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Rumination #7: Why doesn't everyone appreciate the value of the systematic reading of the Word?

Traditions are powerful things. When built upon a firm foundation of the commandments of HaShem, they can provide a structure that can protect the foundation and all that live in under the roof of the building. On the other hand, if they are not built upon the commandments of HaShem, they can shelter vain, and even false teachings - providing protection for the very things that the Almighty has rejected.

I wonder about the tradition of the one-man-preacher-show that is so often seen in congregations and churches. There is no doubt that we need teachers; however, it concerns me when I hear someone drone on for a half hour or longer, and yet missing from the service is the systematic reading of the Word. Yes, verses may be read or quoted out of context, but that is not quite the same thing as systematically reading the Word week in and week out.

Christianity has lost its tradition for the systematic reading of the Word. Sadly, it appears that the tradition never existed in some circles. One reason why some Messianic congregations do not have a Torah service is because of the element of time. "We don't have time to sing, pray, dance, preach, and read through the Torah portion," they might say. For that, I have only one question: If we do not have time for reading what G-d says about Himself, why do we have time for listening to a man's words about Him? If we will take the time to systematically read G-d's Word, we might find that everything else we want to do will be in proper balance.

Beloved, the systematic reading of the Word has been a part of Judaism for 2,500 years. Maybe that tradition is something we should all seriously consider. It is something that Paul said that Timothy should maintain for the congregation of believers. Notice what comes first. I will take the public reading of the Word over teaching or preaching. Apparently, Paul agreed…

Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching.
1Timothy 4:10

Parashat Vayetzei - 'And he went out' (Genesis 28:10-32:2)

This week's portion is named for the first word in Genesis 28:10:

Vayetsei Ya'akov miber shava vayelech Charana.
And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.

This portion is the neat packaging of two "goings out" given to us as bookends. The first going out is as our father Jacob left the Land of Promise and his father's home and went to Haran which is in modern day Turkey. Haran is where his grandfather Abraham had lived for a while. It was the region where his mother Rivka [Rebecca] was from. Like Isaac, Jacob was not to marry a woman from the pagans that lived in the Land at the time. Here is how the end of last week's portion records this:

Then Isaac called Jacob and blessed him, and charged him, and said to him: "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother's father; and take yourself a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother's brother."
Genesis 28:1-2

The road that Jacob took from Beersheva, was not the easy way to Haran. The easy way was the King's Highway that follows the Jordan River Valley. Instead, Jacob took the ridge road that follows the ridge of hills that make up the center of the Land of Israel. In the center of that ridge was the town of Shalem, or Jebu [Jerusalem], and very close to that is the town that is identified as Bet El [Bethel]. The ancient sages identify Bet El not with the later Bethel in the time of the Judges and the Kings, but with Araunah the Jebusite's threshing floor, which Jacob's descendant King David purchased for the purpose of building a Temple to HaShem. If this is true, Jacob's first encounter with the G-d of Abraham and Isaac was on the site of Abraham and Isaac's greatest test: the offering of Isaac on the mountains of Moriyah, and the place of our Master's suffering and resurrection.

The second "going out" is found at the end of this week's parasha. After marrying Leah and Rachel, Jacob left the region of Padam Aram and returned to the Land of Promise. Here is how Jacob recounts why he left Padam Aram:

"I am the G-d of Bethel, where you anointed the pillar and where you made a vow to Me. Now arise, get out of this land, and return to the land of your family."
Genesis 31:13

These two "goings out" by Jacob have some important lessons for us. It is interesting that in both of these "goings out," Jacob was responding to a command, first by his father, and then by G-d Himself. After Jacob makes the steps of obedience, he was met along the way by HaShem Himself - first at Bet El [House of G-d], and later in P'ni El [Face of G-d].

Both of these "goings out" are about trusting G-d for His promises and avoiding syncretism. Syncretism is about combining parts of various religions, thereby finding a way to "fit in" with a culture or philosophy. As we continue our study of Torah, we will find that syncretism is definitely something that the Almighty is concerned with regard to His people. He hates it. Syncretism is the easy way.

There is one faith - the faith of our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - everything else is an imposter. Combining elements from other religions and philosophy will only lead to disaster for us personally, but more importantly for our children, and their children. Remember, it is not only about you... it is about your toldot, your generations.

