Hope for a Better Tomorrow

“‘For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’” — Jeremiah 32:15

The Torah portion for this week is Behar, which means “on the mountain,” from Leviticus 25:1–26:2, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 32:6–22.

This week’s Torah reading is called Behar, meaning “on the mountain.” There are times in our lives when we stand “on the mountain.” We have reached the summit, we feel on top of the world, full of joy and inspiration. This is a fitting title for a portion that discusses the joyous once-in-every-50-years event called the Year of Jubilee.

In contrast, this week’s Haftorah reading from the book of Jeremiah begins with the prophet in the depths of prison. Jeremiah had been prophesying about Israel’s pending fall to the Babylonians. King Zedekiah of Israel didn’t care for that message, so he threw Jeremiah into prison. There, confined and restrained, Jeremiah received a most surprising prophecy.

God instructed Jeremiah to buy land in Israel, specifically a field in a place called Anathoth that was once owned by Jeremiah’s cousin. The cousin had fallen on hard times and was forced to sell the land, so he came to Jeremiah, as God had foretold, and asked Jeremiah to purchase it. As God had commanded him, Jeremiah bought the field and had the transaction sealed and preserved in the ground.

From the perspective of an outsider, this transaction appeared to be a very foolish thing for Jeremiah to do. Here he was in prison with no hope of being released, and he bought land somewhere that he might never see. On top of that, Jeremiah knew that Israel was about to be conquered. He knew that the entire nation would be exiled. Yet, Jeremiah invested in Israeli real estate. “For this is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.”

Jeremiah’s act was one of great faith and was meant to instill faith in all Israel. God wanted His people to know that no matter how bad things appeared to be, the present situation was not their final destination. Things would turn around, and Israel would see better days.

This is a powerful message for us today, especially for those who are going through particularly challenging times. Sometimes it feels like we are confined and restricted It could be health problems, financial constraints, or a difficult relationship with someone at home or at work.

But God wants us to know that we will see better days. Like Jeremiah, we are to plan for a brighter future because no challenge lasts forever, and a new day will dawn.

Friends, know today that our current situations will change for the better – both for us as individuals and for humanity as a whole. Have faith that a better day is dawning, and, with the help of God, we shall see it.

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Do You Trust Me?

“I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” — Leviticus 25:21

The Torah portion for this week is Behar, which means “on the mountain,” from Leviticus 25:1–26:2, and the Haftorah is from Jeremiah 32:6–22.

Every seven years in the land of Israel, God asks this question: Do you trust me? Hopefully, we can answer with an enthusiastic, “Yes!” Yes, Lord, we trust You. We believe in You and believe that You run the world.

Then comes the real challenge. God says: Prove it!

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the laws of the sabbatical year. There is a seven-year cycle in which farmers may work their land for six years, but during the seventh year, the land must rest. Farmers cannot sow seeds or reap the harvest – for an entire year.

Now to put this into perspective, let’s imagine that every seven years, we were commanded to march into work and announce that we would be taking the year off. We’re not talking about a paid sabbatical; we’re talking about simply quitting our jobs for the year while living the same lifestyle that we have always maintained. At the conclusion of the year, we would fully expect to get our old jobs back, or to get another one that was even better.

That would be some act of faith. And that is exactly the kind of faith that God demands of Israel on every seventh year, even today. In the natural world, this kind of business practice would set a person up for bankruptcy. But God promises, “ I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years.” If we demonstrate our faith in God, then what should lead us to scarcity will instead lead us into abundance and blessing.

You see, God wants us to know that He’s got our backs. It’s not the fluctuations of the stock market or the luck of the real estate market that will determine our blessings. It’s not our clever ideas or working overtime that will yield promotions. God alone will deliver abundance and blessings in our lives. Sure, we’ve got to put in our effort and do our part, but the heavy lifting is God’s doing.

At the end of the day, it’s not the land that needs the rest; we need it! We need to stop worrying ourselves sick about how we’ll get by next week or in the next 20 years. We need to stop working so hard at making a living that we neglect to make a life. We need to trust in the Lord and step out in faith. As it says in Jeremiah 17: “ blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD . . . They will be like a tree planted by the water . . . It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit ” (vv. 7–8).

Leave It to God

In their hearts humans plan their course,     but the LORD establishes their steps. — Proverbs 16:9

Leave it to God to make the oldest man alive today a person named Israel, living in the State of Israel, having lived through both World Wars and survived the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. On March 11, 2016, Mr. Israel Kristal was given the title of “Oldest Living Man” by Guinness World Records. At 112 years old, Mr. Kristal has beaten all odds and outlived those who sought to destroy him — and he continues to do so.

