Morsi Asserts New Powers and Orders Ex-Officials Retried

Egypt’s Islamist president unilaterally decreed greater authorities for himself Thursday and effectively neutralized a judicial system that had emerged as a key opponent by declaring that the courts are barred from challenging his decisions.

Riding high on U.S. and international praise for mediating a Gaza cease-fire, Mohammed Morsi put himself above oversight and gave protection to the Islamist-led assembly writing a new constitution from a looming threat of dissolution by court order.

But the move is likely to fuel growing public anger that he and his Muslim Brotherhood are seizing too much power.

In what was interpreted by rights activists as a de facto declaration of emergency law, one of Morsi’s decrees gave him the power to take “due measures and steps” to deal with any “threat” to the revolution, national unity and safety or anything that obstructs the work of state institutions.

Morsi framed his decisions as necessary to protect the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago and to cement the nation’s transition to democratic rule. Many activists, including opponents of the Brotherhood, criticize the judiciary as packed with judges and prosecutors sympathetic to Mubarak. Brotherhood supporters accuse the courts of trying to block their agenda.

“He had to act to save the country and protect the course of the revolution,” said one of Morsi’s aides, Pakinam al-Sharqawi, speaking on Al-Jazeera. “It is a major stage in the process of completing the January 25th revolution,” she said, alluding to the starting day of last year’s uprising against Mubarak.

In a nod to revolutionary sentiment, Morsi also ordered the retrial of Mubarak and top aides on charges of killing protesters during the uprising. He also created a new “protection of the revolution” judicial body to swiftly carry out the prosecutions. But he did not order retrials for lower-level police acquitted of such killings, another widespread popular demand that would disillusion the security forces if carried out.

Liberal politicians immediately criticized the decrees as dictatorial and destined to divide a nation already reeling from months of turmoil following Mubarak’s ouster. Some said they exceeded the powers once enjoyed by Mubarak.

“Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt’s new pharaoh,” pro-reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on Twitter. “A major blow to the revolution that could have dire consequences.”

ElBaradei later addressed a news conference flanked by other prominent politicians from outside the Brotherhood, including two presidential candidates who ran against Morsi, Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi.

They pledged to cooperate to force Morsi to rescind his assumption of greater powers. “We will work together as Egyptians until we achieve the goals of our revolution,” said ElBaradei, a former director of the U.N.’s nuclear agency and Nobel peace laureate.

They called for mass protests Friday to demand the dissolution of the declarations. The audience interrupted the press conference, chanting “Down with the Guide’s rule,” referring to the Supreme Guide of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood group, Mohammed Badie.

The prospect of large rival protests involving Morsi’s opponents and supporters in Cairo on Friday raises the likelihood of clashes.

Thousands from the rival camps were already out on the streets of Cairo late Thursday in an increasingly charged atmosphere.

A crowd of Brotherhood supporters massed outside the Supreme Court building and offices of the prosecutor general — whom Morsi removed in Thursday’s edict. They chanted slogans for “the cleansing of the judiciary,” shouting, “The people support the president’s decisions.” Leading Brotherhood member Mohammed el-Beltagi, attending the rally, singled out several critics of Morsi from among the ranks of the judiciary for criticism.

Meanwhile, blocks away near Tahrir Square, hundreds of demonstrators held a fourth straight day of protests against Morsi and the Brotherhood. “Brotherhood is banned from entry,” declared a large banner at the protest.

Wael Ghonim, an icon of the anti-Mubarak uprising, rejected Morsi’s decisions, arguing the president could have protected the revolution without concentrating so much power in his hands.

“The revolution was not staged in search for a benign dictator, there is a difference between revolutionary decisions and dictatorial decisions. God is the only one whose decisions are not questioned.”

The Egyptian leader decreed that all decisions he has made since taking office in June and until a new constitution is adopted and a new parliament is elected cannot be appealed in court or by any other authority. Parliamentary elections are not likely before next spring.

The decree also barred the courts from dissolving the controversy-plagued assembly writing the new constitution. Several courts have been looking into lawsuits demanding the panel be disbanded.