Thus Isaac sent Jacob away from the Land, where only Canaanite women were available for carrying on the godly line, to the region of Padam Aram, where women who were descendants of Seth and Eber lived. Seth and Eber had worshipped the G-d of Abraham. Of course we know that once Jacob arrived in Padam Aram and married Leah and Rachel he was painfully aware that coming from a family that once feared G-d is not a guarantee. His uncle was not only a deceiver, he was an idol worshipper, and his daughters had such an upbringing. Laban's speech conveyed his confusion over worship of the true G-d. Listen to how he described G-d:

"The G-d of Abraham, the god of Nahor, and the god of their father judge between us."
Genesis 31:53

Laban was clearly confused. The G-d of Abraham was certainly not the same as the gods of Nahor or Terah, the idol worshippers. Laban may have at one time known the truth, but syncretism had erased his spiritual discernment.

Jacob sensed the problem with Laban earlier, and through a variety of circumstances knew that the best place for him and his family was not "nearby" to Laban. So he moved his family away from Laban; three days journey. Maybe he thought that would be far enough to avoid syncretism. It wasn't.

Whether Jacob understood the danger or not; G-d did, and told Jacob that "nearby" was too near. He was to establish a family and a line that was not a mixture of pagan and believing - but one of singular influence: G-d's. Was it already too late? The generation that follows will tell that story. Regardless, Jacob obeyed and took his family back to the Land. It is at the point of obedience that G-d met Him face-to-face at P'ni El, where he wrestled with the Angel of HaShem.

Syncretism is serious business considering the effect on later generations. The Holy One, blessed is He, is deadly serious about it. Paul reminds us of this:

Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Messiah with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of G-d with idols? For you are the temple of the living G-d. As G-d has said:

"I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people."

Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the L-RD. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says HaShem Almighty."
2Corinthians 6:14-18

Paul's quoting of Numbers 16 and the account of the judgment of Korach tells us how serious the issue is. Paul also reminds us that in our fight against syncretism, we will often be alone - even our families may reject us. Be comforted, HaShem Himself will be a Father to us.

Revelation's reference regarding the judgment of Babylon gives further evidence to the danger of syncretism. Share values, share sin, share judgment.

And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues."
Revelation 18:4

Syncretism; assimilation with paganism; confusing G-d's Word for man's tradition - these are unacceptable - and it seems that G-d's people never learn how serious it is. Christians are often found denigrating Jews for their "rejection of Messiah" and yet engage in some of the same syncretic practices as the idolatry-prone Israelites of Jeremiah's day - which resulted in the Babylonian captivity. Criticizing the "Pharisees" they often do the very thing that Yeshua saw as their greatest weakness - replacing the commands of G-d with the traditions of men.

All too well you reject the commandment of G-d, that you may keep your tradition.
Mark 7:9

The most serious error of some Pharisees is multiplied countless times by many leaders in Christianity. In arrogance, many have annulled the very commands of the King of the Universe - and yet declare their theological traditions to be "orthodox." How far we have fallen!

Who will be judged more seriously, those who teach about a "messiah" that is the antithesis of the "One Like Moses" (Deut 18, Acts 3:22; Acts 7:37) - or the ones deceived by such a twisting of Scripture that casts "Jesus" in the role of a law-breaking leader of a new anti-Semitic religion? Here is my question to at least partially answer the previous question: Which group as proven itself to be less prone to syncretism? Which group has done a better job at warding off pagan practices and not mixing them into the practice of faith? Although neither side is perfect in this regard (orthodox Judaism also has in it the fingerprints of pagan influences), there is no doubt that Christianity has in large part failed miserably with regard to syncretism. In her effort to be "not Jewish" - she adopted the practices and celebrations of the pagans around her. Both the reasons, and the methods are despicable.

Of course, the syncretist does not think he is engaging in syncretism. Compromises are usually framed in the guise of tolerance, or intent of the heart etc. You hear syncretism explained away in phrases like, "Yes, that may be what it used to mean to pagans, but it does not mean that to me." So, here are a few questions for you (Don't worry, there are enough questions to go around for everyone. We all are guilty of syncretism to one degree or another):

Beloved, the answer to all of these can be said in one word: syncretism. In Christianity, the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - the faith of Yeshua, Paul, and Peter was turned into a syncretic mix of truth and error. It is why Jews for two thousand years have called Christians "pagans" and "idol worshippers" - because sometimes it looks like weare.

If you do not know the answers to the above questions, you have been deceived. If you have been so deceived by these and other "traditions" that are indistinguishable from the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - you inherited them. That is why we are told like Jacob, to get out... it is for our children, and their children. Undo the lies. Start now.

