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Rumination #6: Did the Patriarchs keep the Torah before it was given at Sinai?

Since ancient times, our Sages have given the Patriarchs a "free ride" it seems. They teach that the Patriarchs were almost always motivated by the purest of motives (even when their actions seem less than honorable); and the Sages teach that the Patriarchs kept the same traditions they did - traditions that we keep even today.

Consider the following verses from Parashat Toldot:

Then HaShem appeared to him [Isaac] and said: "Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land of which I shall tell you. Dwell in this land, and I will be with you and bless you; for to you and your descendants I give all these lands, and I will perform the oath which I swore to Abraham your father. And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws."
Genesis 26:2-5

The Hebrew words, "mishmeroti" [My safeguards], "mitzvotai" [My commandments], "chukotai" [My inscribed statutes], and "torotai" [My instructions], are words some do not consider applicable prior to Exodus 20 when the Torah is given at Mount Sinai. But is that correct? No, it is not. The notion that the "Law" was suddenly given in Exodus 20 is part of a narrative that tries to distinguish between "ceremonial laws" (i.e. "Jewish stuff") and "moral laws" (i.e. universal "Christian" stuff). Of course we can now see through that not-so-subtle agenda: which is that those laws given after Genesis, and before Matthew have no jurisdiction. This is utter nonsense. There are no such silly dispensations.

The Sabbath day was not suddenly revealed in Exodus 16 (it was revealed as HaShem's holy standard in Genesis 2). Pigs and rats did not suddenly become un-kosher in Leviticus 11 (Noach used only clean animals for an offering in Genesis 8). Most of the particulars of burnt offerings did not suddenly appear in Leviticus 1 (Abel understood in Genesis 4). Circumcision is not something first commanded in Leviticus 12 (Abraham circumcised himself and his household in Genesis 17, and Isaac on the eighth day in Genesis 21).

When we bother to look with unveiled eyes, we start to see lots of "Jewish stuff" long before the giving of "the Law." So much for the preposterous notion put forth by the antinomian as well as those that teach that HaShem's Torah is only for those of "Jewish" descent or having undergone ritual conversion!

With the help of history and archaeology, we can even see things like the commandment of tzitzit (Numbers 15:37-40) being practiced by the Patriarchs (Genesis 38:18, the "cord" is "patyil" which was made up of twisted threads attached to a garment, used as a personal signature). There are many more examples where the Patriarchs kept many of the commandments prior to them being given at Sinai. Yes, the Patriarchs knew many of the commandments that would be written down after the Sinai experience.

And HaShem said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of HaShem, to do righteousness and justice, that HaShem may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him."
Genesis 18:17-19

Abraham, the father of our faith, practiced many of the very things we are now told are "done away with," or are only for "Jews." Yes, the revelation of HaShem's righteous standard was progressive. Yes, it is likely too much to believe that the Patriarchs had full Passover seders - but the basic tenets of the Torah have always been kept by the righteous. What foolishness it is to think that those that keep the faith of Abraham won't look "Jewish" in the eyes of those around them…

…walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had…
Romans 4:12b

Parashat Toldot - 'Generations' (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

The Scriptures are full of genealogies - or at least what appear to be genealogies. There is something about these that makes most people simply skip over them. The "genealogies" in this week's parasha are not too long, so they are not as boring to the English reader. One reason why we are often bored with biblical genealogies is that we don't understand their significance. Beloved, no word is out of place in Scripture. Every jot and tittle has a purpose.

These "genealogical" verses we find in our Bibles are telling us some very important things. They are meant to explain something. Sadly, when faced with what they explain, the modern reader simply ignores the message - because they think the message is one of fatalism.

The message is this: In many ways, we are walking and talking representations of our parents... and their parents.

The title for this week's Scripture portion is found in the first verse, in Genesis 25:19.

V'ele toldot Yitzchak ben-Avraham. Avraham holid et-Yitzchak.

This is the genealogy of Isaac, Abraham's son. Abraham begot Isaac.

The problem with the word toldot [translated "generations" or in this version "genealogy"] is that there is no such word in Hebrew. Not really. The word comes from the root yalad, which is usually rendered "to bring forth" or "born." This is the same root as the word translated "begot" [yalad] in the same verse. In the usage, the word tends to mean something akin to "where someone came from, and where they are going." It is used to explain the person - a kind of identity. In the way we explain ourselves in Western cultures by telling people our name, the biblical way is to tell the name of someone... and their father's name... and their grandfather's name. This is something we rarely do in Western cultures.