If this doesn’t prove that God and not other people determines our fate, I don’t know what does.

Here is what Mr. Kristal had to say upon learning of his status: “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger, and better looking men than me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”

God couldn’t have picked a better messenger to deliver the message! As Mr. Kristal humbly asserts, he doesn’t know the formula for living a long life. He understands that he had nothing to do with it – it was all God’s doing. Of course he did his best to survive and persevere through hard times, but this wise man doesn’t attribute his survival to his own wisdom. He knows that God does things for reasons that we will never understand and do not control. All we can do is be the best that we can be and do our part in making the world a better place.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon put it this way: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Man can plan all he wants, but it is God who will decide what will or won’t happen.

Hitler had plans. The Arab nations that came to wage war against Israel upon its founding in 1948 had plans. Today, many enemies of Israel have plans. But God has proven that only His plan will come to be.

Friends, let’s remember the inspiring story of Israel Kristal. We can beat all odds and we can go on to live long and happy lives if it is God’s will. It doesn’t matter what our circumstances look like, what anyone has said to us, or what our enemies have planned for us. We can outlive them all, prosper in spite of it all, and live to fulfill our true purpose — to serve God, to love and help His children, and to have faith that He will take care of the rest.

Leave It to God

In their hearts humans plan their course,
     but the LORD establishes their steps. — Proverbs 16:9

Leave it to God to make the oldest man alive today a person named Israel, living in the state of Israel, having lived through both World Wars and survived the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp. On March 11, 2016, Mr. Israel Kristal was given the title of “Oldest Living Man” by Guinness World Records. At 112 years old, Mr. Kristal has beaten all odds and outlived those who sought to destroy him — and he continues to do so.

If this doesn’t prove that God and not other people determines our fate, I don’t know what does.

Here is what Mr. Kristal had to say upon learning of his status: “I don’t know the secret for long life. I believe that everything is determined from above and we shall never know the reasons why. There have been smarter, stronger, and better looking men than me who are no longer alive. All that is left for us to do is to keep on working as hard as we can and rebuild what is lost.”

God couldn’t have picked a better messenger to deliver the message! As Mr. Kristal humbly asserts, he doesn’t know the formula for living a long life. He understands that he had nothing to do with it – it was all God’s doing. Of course he did his best to survive and persevere through hard times, but this wise man doesn’t attribute his survival to his own wisdom. He knows that God does things for reasons that we will never understand and do not control. All we can do is be the best that we can be and do our part in making the world a better place.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon put it this way: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Man can plan all he wants, but it is God who will decide what will or won’t happen.

Hitler had plans. The Arab nations that came to wage war against Israel upon its founding in 1948 had plans. Today, many enemies of Israel have plans. But God has proven that only His plan will come to be.

Friends, let’s remember the inspiring story of Israel Kristal. We can beat all odds and we can go on to live long and happy lives if it is God’s will. It doesn’t matter what our circumstances look like, what anyone has said to us, or what our enemies have planned for us. We can outlive them all, prosper in spite of it all, and live to fulfill our true purpose — to serve God, to love and help His children, and to have faith that He will take care of the rest.

Where Are You Looking?

Let your eyes look straight ahead;
      fix your gaze directly before you. — Proverbs 4:25

The best way to climb a mountain is by looking straight ahead. Look down, and we might be frightened as we notice our height and contemplate the danger we are in. Look behind, and we will be blind to the obstacles or safest routes ahead of us. Look up, and we may be daunted as we are confronted with how far we still need to go. It can make our climb feel hopeless and cause us to give up.

The best way to climb even the tallest mountain is to simply look straight ahead and focus on taking one step at a time.

In Proverbs we read, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” In life, too, it is helpful to fix our gaze on what is right in front of us. Of course there are times when we need to look at the bigger picture so that we can adjust our direction, but most days it’s helpful to focus on the present.

If we focus on the past, we can get stuck. We can get bogged down by our past mistakes or hurts. If we focus too much on the future we can become intimidated as we contemplate how much we need to accomplish or worry about how things will work out. Overly focusing our attention on what is behind us, under us, or way ahead of us can leave us confused and disoriented in the present. It’s best to stay in the moment and live our lives one day at a time, trusting God for His unlimited mercy — day by glorious day.

The original Hebrew reveals another layer of depth to this verse. Literally translated the verse reads: “Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids will straighten your path.” What does this mean?