The Brotherhood and Morsi allies who dominate the assembly have pushed to give the draft an Islamist slant that opponents fear would marginalize women and minority Christians, infringe on personal liberties and even give Muslim clerics a say in lawmaking. Liberal and Christian members withdrew from the assembly during the past week to protest what they say is the hijacking of the process by Morsi’s allies.

Morsi on Thursday extended by two months, until February, the deadline for the assembly to produce a draft, apparently to give members more time to iron out their differences.

He also barred any court from dissolving the Islamist-led upper house of parliament, a largely toothless body that has also faced court cases.

The president made most of the changes Thursday in a declaration amending an interim constitution that has been in effect since shortly after Mubarak’s fall and has over time become a ramshackle patchwork. The military, which took power after Mubarak, set the precedent for the executive unilaterally issuing constitutional changes, which it did several times during its 16-month rule.

The moves come as Morsi basks in lavish praise from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for mediating an end to eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Clinton was in Cairo on Wednesday, when she held extensive talks with Morsi.

Morsi not only holds executive power, he also has legislative authority after a previous court ruling just before he took office on June 30 dissolved the powerful lower house of parliament, which was led by the Brotherhood. With two branches of power in his hands, Morsi effectively took away many prerogatives of the third, the judiciary.

The provision for a retrial of Mubarak appeared to be a gesture to public opinion. The decree called for “new investigations and trials” against those who held “political or executive” positions in the old regime and who are accused of killing protesters.

Mubarak was convicted in June to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of protesters during last year’s uprising against his rule, but many Egyptians were angered that he wasn’t convicted of actually ordering the crackdown and that his security chief, Habib el-Adly, was not sentenced to death. Several top police commanders were acquitted, and Mubarak and his sons were found not guilty of corruption charges.

But the decree would not mean retrials for the dozens of lower-level police officers who have been acquitted or received suspended sentences in trials for killing protesters — verdicts that have outraged many Egyptians. That exclusion will guarantee Morsi the loyalty of the powerful but hated police force.

Morsi on Thursday also fired the country’s top prosecutor, Abdel-Maguid Mahmoud. A Mubarak-era appointee, Mahmoud has faced widespread accusations that his office did a shoddy job collecting evidence against Mubarak, el-Adly and the police in trials.

Morsi first fired Mahmoud in October but had to rescind his decision when he found that the powers of his office do not empower him to do so. So on Thursday, he decreed that the prosecutor general could serve in office only for four years, with immediate effect on Mahmoud, who had held the post since 2006. Morsi replaced Mahmoud with Talaat Abdullah, a career judge, and swiftly swore him in.

Thursday’s decisions were read on state television by Morsi’s spokesman, Yasser Ali. In a throwback to the days of the authoritarian Mubarak and his predecessors Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdel-Nasser, the television followed up with a slew of nationalist songs.

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Torah Commentary – Vayetze “And he went out”

Torah Commentary  

Vayetze “And he went out”
Genesis 28:10-32:3
Hosea 12:12-14:10

John 1:43-51

Just In Case

It is said that truth is far stranger than fiction. Nowhere is that statement more true that in the life of Jacob. The account of his life during the years with Laban, the marriages to Leah and Rachael and the birth of the first children is a story no one could have ever dreamed up! The twists and turns of this man’s life at times make you sit just shaking your head in disbelief. When we consider that this man is one of the Patriarchs and that his sons are the ones whose names are inscribed on the gates of the New Jerusalem … well, let’s just say it gives us hope for our lives today.

Yes, this is the story of those whose family we are grafted into. And we wonder why we look a bit dysfunctional at times. Looks like the nuts did not fall too far from the tree on this one!

In the account, Jacob has finally had enough of Mr. Nose Ring, Laban, and decides it is high time for him to take his family and head back to the home he has been promised. But will the story of his return be any more normal than his life to this point? Of course not!

Another saying that comes into play this week is that “Love is blind.” This is certainly true in Jacob’s relationship with his favored wife Rachael. It has been over fourteen years that he has been in love with her, and in fourteen years he has been blinded to a part of her life that we will read in coming weeks would continue to bring heartache to his life and to his family. What is this part of Rachael’s life? We find it in Genesis 31:19 when Rachael steals the household idols of her father, Laban.