Toldot [generations] is not only about where you came from (who your ancestors were) - it is also about where you are going. Toldot [generations] carries the hopes, dreams, and disappointments into the future. This is the theme of this week's Scripture portion. We are talking about trans-generational characteristics. This is where most people get uncomfortable as if they are cast by some invisible die, so let me show you what I mean.

Remember our father Abraham? Remember what he did twice, first in Egypt and then in Garar? Here is what he told Sarah upon entering Egypt:

Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.
Genesis 12:13

Years later, upon entering Garar, he told the inhabitants:

Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, "She is my sister." And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah.
Genesis 20:2

We know that Abraham had a problem with this. He concealed his true relationship with Sarah.

Now, look what we find in this week's portion:

So Isaac dwelt in Gerar. And the men of the place asked about his wife. And he said, "She is my sister"; for he was afraid to say, "She is my wife," because he thought, "lest the men of the place kill me for Rebekah, because she is beautiful to behold."
Genesis 26:6-7

Beloved, that is not a coincidence. Isaac did what his father did, for the same reason.

Also found in this week's portion is another connection between father and sons.

Jacob said to his father, "I am Esau your firstborn; I have done just as you told me; please arise, sit and eat of my game, that your soul may bless me."
Genesis 27:4

In a similar way that his father Isaac had deceived Abimelech about identity; Jacob, at the urging of his mother deceived his father Isaac.

From Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob... deceit.

Sadly, it does not end there. Later we will see Jacob's sons deceiving him about Joseph.

Esau has another problem, one he shared with his father.

And Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Now Jacob cooked a stew; and Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. And Esau said to Jacob, "Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary." Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, "Sell me your birthright as of this day." And Esau said, "Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?" Then Jacob said, "Swear to me as of this day." So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Genesis 25:28-34

Isaac and his son Esau shared the same weakness for food, or fleshly appetites.

Now, lest you think all the news is bad, you need to understand what redemption is: it can break the chains of trans-generational sin. Jacob, deceived by his father-in-law Laban, proves to a man of remarkable integrity. The secret to breaking trans-generational weakness hinted at in the blessing that Isaac gives to Jacob as he sends him away:

May G-d Almighty bless you, and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may be an assembly of peoples; and give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which G-d gave to Abraham.
Genesis 27:3-4

Isaac, when not focusing upon his appetites, saw with great clarity that his son Jacob, and those who would come after him were not created by the whim of man, or sustained by Isaac's strength - but by the power of the Almighty Who would accomplish His purposes and fulfill His Promise. G-d broke a generational weakness in that blessing - and strengthened generational character and faith.

Along with the disappointing part of toldot [generations], there is a good part. And the good part is what the Torah loves to explain. As we have said, for all of us it is about redemption - but not just from our own personal sin - it is about the redemption of man. It is about the Promise. The Promise made to Abraham, a promise of blessing, a Land, and a Seed [Messiah], is the same Promise made to Abraham's son Isaac and grandson Jacob. To Isaac, HaShem said:

And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.
Genesis 26:4-5

And then He says to Jacob:

I am HaShem G-d of Abraham your father and the G-d of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Genesis 28:13b-14

The Promise was what toldot [generations] is all about. It is how we can lay hold of the character and faith of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There is hope in todot.

Beloved, pray the blessings of redemption over your children and your grandchildren. May they, through the grace of the Holy One, blessed is He, inherit the Promise. In Messiah, we have this hope.

Haftarat Toldot  - 'Generations' (Malachi 1:1-2:7)

Torah portion "Toldot" tells the tale of two brothers. Jacob and Esau. It is the tale of a supplanter - a usurper. I am not speaking of Jacob, who Esau incorrectly calls a supplanter (Ya'akov means "on the heel" not "supplanter"). I am speaking of Esau. Esau is the supplanter and the usurper. HaShem had told Rivka, Jacob's mother, that he would be blessed. Esau despised the birthright of the firstborn, and Jacob purchased it legitimately. Esau was the usurper.

Esau is the connection to this week's haftarah portion in Malachi. Esau is mentioned in Malachi for much the same reason that Paul uses Esau in Romans 9. Namely, to contrast HaShem's sovereign choice with man's insufficient efforts.

Malachi begins with a comparison between HaShem's relationship with Jacob and His lack of a relationship with Esau:

"I have loved you," says HaShem. "Yet you say, 'In what way have You loved us?' Was not Esau Jacob's brother?" Says the HaShem. "Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness."
Malachi 1:2-3

Paul draws from this same passage in his commentary on G-d's sovereign choice.

