Good morning and welcome to Beth Messiah! This is our last message in our Torah App series. Next week, I hope you will join us as we do a live demonstration and "Shabbat-How" service with our new bencher. If you have not already purchased a bencher we may have a few copies left in resource central. Please make sure you go online to our web-site and purchase one on Sunday:-)
I do hope you will join us for this very fun, interactive time of worship and celebration.
Today, is the last topic in our Torah App series which means I either saved the best for last or the most uncomfortable for last. Or, maybe it is both the best and and the most uncomfortable at the exact same time. However the message registers with you today, I hope you will be encouraged to not just be a hearer of God's word but a doer of God's word. I believe the future flourishing of our people, our messianic identity hinges on us being hearers who are doers of God's word.
How many in this room have ever been woken up from their slumber while it is still dark as dark can be. Even though you have every piece of furniture memorized you still manage to kick that dresser with the edge of your toe or like me you do a face plant right into the bedroom wall. There is something about the darkness that just throws everything out of order.
Often times, when the lights are off and darkness has taken hold it is hard to know what to do or why did i end up in this darkness to begin with. On June 19th, 1944, the 20th Air Force Division (B-29 Bombers) were hunting the Japanese naval fleet in the Pacific. The U.S. Navy was having a very difficult time locating the main body of the Japanese fleet, always the most critical and most frustrating activity in the Pacific War. Late in the day Admiral Raymond Spruance was able to get a fix on his Japanese counterpart, but there were only a few hours of daylight left and the enemy was at extreme range. He gave orders for a full-scale raid by his carrier aircraft, involving more than 200 planes.
The raid went well enough, U.S. aircraft sunk the Japanese carrier Hiyo and badly damaged the Zuikaku, along with a few other ships. The Pilots, after accomplishing their mission, were trying to make there way back to their carriers in the thick black of night. The carriers, destroyers, supply vessels were all under a "no light-no talk" command. There were enemy submarines and crafts in those waters. Turn on the lights and puts every sailor on every ship at risk. The glow of the boats would easily be picked up by trained eyes.
Plane after plane ran out of gas and dropped into the sea. Some pilots became completely disoriented, others snapped and began sobbing according to survivor testimonies. Who can blame them? It was a pitch black night in the middle of the world’s biggest ocean. Radio-Silence and Visual-Silence.
When the lights go out, when darkness sets in, even the best of the best are left with the worst of choices. I want to take our last Torah App from our Torah portion this week: Ke Tavo, in Hebrew it means, "when you go out." This is one of the hardest Torah portions in all of the Scriptures to read. It is a list of curse-after-curse,
“A curse on you in the city, and a curse on you in the countryside. “A curse on your grain-basket and kneading-bowl. “A curse on the fruit of your body, the fruit of your land and the young of your cattle and flocks. “A curse on you when you come in, and a curse on you when you go out.
The curses are not just general kinds of misfortune: not enought food, not enough money, the become very specific and personally heartbreaking: Deuteronomy 28:30-32
You will get engaged to a woman, but another man will marry her. You will build a house but not live in it. You will plant a vineyard but not use its fruit. Your ox will be slaughtered before your eyes, but you won’t eat any of its meat. Your donkey will be taken away from you by force as you watch, and you won’t get it back. Your sheep will be given to your enemies, and there will be no one to help you. Your sons and daughters will be handed over to another people; you will watch for them longingly all day but not see them; and there will be nothing you can do about it.
The curses do more than just affect us from the outside, they start to reveal the deepest, darkest party of human depravity on the inside.
Then, because of the severity of the siege and distress that your enemies are inflicting on you, you will eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your own sons and daughters, whom ADONAI your God has given you.
It is darkness on the land. The kind of darkness that makes a human being curse a beautiful sunrise because of it's beauty. A darkness where all the options are literally from bad-to-worse.
Why? Why would the covenant nation ever be subjected to such darkness? There must be a good reason, there must be an explanation for this excessive show of darkness. Our portion names the reason in
Because you didn’t serve ADONAI your God with joy and gladness in your heart when you had such an abundance of everything;
Wait, Really! You get curses because you aren’t happy? Are you telling me that if you have this guy, he basically tries to keep every command in the book, honors his parents, destroys foreign idols, but because he was a little bit grumpy, he kevetched some here and there, he is doomed to eat his children? Isn't this just a little bit excessive?
In order to understand this, deep darkness, we need a little context from our Torah portion.