To understand this act we have to understand what these idols were all about. These idols were carvings of false gods which Laban worshipped. He had no doubt taught his family they were bringing blessings and some sort of “luck” to his family. Rachael had seen her father trust in these little idols and had heard him tell stories of giving them credit for the blessings of his life. Rachael bought into this and accepted it all as truth.

Along comes Jacob and during the years of work and marriage to Rachael, he tells her of this “New God,” the God of his father and his grandfather. When it comes time to leave Rachael is in a bit of a spot. Does she forsake her father and his gods to follow her husband and his God? What if we just appear on the surface to be following the God of Jacob, but just in case He does not come through, we reserve something to fall back on? Now that sounds like a good idea, does it not?

About this time, we should all be staring at these words and asking ourselves a very serious question, “Just how much of Rachael’s attitude is in our lives today?” Yes, “OUCH” is a very appropriate word to use here!

Through the years that I have been pursuing Torah, I have seen a multitude of people come and go. Many have come in with the attitude of “I will give this ‘Torah Thing’ a try, but if it does not work out for me, I can still go back to the way I grew up.” Or better yet, they decide to carry both at the same time, just seeing which one will work out better for their needs in the end.

We will see in coming weeks how riding the fence did not work out very well for Rachael. In fact, as we continue to read the Torah, we will find this approach does not work out very well for anyone.

This is not a day to be found wavering. It is a day to make clear choices of just which direction we are going in life. Will we truly serve the Elohim of the Scriptures or will we serve the lies and falsehoods that have been handed down through the past centuries? Many still need to make that decision! I can think of no better month to decide our path than the one which we enter next Shabbat. Will we stand with the Torah faithful during the time of Hanukah or will we trust in idols of trees, ornaments and lights of the false gods? To quote Joshua out of next week’s readings, “As for me and my house …” I hope you know the answer.

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THE JOYFUL SOUND OF FREEDOM

THE JOYFUL SOUND OF FREEDOM
by David Wilkerson
[May 19, 1931 – April 27, 2011]

When the year of Jubilee came, every debt was wiped out. All leases and
possessions reverted back to the original leaseholder, which meant that the
farmer would get his land and his family back. Read about it in Leviticus 25.

You can imagine the rejoicing that took place in Israel and Judah when the
trumpets sounded. At that moment, on the tenth day of the seventh month, while
the high priest was making atonement, every bondservant who had been sold into
slavery was set free. And every person who had lost property was given back
everything. Families were reunited. Homes were restored. It was a time of
liberty, freedom, deliverance!

I picture destitute farmers standing along the demarcation lines of their old
property, waiting to step over as soon as the trumpets sounded. They had been
waiting ten years . . . then five . . . then one . . . and now they counted the
minutes to hear the joyful sound. They must have thought, “I’m getting back
everything I lost. It’s mine again—because this is the year of Jubilee!”

There was to be no planting or harvesting during the year of Jubilee. Instead,
the time was to be spent rejoicing. Jubilee was an entire year of Christmas
every day, of praising God for His grace, provision and freedom.

Please understand, the liberty proclaimed at Jubilee was not some nebulous idea
founded on faith alone. It was the law of the land. All a debtor needed to do to
have the law enforced was to stand on it. The Levites acted as monitors, or
sheriffs, so that everyone was assured justice.

Occasionally, a master might say to a bondservant, “You’re not leaving; you’re
still my servant! Get back to your labors.” But that servant could laugh in the
master’s face and say, “We both know what that trumpet sound means. It’s the
joyful sound of my freedom. You have no legal rights to me anymore. I’m free!”

How the people waited and longed to hear that joyful sound. It meant having the
freedom to say, “Nothing in my past can be held against me. I’ve been delivered
and no one can rob me of my inheritance.” Yet the person in bondage had to act
in order to take possession of his freedom or his lost property. He could dance
and shout in the synagogue all he wanted, crying, “I’m free! Everything has been
restored!” But until he stepped out and claimed his rights, he could not enjoy
any of it. Do you see the significance here? Most Christians have not claimed
the Jubilee that Jesus Christ has given them. Many think the “joyful sound”
today is merely hand-clapping or dancing in an emotional time of praise. But it
is so much more. God calls us to appropriate the freedom, peace and glory He has
provided for us through the forgiveness of sins. We are to step out and claim
it!
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Complaints About Turkey Attacks On The Rise In Brookline

Neighbors are on the offensive in Brookline after what some residents are describing as aggressive turkeys.