And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of G-d according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls, it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated." What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with G-d? Certainly not!  For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of G-d who shows mercy.
Romans 9:1-16

Yes, the usurper was Esau. Esau, and the generations after him, opposed G-d's choice. At every turn Esau (and his descendants, Edom) was against Israel. It is no wonder that G-d contrasts His love for Israel against His hate for Esau. And that love was not because of Jacob [Israel] was better - it was only because that was G-d's choice. This is a difficult, but foundational principle in understanding the grace of HaShem.

After outlining the love (and the reason for that love) He has for Israel (i.e. His choice), the haftarah portion goes on to complain against the priesthood and abuses of the Levitical office. Ironically, some of those same verses remind me of another usurper, or usurpers. Those who would steal the birthright from Jacob (i.e. Israel) and claim it for themselves apart from Israel. Those same usurpers have gloried in the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and the ending of the "Temple cult." They have diminished the holy offerings to mere symbols and declared their eternal abolishment. They have usurped the eternal priesthood of Aaron with a misrepresented "priesthood of the believer."

Those, who by their disgust with all things having to do with the "Temple," have placed themselves in the same category as the corrupt priests Malachi is addressing:

For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My Name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My Name, and a pure offering; for My Name shall be great among the nations," says HaShem of hosts. But you profane it, in that you say, 'The table of HaShem is defiled; and its fruit, its food, is contemptible.'
Malachi 1:11-12

Like the disobedient of Israel in Malachi's day who offered blemished animals for their burnt offerings, these modern usurpers offer an inferior offering of lip-service and declarations of "faith" without the necessary deeds that must accompany true faith. They claim to follow the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and yet despise the very Torah that HaShem graciously gave to their descendants.

Their claim of "replacement" for the eternal Aaronic priesthood is renounced by the very passages they quote. Like Esau, they only want the blessing because it belongs to Israel.

"Behold, I will rebuke your descendants and spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts; and one will take you away with it. Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, that My covenant with Levi may continue," says HaShem of hosts. "My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that he might fear Me; so he feared Me and was reverent before My Name. The Torah of truth was in his mouth, And injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity. "For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the Torah from his mouth; for he is the messenger of HaShem of hosts. But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the Torah. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," says HaShem of hosts.
Malachi 2:3-8

Like the corrupt priesthood in Malachi's day, these modern usurpers have led many astray. They have taught a "gospel" of "grace" and at the same time made the very words of HaShem a mockery when they do not understand that grace is revealed in G-d's loving instructions (Romans 6:1). They glory in their tolerance of sin as some variation of "love the sin, hate the sinner" and then legalistically renounce all who keep the "old law." They have usurped those who rightly should declare the Torah, and declare the Torah of HaShem as "done away with."

Yes, there is a usurper, and it isn't Jacob. It isn't Israel. The usurpers are those who claim to know Messiah, and apparently have never read Romans 11. Apart from Israel, there is no salvation. If you want Messiah, you must come to the Messiah of Israel.

As you read this week's Torah and haftarah portions, think about what it is to be chosen by the Almighty. What you have been chosen for, and how it is that you can live your life each day for that purpose. Our father Jacob often did not live up to what HaShem wanted. The chosen Aaronic priests did not always discharge their duty faithfully. But our Master did. Yeshua set for us the perfect example of living like a chosen One. Don't be like the usurpers who want all the blessing without the faithful following. Imitate the One Who bought you. May it be said of every day of your life, and your generations lives...

For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, HaShem's Name shall be great.

Bring Him glory by every deed, by every word, every day and every night.

You are the light of the world... Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
Matthew 5:14a; 16

Prayer Focus for Toldot  -  'Ahavat Olam' [Eternal Love]

In the evening, as part of Ma'ariv [Evening Prayers], we pray Ahavat Olam. Like children who know our father's love because of His attention and His loving instructions, we know HaShem's Word is proof of His love for us. He has given us a great gift. His Torah is evidence of His grace toward us.

With an eternal love You have loved the House of Israel,
Your nation.
Torah and commandments, decrees and ordinances have You taught us. Therefore HaShem our G-d, upon our
retiring and arising,
we will discuss Your decrees
and we will rejoice with all the words of Your Torah
and with Your commandments for all eternity.
For they are our life and the length of our days
and about them we will meditate day and night.
May You not remove Your love from us forever.
Blessed are You, HaShem, Who loves His nation Israel.
-- ArtScroll Siddur p.259


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