Earlier in our Torah Portion, we are given a bread crumb. The thing about bread crums is recognizing them for the clues that they really are. In Deut 27:9-13, we are told that the Israelites were to divide into two groups and stand on Mt. Eval and Mt. Grezim (Slide of people on Mountains). There in a solemn covenant ceremony the six tribes on Grezim would pronounce 6 general blessings and then about 8 verses of "this is what this looks like to be blessed" (slide showing blessings and picture). It is all that good stuff like Deut 28:12-14 (no slide for this)
ADONAI will open for you his good treasure, the sky, to give your land its rain at the right seasons and to bless everything you undertake. You will lend to many nations and not borrow; ADONAI will make you the head and not the tail; and you will be only above, never below—if you will listen to, observe and obey the mitzvot of ADONAI your God and not turn away from any of the words I am ordering you today, neither to the right nor to the left, to follow after other gods and serve them.
The other six tribes utter six general curses and then spend about 48 verses say "this is what the curse looks like, this is what you can expect in the darkness." All those horrible things we read a minute ago.
But before these 6 general blessings and their rosy picture were declared and the 6 curses and their darkness declared the Levites declared to all of Israel 12 different behaviors that would provoke these 6 blessings if avoided or theses 6 curses if they were engaged in.
The L’vi’im, speaking loudly, will proclaim to every man of Isra’el: “ ‘A curse on anyone who makes a carved or metal image, something ADONAI detests, the handiwork of a craftsman, and sets it up in secret!’ All the people are to respond by saying, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who dishonors his father or mother.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who moves his neighbor’s boundary marker.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who causes a blind person to lose his way on the road.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who interferes with justice for the foreigner, orphan or widow.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who has sexual relations with his father’s wife, because he has violated his father’s rights.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who has sexual relations with any kind of animal.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who has sexual relations with his sister, no matter whether she is the daughter of his father or of his mother.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who has sexual relations with his mother-in-law.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who secretly attacks a fellow member of the community.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’ “ ‘A curse on anyone who does not confirm the words of this Torah by putting them into practice.’ All the people are to say, ‘Amen!’
Why are these twelve things so monumental to merit blessings and curse? They are all clendestine sins. I wish I would have come up with that title but I did not. Two of our sages of blessed memory, Ibn Ezra and Rashbam who agreed saying, "They often escape detection because they are commonly committed in secret or are hard for their victims to publicize." All of these 12 behaviors are really a reflection of an attitude of the heart. A heart that believes in private they keep God in the dark. So, the darkness over the land, the curses, the misfortune are because of the darkness the people were creating privately. That is why the curses move from general, to heartbreaking, to internally depraving. You see, clandestine sins emerge out of our personal depravity, break the hearts of others and generally start to destroy everything around us. The curses are just working from the outside back in to the center.
We asked the question, "Was God really allowing all of these curses, this darkness because of our grumpiness and complaining?" Deut 28:47
Because you didn’t serve ADONAI your God with joy and gladness in your heart when you had such an abundance of everything;
No, it is not because we had a bad day. It is because in secret, in private we really delight in what God hates. The best way to give up God's blessing on your life is to secretly love and rejoice in private sin that beneifts you. What Moses is saying is you have an abundance of everything, the recipient of many blessings but you do not use your blessing to serve God with joy and gladness but you employ in the service of whatever your personal, private pet sin is.
These people described in this passage were givers. They gave God their spare worship, the spare time, their spare change, their spare obedience, their spare dedication.
Wait a minute Michael, Shaul said in Gal 3:10 that if you rely on the works of the Law you are under the curse and that Messiah removed the curse from us (Gal 3:11-13). And, that all I need is faith like Abraham (Gal 3:14-18). I am so glad you pointed that out to me.
Just one question, "Do Yeshua and Shaul both agree that a double-life of secret sin is individually, socially and nationally destructive?" - Yes
Shaul was talking to a group of non-jews who thought they could experience the salvation of God apart from the Messiah he was not saying that obedience to God is now off the table. He calls these non-Jews to enter into savlation the same way Abraham did before he was circumcised, by faith. As a matter of fact, when he loops back around in Galatians 5 he argues that real faith bears real fruit. Shaul would have agreed with Jacob when he said that because of Abraham's faith is evidenced by what he does. - James 2:20-23
But, foolish fellow, do you want to be shown that such “faith” apart from actions is barren? Wasn’t Avraham avinu declared righteous because of actions when he offered up his son Yitz’chak on the altar? You see that his faith worked with his actions; by the actions the faith was made complete; and the passage of the Tanakh was fulfilled which says, “Avraham had faith in God, and it was credited to his account as righteousness.” He was even called God’s friend.