“They were attacking the vehicle,” Karen Halvorson said outside her home in the Aspinwall Hill neighborhood.

After getting in her truck, a neighbor came and ran the birds off but it didn’t stop there.

“Then, the turkeys came and started attacking my front door,” she said.

A second run-in came a few weeks ago as she walked nearby.

“I looked back and three of them charged me,” she explained.

She moved to the center of the street to avoid the animals, but it wasn’t enough.

“The turkey flew in my face and scratched my neck,” she said.

Halvorson refuses to give up her walks so she has taken precautions.

“I went down to the hiking store and I got a hiking stick with a big ball on top of it. I walk with it all the time and now I never go without my phone,” she said.

At different spots near the Halvorson house, Karen’s husband cut piles of sticks. Those, too, are for protection.

“At least we can throw a stick at them and run into the house,” said Halvorson.

Complaints to Brookline Police about wild turkeys have doubled in the past two months.

“Some people going to work and they’ve been chased by turkeys,” said Brookline Animal Control Officer Pierre Verrier.

He spends nearly every morning trying to keep the animals away from students at Brookline High School.

“Sometimes I even take a tennis racket to try and shoo them out,” he said.

Verrier says there are basic things you can do to protect yourself. If you see a turkey, move to the other side of the street. Make noise or spray the turkey with water.

Whatever you do, don’t feed them or try to take a picture.

“There was a gentleman who took a picture with a flash and they flew right into his face.”

There are two turkey hunting seasons a year in Massachusetts. But in metropolitan areas, with firearm restrictions, that doesn’t help.

A frustrated Karen Halvorson is now working with Brookline town leaders to organize a meeting about the problem. Neighbors need guidance and an opportunity to vent, she said.

“I can’t believe we’re living this way,” she said. Town Selectman Nancy Daly is helping coordinate the  gathering which she said will likely be held December 6. She wants anyone who has had a run-in with a turkey to attend and tell their story.

A similar meeting was held last week in Newton, where aggressive turkey reports are on the rise as well.

The Newton meeting focused on prevention, like making sure there are no loose food scraps near compost piles and keeping lids on all trash bins.

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V’yishlach (He sent)

V’yishlach (He sent)

Genesis 32:3-36:43
Hosea 11:7-12:12 (A)
Obadiah 1:1-21 (S)

“Silence of the Limping”

Once again, students of the Torah are challenged when meditating on our weekly portions, which I have found to contain a wealth of information to contemplate. When I sit down to write my Torah commentaries, the choice of a subject matter to focus on can be overwhelming. There are many critical events to consider discussing, so one really has to search his heart and find out just what nugget of truth the Lord wants you to focus upon. After all, lengthy books have been written about certain aspects of the life and personal character of Jacob. And, my Torah commentaries are intended to be reflective, and not be like some of the technical, verse-by-verse resources that we have in our ministry library.

As I filter my life through the lens of God’s Torah and plead for personally needed edification, I am magnetically drawn into the character strengths and flaws of Jacob. It is amazing how truly representative he is of so many of us! I can very easily identify with Jacob’s struggles as a chosen vessel for God’s Divine purposes. If you have ever endured any difficulties in your own life, then you can probably also empathize with many of Jacob’s character traits—perhaps his apparent silence as he limps down the mountain trails of modern-day Samaria and Judea. Consider the following verses and Jacob’s absent response:

“Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, ‘If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage.’ But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go’” (Genesis 34:11-17).

Just contemplate this critical juncture in the family, chosen by the Lord to be a light to the world, as they reenter the Promised Land and settle around the community of Shechem. At this point in the narrative, the defiling sexual encounter with Dinah has already occurred (Genesis 34:1-5), and restitution has to be made. Now a proposition is offered by the young prince Shechem and his father Hamor, to Jacob and his sons.