I am praying that somewhere in the annals of the Almighty, there is a line that applies to me.... Vayetze Uzziel... [And Rick went out...].

Beloved, may the title for this week's parasha speak of you. Vayetze, and He/She went out...

Haftarat Vayetzei  - 'And he went out' (Hosea 12:12-14:10)

This week's haftarah is connected to the Torah portion because of the reference to Jacob departing. It also deals with the error of syncretism.

Throughout Hosea 12:12-14:10, there is the contrast between Israel when they live righteously, and when they practice syncretism and assimilation. Look at where Ephraim started and where he ended up:

When Ephraim spoke, trembling, he exalted himself in Israel; but when he offended through Baal worship, he died. Now they sin more and more, and have made for themselves molded images, idols of their silver, according to their skill; all of it is the work of craftsmen. They say of them, "Let the men who sacrifice kiss the calves!"
Hosea 13:1-2

How do the righteous place themselves at risk of syncretism or assimilation? It begins with a failure to recognize their Creator and Redeemer. They become satisfied and comfortable, and then they forget.

I am HaShem your G-d ever since the land of Egypt, and you shall know no G-d but Me; for there is no savior besides Me. I knew you in the wilderness, in the land of great drought.  When they had pasture, they were filled; they were filled and their heart was exalted; therefore they forgot Me.
Hosea 13:4-6

Next, the righteous are at risk when they want to behave in a way that the people around them behave. This again speaks of a lack of contentment with the One Who purchased them and leads them.

I will be your King; where is any other, that he may save you in all your cities? And your judges to whom you said, 'Give me a king and princes'? I gave you a king in My anger, and took him away in My wrath."
Hosea 13:10-11

Remember how Israel had not been content with G-d as Ruler over them and His appointed judges?

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations." But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, "Give us a king to judge us.: So Samuel prayed to HaShem. And HaShem said to Samuel, "Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even to this day - with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods - so they are doing to you also.
1Samuel 8:4-8

What a sad thought - exchanging the rule of the Compassionate One for the rule of man, simply because those around were thus ruled. This is the story of so many today. The world is full of people who claim to follow Messiah, and yet who are not content to live faithful and productive lives for their Master - they want what they think is more. They want bigger and better. They want more satisfying. They want what they think is peace. They want happiness. They may even want more "ministry" opportunities. And yet, they are unwilling to be obedient to the King, and so they make exceptions and compromises. They engage in syncretism and even assimilation. The world is filled with people who say they "believe" in Messiah, and yet He is not King in their lives. They are closer to the world then they are to the Kingdom of Heaven.

There is hope however. Hope is found in turning around and running back to the King. We should want only Him. Repentance is the way that HaShem can give us hope.        

O Israel, return to HaShem your G-d, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity; take words with you, and return to HaShem. Say to Him, "Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously, for we will offer the sacrifices [par = bulls] of our lips."
Hosea 14:1-2

A primary purpose of prayer is thus revealed: as an act of worship; stemming from repentance. Prayer is the "bulls of our lips," and until the Holy Temple is the rebuilt, we should offer prayer as a memorial of Temple worship of the Almighty. A habit of prayer is part of a life of repentance.

And what is the result of repentance, the turning away from syncretism? Our haftarah beautifully ends with HaShem's promise to heal.

I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon. "Ephraim shall say, 'What have I to do anymore with idols?' I have heard and observed him. I am like a green cypress tree; your fruit is found in Me."

Who is wise? Let him understand these things. Who is prudent? Let him know them. For the ways of HaShem are right; the righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.
Hosea 14:4-9

The ways of HaShem are right. The righteous do not go to the left or the right. The righteous do not mix the ways of false religion or philosophy with the ways of HaShem. The righteous live a life of repentance.

Prayer Focus for Vayetzei  -  'Hashivenu' [Bring us back]

The Shemoneh Esrei (or Amidah) contains a blessing regarding repentance. It recognizes that it is HaShem Himself that desires repentance, and brings about repentance. It completely tied up on His fulfilling His promise for the redemption for all Israel. It is our fervent prayer, for us as individuals, and for all of G-d's people.

Bring us back, our Father, to Your Torah,
and bring us near our King, to Your service,
and influence us to return in perfect repentance before You.
Blessed are You, HaShem, Who desires repentance.
-- Artscroll Translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
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