The big point is simply this: that God takes seriously secret sin. So seriously, that when you choose to live a life of secret sin you are simaltaneously choosing to give up God's blessings in exchange for curses.
There is a light in all of this Terrible darkness. You see, I did not finish the story about those naval pilots. With all those pilots desperate flying blind in the darknes, crying out for any kind of assistance, Admiral Marc Mitscher made a gutsy call. He ordered the entire carrier fleet illuminated, and the dark Pacific night suddenly turned to daylight, as every light in the fleet was turned on to guide the fliers. It was a dangerous thing to do in the middle of an unfriendly ocean.
There just might be a couple of Japanese submarines out there, licking their chops and slapping high fives as they saw those lights come on. But there definitely were pilots calling for help, and they were calling for it now. They were emersed in the deep darkness of the Pacific. According to the story I read about this, when the lights came on the Pilots rushed to the ships. In a mad dash, some tried to land their planes on destroyers and freighters. Some ditched their planes close enought to the ships to be rescued. Out of the 200 planes that took off, 80 planes were lost to the Pacific, 20 to the air rade but because the lights came back on 100 planes made back home. The next day, when daylight arose they rescued pilots out of the water around the fleet so that only 16 pilots were lost and 33 crewman because the light came back on.
In our portion, there is a bright light. A light in the form of the man or woman who has faith like our fathers. Wait a minute, I though we were talking about our Torah portion but that sounds like Shaul. No, Shaul sounds just like our Torah portion.
At the very start of our Torah portion God shows us the person who averts the misfortune, averts the disaster, this person is the one who does not secretly hold back what joyfully belongs to the Lord.
I imagine this person is not a city dweller. He is a farmer. He spends his days working the land. People probably count him out because he is a farmer. Or, they make some silly analogy that his like Cain who worked the ground. But this guy or gal, It says he goes to the Priest with his firstfruits and makes a declaration in Deut. 26:3
You will approach the cohen holding office at the time and say to him, ‘Today I declare to ADONAI your God that I have come to the land ADONAI swore to our ancestors that he would give us.’
Why does he have to say this to the Priest? Doesn't the priest know he is living in Israel? Only Israelites would do this. Notice, he is not talking to the priest he is talking to Adonai, "I declare to Adonai." He is not there to impress somebody with something, he is there to recognize the source of all blessings. He is there to recognzie that he is part of a covenant community that did not just start with Moses but way back there with our fathers.
Then it says he gives the priest the basket of his firstfuits offering and he makes this amazing confession of faith in Deut. 26:5-10
“Then, in the presence of ADONAI your God, you are to say, ‘My ancestor was a nomad from Aram. He went down into Egypt few in number and stayed. There he became a great, strong, populous nation. But the Egyptians treated us badly; they oppressed us and imposed harsh slavery on us. So we cried out to ADONAI, the God of our ancestors. ADONAI heard us and saw our misery, toil and oppression; and ADONAI brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and a stretched-out arm, with great terror, and with signs and wonders. Now he has brought us to this place and given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, as you see, I have now brought the firstfruits of the land which you, ADONAI, have given me.’ You are then to put the basket down before ADONAI your God, prostrate yourself before ADONAI your God,
He makes a confession about Adonai's unlimited power in the past to deliver our nomadic ancestors and Adonai's continuing ability to keep his covenant and bless us. Then the best part shows up: Deut 26:10-11
Therefore, as you see, I have now brought the firstfruits of the land which you, ADONAI, have given me.’ You are then to put the basket down before ADONAI your God, prostrate yourself before ADONAI your God, and take joy in all the good that ADONAI your God has given you, your household, the Levi and the foreigner living with you.
There it is, joy. This farmer did not hold anything back. He did not keep something secret from God. He did no hide his firstfruits or make excuses about how far the trip was. No, he delighted in being generous before Adonai. His faith, led to action which produced the joy of the Lord.
That was the firstfruits of faith. It does not stop there. The light just gets brighter.