What really caught my attention, after rereading this selection of verses a number of times, is that Jacob is deafeningly silent when the proposals are being discussed. In fact, the Scriptures indicate that his sons answered the requests deceitfully, and with what is ultimately demonstrated to be murder in their hearts. But for some reason, the Patriarch Jacob, who had recently been renamed Israel in an awesome encounter with the Holy One (Genesis 32:24-32), did not speak up. Why was Jacob silent? Can we really know what was going on in his heart and mind?

It is apparent that by the time this event occurred in Jacob’s life, he was confidently aware that the God of his fathers was providing, protecting, and preserving him and his family for the fulfillment of His promises. What was it about Jacob that caused him to just bite his tongue, and not overrule his sons’ conniving requests as the elder? Could it be that he was plagued with the same problem that many followers of God struggle with: the age-old battle between the Spirit and the flesh?

Our Common Human Condition

Lamentably, many of us have different flesh patterns which exercise their influences on choices we consider and decisions we make. Jacob’s life may be considered to be an “open book,” which we can all benefit and learn from, if we study and contemplate the things he did, said, and in this case did not say. Hopefully, if we are totally honest with ourselves, those wrestling with sinful behaviors will confess that they sometimes have about the same amount of success overcoming various flesh patterns as Jacob appears to have had.

Regrettably, confessing our faults is easier said than acted upon, considering the record we see in the Scriptures of fallen humanity. Even with the benefits of progressive revelation, many who claim a belief in the Creator God—and even His Son Messiah Yeshua—still struggle with battles of the flesh, and in experiencing victory over them. In Romans ch. 7, the Apostle Paul describes a viewpoint with which too many people can relate:

“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Yeshua the Messiah our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:14-25).

Many people are inclined to read Romans ch. 7 as Paul giving us information about himself, and that it is fairly common for Believers to have sin problems that they wrestle with and struggle to overcome. Paul seems to be telling us that he himself, even as a born again Believer and a chosen apostle of God, struggles with sin.

Certainly while we live in a sinful world and we will have to overcome temptation, is it appropriate for a Believer to use Romans 7 as an “excuse” to sin? In the recent past, many scholars have been led to think that Paul is not, in fact, talking about himself—but rather is speaking as a hypothetical Believer who is struggling with sin. Paul himself, contrary to the Romans 7 sinner, is a relatively mature Believer who has overcome the vast majority of temptations.

Regardless of which view you take, the realities of our fallen world should force us to rely on the grace of God, because it is only by the salvation provided in Yeshua that “the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:4). Only by crying out to the Lord, will we be able to overcome temptation!

Many of the sinful temptations that we encounter as Believers are simply flesh patterns that can be easily conquered, if we reach out in faith to our Heavenly Father and learn to discipline ourselves. Regardless of Jacob’s, or our own deceitful flesh patterns that we may still be wrestling with here or there, God is still able to accomplish His will, just as the people destined to be His own possession did this as seen throughout the Torah and Tanakh. Let us take a look.

The Journey Home

Over twenty years have passed since Jacob left his brother Esau, and now, after reconciling with his father-in-law Laban (Genesis 31:43-55), he is faced with the prospect of facing his sibling and perceived enemy. Remember that the reason Jacob journeyed to the east was initially to depart from the wrath of his brother’s rage (Genesis 27:42-28:5). Now with two wives, two concubines, twelve children, many slaves, and much livestock, he is returning to his original home with great trepidation. He vividly recalls Esau’s plans to kill him. In this illuminating parashah, Jacob’s character is permanently altered, having the socket of his thigh dislocated by wrestling with the Divine being all night long (Genesis 32:24-32). Yet Jacob not only received the blessing of being renamed Israel (he who struggles with God) for such endurance, but for many generations following he represents the need for each of God’s followers to become dependent on Him—and perhaps how people often literally or figuratively come “limping” into the Kingdom.

