Am] I my brother's keeper?" - Gen. 4:3-9


"Thus saith the LORD of hosts, I remember [that] which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid [wait] for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt. Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. .... But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all [that was] good, and would not utterly destroy them: but every thing [that was] vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly. ... And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed [be] thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. And Samuel said, What [meaneth] then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? ... The LORD sent thee on a journey, and said, Go and utterly destroy the sinners the Amalekites, and fight against them until they be consumed. Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD? And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal. And Samuel said, Hath the LORD [as great] delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey [is] better than sacrifice, [and] to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion [is as] the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness [is as] iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD, he hath also rejected thee from [being] king." - 1 Samuel 15:2-3; 9; 13-14; 18-23


"And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Yeshua answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." - Luke 5:29-32

"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead [men's] bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." - Matthew 23:27-28

Have you ever gotten caught doing something you know you weren't supposed to do? What is your reaction when this happens? It's human nature to insist that what we're doing is right, even when we know (and evidence well suggests) that we're not. It's really silly, too, when you think about it. Why do we do that? Isn't it b/c we want others to accept us, even though we know that we'll never meet up to people's expectations? It's as if we think that our perpetual insistence on being right will earn that acceptance and be easier on us than simply being honest w/ ourselves and others, genuinely wanting these ill-ward tendencies of ours to turn around.

While we aren't clearly told why, God was pleased w/ Abel's sacrifice and displeased w/ Cain's. Now Cain could have said, "God, I'm sorry! Please help me change!", and how hard would that have been, really? However, he decided to walk around in bitterness, carrying a grudge to the point that he killed his own brother, then lied about it when called upon by "The Big Guy Upstairs" (as if He could've been fooled). Saul didn't prove to be any different, either...except of course for the fact that he chose to take it a step further: Saul - "Samuel! So good to see you! I just finished obeying God w/ that whole destroying-the-Amalekites thing we were talking about." Samuel - "Uh, really? So, what's w/ all these sheep 'n such?" Saul - "Oh!....uh....well, I....uh....that is....I had a better idea! Why destroy them, when we could sacrifice them? I mean, God likes that kind of stuff, right?" All jesting aside, I need to point out a few things in the text, here. First, notice how Saul tries to pass his disobedience off on the people (v.20,21). Second, not only does he deny he was disobedient, he tries to pass off what he did as as a righteous deed, claiming that the "best" of the flock was spared to "sacrifice" unto the Lord (v.15) Third, notice how he speaks to Samuel of the Lord *your* God (v.15,21), implying that his heart is distanced from his Creator.

In the B'rit Chadashah portion, we see Yeshua reminding the scribes and Pharisees of two things. First, His mission was not to the righteous, but to the sinful. Second, that even they (the scribes and Pharisees), w/ all of their "good works", still didn't cut it. In a standup routine, comedian Jim Gaffigan once had this to say: "It doesn't matter if you're religious or not. Does anything make you feel more uncomfortable than some stranger going, 'I'd like to talk to you about Jesus,'?" An interesting observation, indeed, and one w/ which Scripture agrees (see Romans 9:30-33). Why do you think this is? Let's just pretend for a second that you are Cain, Saul, or one of the scribes and Pharisees. Obviously, you've put a lot of work into what you're doing, and God knows you'd probably want a little recognition, right? I mean, after all, it's not like you're trying to say that you're perfect or anything, you're just trying to say that you're trying. The last thing you want to hear, then, is, "Sorry, but this doesn't cut it," but this is exactly the point that God is continually trying to get across to humanity. Everyone has sinned (Rom. 3:23), and no one can be counted holy enough in his own merits to stand in the full presence of God (Ex. 33:20). Furthermore, there's the bit about choice. So let's say we admit to our need for help. Good for us. If we're smart enough to recognize this need, then certainly we can trust our logic to choose from the buffet line of spirituality what are some good choices to help us along (Buddhism, Islam, philosophy, etc.). However, Scripture takes the offense one step further, telling us that we don't have any other options (John 14:6).

I remember learning in 7th grade a rather twisted way to kill a raccoon. As I recall, you take a a shiny piece of metal, place it in an opening on a log that is large enough for him to get his hand into, but small enough that he won't be able pass his fist through it, that way he won't be able to get the desired object. Take the log w/ the raccoon on it, throw it into a stream headed towards a waterfall, and what happens? The raccoon will become so fixated on getting that shiny piece of metal that he won't look ahead of him to see what's coming. Our pride is like that. So often we'll have something in mind that our hearts are set on, while God has another idea that we're just much better off w/. But we know what's best, don't we? We just can't let go of that shiny piece of metal, or be bothered w/ anything that would ask us to. So we continue to strive and work hard to be "really good", deceiving ourselves to think that righteousness is about all that is done outwardly, when God is beckoning us to something so much deeper, all the while stretching His hand out to us, saying, "Here, let Me help you."

So my advice from all of this? Come clean before God. Confess your shortcomings to Him, quit making excuses for them, and ask for His help. If you haven't placed your faith in Jesus as the only way back to God, I'd encourage you to do so (and I'd love to talk w/ you about it). If you have, continue in His grace. Don't become like the scribes and Pharisees who focused so much on the appearance of righteousness that they wouldn't admit to their internal weaknesses and failures, lest you become like Saul, who distanced his heart from his Maker.

I'll leave you w/ a few verses for meditation:

"Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully." - Psalm 24:3-4

"[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Messiah Yeshua, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Messiah Yeshua hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." - Rom. 8:1-4

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." - Eph. 2:8-9