It says in Deut 26:12-15
“After you have separated a tenth of the crops yielded in the third year, the year of separating a tenth, and have given it to the Levi, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, so that they can have enough food to satisfy them while staying with you; you are to say, in the presence of ADONAI your God, ‘I have rid my house of the things set aside for God and given them to the Levi, the foreigner, the orphan and the widow, in keeping with every one of the mitzvot you gave me. I haven’t disobeyed any of your mitzvot or forgotten them. I haven’t eaten any of this food when mourning, I haven’t put any of it aside when unclean, nor have I given any of it for the dead. I have listened to what ADONAI my God has said, and I have done everything you ordered me to do. Look out from your holy dwelling-place, from heaven; and bless your people Isra’el and the land you gave us, as you swore to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.’
He makes a confession about the integrity of his heart. He has not hidden anything in darkness from God. This ancient piece of liturgy, this confession code of historic israelite faith was framed by a wonderful word smith. He uses nine verbs:
I have removed what is Yours
I have given what is Yours
I have not transgressed Your Command
I have not forgotten Your Command
I have not made excuses
I have not done anything shifty
I have not given it to good causes
I have obeyed (listened)
I want you to Bless Your People and the Land
The light in the darkness is a faith in the God of our Fathers that produces generosity. Our Torah Portion is not saying that grumpy people get punished and happy people get good things. No, our Torah portion is saying that people who have faith like our fathers joyfully generous and they don't live a double life. They don't give to God their spare loyalty, spare change, spare time, spare money. They are joyfully generous because of their faith in the God of our fathers. It is exactly what Shaul said in 2 Cor 9:7 (read it don't display it)
Each should give according to what he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
This simple farmer is not simplistic. He is a person of deep faith and deep faith does not want to hide, it is not stingy or decpetive or greey, it is joyfully generous.
The Generous person is the also the person who refuses to think that he or she can secretly hold back what belongs to the Lord whether it is their finances or their obedience.
Generous people plan well rather than consume without discretion.
Generous people don't feel guilty when saying "no" nor can they be guilted into saying "yes."
Generous people are blessed people who don't make excuses. They don't need God to say, "Bring me your tithes and test me in this." They already know how good God is because they live by faith and not by sight and they refuse to give up the blessings of God for the temporarliy pleasures of private sin.
This last Torah App tells us something important about all the other apps and the Torah itself. There is nothing secret about the man that God blesses but there may be something secret in your life keeping back God's blessings.
When I tithe to the God of my fathers, I am making confession: God, everything is from you. You are the Source, of rain, of life, of me. I can’t help but feel close to you, my parent, my Creator. And in this system, I don’t worship Him through barter, that’s ridiculous. My tithte is not a barter or leverage with God.He’s the Creator, there’s no lack that I could possibly fill with gifts.
Yes, I give to God - but as an expression of gratitude. When my daughter Hazel gave me this picture as a gift, drawn in crayon, the value isn’t in the gift… it will not fetch a million dollars at auction. It’s about what the gift means: the relationship between the giver and the recipient.
Some of you are thinking, "So, we just went through that whole portion to discover that tithing is a big deal?" I hope not. I hope what you discovered is that people who are joyfully generous are people of deep faith. I hope that you discovered that tithing is the smallest of things that measures so much of a person's real faith. How essential is this Torah App? Well, it seems like the only light that provokes the blessings of God is the light of faith that is seen through one loan farmer's joyful giving.
Being generous with your finances that is just one thing. It had a dominoe effect on other things. Here are all these amazing things God gives you to to be joyfully generous towards: your parents, your children, your wife, His Word, His Holy Shabbat and Festivals; and, yes, even your finances. He gave you those things to enjoy but recognize that He is the one who gave them to you.
Why does a parent delight in buying a toy for their child? Sure, they want their kid to enjoy the gift, but they’d feel pretty rotten if their kid took their new toy into their room and shut the door behind them, emerging only for meals. A parent wants their child not only to enjoy the gift, but to understand that the gift came from them. To appreciate them. The gift is meant, not only to satisfy a need, but to deepen a relationship.
God has given us all such wonderful things. How do we respond? Do we give him our spare time, spare change, spare loyalty while we secretly consume to our hearts contents. Or, do we really make a strong confession of faith, the faith of our fathers, the faith that our God who raised Yeshua from the dead can exceedingly, abundantly supply all my needs in the Messiah Yeshua (Phil 4:19).
For some, this will be the hardest Torah App ever. Not the giving, the joyfull generosity of heart. Remember, Adonai gave us this light in the Torah Portion. A light that can help us to land our planes amid so much darkness. I dare you today, the same way Adonai dared our fathers, "test him in this and see that he is true."