But before we as Believers, like Jacob, can limp—or even drag ourselves—successfully into the presence of the Most High, we need to remember that in spite of our most fervent promises and prayers, He is still in ultimate control of things. If the Lord really does have a call upon your life to serve Him and make a difference for Him,regardless of your innate inability to fulfill your part of your pledges, He is big enough to work through you to accomplish His will. In spite of all of the negative idiosyncrasies of Jacob, God was still able to use Him and Jacob will be in the Kingdom (cf. Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:28).

Promises Made and Broken

Do you recall Jacob’s vow to God to give ten percent of all that he had as payment for His provision and protection, from the previous Torah portion?

“Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You’” (Genesis 28:20-22).

Here, Jacob made a solemn vow at Bethel (Heb. Beit’El, latyB; meaning “house of God”) to give God ten percent of his wealth, as compensation for His protection and provision. But notice one other thing that was also pledged. At this critical juncture on his journey east, in his heart, Jacob yearned to return to his father Isaac’s house safely. Did Jacob at all forget about this? We know that the Lord did not, because in spite of Jacob’s personal problems, he is able to return to his home country—and he even finds his brother Esau in a somewhat amicable mood:

“‘Please let my lord pass on before his servant, and I will proceed at my leisure, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord at Seir.’ Esau said, ‘Please let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.’ But he said, ‘What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord’” (Genesis 33:14-15).

This scene occurs after Jacob’s incredible experience at Peniel where he encountered, and even wrestled with, what some think was a pre-Incarnate manifestation of Messiah Yeshua. Even after this life altering experience, where he received his limp, Jacob still has a human tendency to say something that he does not really mean. Was his fear of Esau still a motivating force in his life? What about his statements made to the Lord some twenty years earlier on his trek east? Did he forget that God wanted him to return to Isaac’s house, to carry on the call that He had given the Patriarchs? Surely, God would protect him. It appears that for some reason, Jacob was content to simply cross the Jordan and settle in the land around Shechem:

“Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:18-20).

Here in Shechem, the Scriptures record that Jacob followed the family tradition established by his grandfather Abraham when he purchased the caves at Machpelah in Mamre near Hebron. How could this be? Years earlier, a fleeing Jacob indicated a hunger to be reunited with his father (Genesis 28:21), and even weeks earlier, as the broken and renamed Israel, he promises his brother that he would come to his father in Seir. So why does Jacob stop at Shechem, and not proceed any further?

“Just Give Me Peace”

Jacob changes his mind and purchases land near Shechem. Soon, his growing family and extensive herds become permanent fixtures among the Shechemites. He even erects an altar that signifies his allegiance to the Lord, an indication that he does not plan on moving anywhere anytime soon. Does he not remember his vows to the Lord and the corresponding covenants promised to him?

Most can identify with Jacob/Israel at this point in his life. He just wants peace. He has just come through the trauma of encountering his brother, and certainly felt a great deal of relief that his life and the lives of his family have been spared. He knows that Esau has become very wealthy, and that Esau’s holdings would perhaps create a conflict if he relocates to the area around Hebron, which includes the region of Seir to the east. He somehow justifies his decision to simply settle into the community around Shechem. The Scriptures do not indicate how long Jacob and his family had been a part of the Shechem area, but in due time, circumstances erupt that create serious tension between the indigenous population and the children of Jacob/Israel:

“Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force” (Genesis 34:1-2).

Whether Dinah was actually raped, or whether she had consensual relations with Shechem the prince because he convinced her to do so, is not the point. The fact remains that she ventured into the neighborhood, and became known among the young people of Shechem’s community. In time, she attracts the attention of the young prince. Before long, whether by force or enticement, the sexual act takes place. Apparently, the prince is deeply attracted to Dinah and he asks for her hand in marriage:

“He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, ‘Get me this young girl for a wife.’ Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter; but his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob kept silent until they came in. Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. Now the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved, and they were very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, ‘The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Intermarry with us; give your daughters to us and take our daughters for yourselves. Thus you shall live with us, and the land shall be open before you; live and trade in it and acquire property in it’” (Genesis 34:3-10).

Jacob was in quite a dilemma. After he heard the reports of this transgression, he waited silently to ponder his reaction. He might have recalled when he had his first encounter with Rachel at the well in Paddan-Aram many years earlier:

“Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father” (Genesis 29:11-12).