Our eyelids give us the ability to close our eyes – to not look at something. What we look at is powerful, and so even when we focus on the present, we have to carefully choose where to look.

Do we see the good in the people in our lives, or do we see just their negative traits? Do we see God’s goodness in our lives, or do we see only what we lack? Do we see the opportunities that lie before us, or do we focus only on the challenges?

Every day we have the choice to decide on what we will focus. Look away from the things that bring you down. Look away from other people’s faults. Turn away from what might lead you to sin. Instead, choose to see good and to see God in everything and everyone, today and every day.

Israel’s Not-So-Secret Weapon

If the LORD had not been on our side
     when people attacked us,
they would have swallowed us alive
     when their anger flared against us. — Psalm 124:2–3

Israel is 1/800th the size of the Arab world, most of which is bent upon destroying her. By all natural calculations, Israel should not exist. Israel should have been swallowed up before she even declared independence. How is it possible for such a tiny nation to survive in the midst of her enemies? It’s like Daniel in the lion’s den!

The truth is that Israel should have disappeared long ago, with all of the other nations of the world that have come and gone, risen and fallen. No other nation on earth has been expelled from its own homeland and then survived to return to it. And Israel did it twice — once in the year 538 B.C.E., and then again, more than 2,000 years later in 1948. Israel is one big miracle!

In 1898, long before the miracle of the re-birth of Israel came into being, Mark Twain was perplexed as to how the Jewish people could even be alive. He wrote this: “The Greeks and the Romans . . . are gone; other people have sprung up and held their torch for a time but it burned out . . . the Jews saw them all, survived them all . . . all things are mortal but the Jew . . . What is the secret of his immortality?”

The secret of the Jews’ immortality is actually no secret at all. God says very clearly that He will preserve the Jews and bring them back to Israel. Here is just one example: “‘I am with you and will save you,’ declares the LORD. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you’” (Jeremiah 30:11).

In Psalm 124, the psalmist writes about Israel’s secret weapon: God! He wrote, “If the LORD had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive.” In every generation, someone tries to destroy the Jews, yet every time the plot is foiled. The psalmist continued, “The snare has been broken, and we have escaped” (v.7). Just when the Jews seem trapped and slated for destruction, the trap is broken and the Jews are saved. God steps in and that’s why the Jews are still here today.

Friends, when you need some inspiration or encouragement to believe that anything is possible with God, you need not look any further than Israel. If Israel can beat the odds, so can you. If Israel can receive miracles, so can you. The God of Israel can do anything, so never lose hope. We know the secret to Israel’s success, and God can be your secret weapon, too!

Something Better

“‘I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.’” — Ezekiel 44:28

The Torah portion for this week is Emor, which means “speak,” from Leviticus 21:1–24:23, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 44:15–31.

One summer morning, I took my young grandson with me to a convenience store. As I was paying for the groceries, my grandson pointed wildly at the candies near the register, making it very obvious that he wanted one. Now I was in a real dilemma. I really want to spoil my grandkids, but I also need to do what is best for them and I knew that this particular type of candy was off-limits for a 2-year-old. So I decided to get him an ice pop instead. But all my grandson did as I walked to the freezer section was scream and cry. Didn’t he know I was getting him something bigger and better?

It’s hard when we don’t get what we want – whether we are 2 or 92! But hopefully, with age, we learn that often when we don’t get what we want, it’s because God has something better in mind.

In this week’s Haftorah reading, the prophet Ezekiel was describing the service that would take place in the Third Temple that would be built during the times of the Messiah. As he depicted the service, he affirmed many of the laws first imparted in the Bible. One such teaching is repeated in our verse for today: “I am to be the only inheritance the priests have. You are to give them no possession in Israel; I will be their possession.”

Unlike all the other Israelites, the members of the tribe of Levi, who would serve as the priests, would not be given a portion in the land in Israel.

Now, doesn’t that seem unfair? The priests served God more than anyone else. They dedicated their lives to service. And in return, they were the only ones who were not allowed to possess land? One could argue that they should be compensated with a double portion of land!

However, as the verse explains, the Levites got something even better than land; they received God. On a practical level this meant that the Levites didn’t have to be bogged down with the worries and toil of owning land. They were given places to live and sustenance to live on. This freed them to be completely dedicated to God without concerns of the material world. On a spiritual level, the Levites were given the gift of connecting with God in a deeper way than the rest of the nation. This spiritual connection was one that they would enjoy for all eternity.

Friends, when we don’t get what we want, it’s because God has something much better to give us. Often enough, that “something better” is God Himself!

What could be more valuable than that?