In the social mores of that day, it was not proper for a man to kiss a woman at their initial meeting, but Jacob had succumbed to the physical attraction he bore his cousin. And as it turns out, they ended up being far more than “kissing cousins.” Is it possible that Jacob understood how passion and longing could be used to further God’s plans for His people? He had certainly seen how it worked out in his life. He might have concluded that God was working through these unfortunate circumstances with Dinah and Shechem.

A Deafening Silence

Hamor, the father of Shechem, makes a plea for the hand of Dinah for his son (Genesis 34:6ff). But what is interesting to note is that Jacob never responds to any of the overtures. Instead, it is his sons who retort back with the conditions of intermarriage. Why was he so silent on the matter? Did he simply consent to the arrangement that was proposed, and allow his sons to figure out the finer details? Certainly, if he disagreed with the proposal, he could have said something, and the conditions for family unions would not be acted upon. Instead, Jacob/Israel, knowing that his sons were livid, allowed the conditions to be offered. Did he know what was in their hearts, or was he more interested in maintaining peace? Here are the conditions that were determined:

“But Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. They said to them, ‘We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: if you will become like us, in that every male of you be circumcised, then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us to be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and go” (Genesis 34:13-17).

Before too long, the requirement to circumcise all the men of Shechem was enacted in order for the intermarriage and assimilation to take place. But what was intended to take place did not occur. The treachery that was in the hearts of Simeon and Levi surfaced, and they completed a murderous engagement. As our Torah portion summarizes,

“Now it came about on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took his sword and came upon the city unawares, and killed every male. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem’s house, and went forth. Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses” (Genesis 34:25-29).

After the entire male population of Shechem is murdered—which was fairly easily to liquidate thanks to the pain of circumcision—the rest of the brothers complete the task of stealing all the wealth of the city. Can you imagine such deceitful actions being committed by the chosen people of God? Where was the compassion for the indiscretion of Dinah, and the young prince Shechem who wanted to make restitution? There was no mercy or grace found in the proud hearts of these sons of Jacob/Israel. Instead, murder and revenge prevailed. After these vile acts, the reaction of Jacob is finally recorded as he rebukes Simeon and Levi:

“Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You have brought trouble on me by making me odious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and my men being few in number, they will gather together against me and attack me and I will be destroyed, I and my household.’ But they said, ‘Should he treat our sister as a harlot?’” (Genesis 34:30-31).

The dialogue ends, and Jacob and company move.

A Divine Response

Jacob quickly recognizes that these actions have imperiled his entire family. There is no Biblical record of Jacob responding to the pleas that Simeon and Levi offered in their defense. Instead, the next recorded statement comes from God Himself. The Lord reminds Jacob to return to Bethel to recall the promises that were made to Him:

“Then God said to Jacob, ‘Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau’” (Genesis 35:1).

Another altar is erected, memorializing the promises received (Genesis 35:7, 9-15). The journey continues down the hills of the Promised Land toward Hebron, and Jacob finally gets back on the trail to his father Isaac’s home. But again there are challenges. His beloved wife Rachel dies at the birth of Benjamin in what is modern-day Bethlehem (Genesis 35:16-20). The love of Jacob’s life is taken from him. On the journey, Jacob’s eldest son Reuben sins, thus forfeiting his position to become the leader of the next generation:

“Then Israel journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder. It came about while Israel was dwelling in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine, and Israel heard of it. Now there were twelve sons of Jacob” (Genesis 35:21-22).

And, the journey back home continues… Finally, the full circle is completed and Jacob/Israel is back at his father’s side. The promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are being fulfilled. And, the most ironic thing occurs from our human perspective as Isaac dies and his sons, Esau and Jacob, bury him:

“Jacob came to his father Isaac at Mamre of Kiriath-arba (that is, Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had sojourned. Now the days of Isaac were one hundred and eighty years. Isaac breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people, an old man of ripe age; and his sons Esau and Jacob buried him” (Genesis 35:27-29).

The Journey Completed

Regardless of all the bad decisions that Jacob made along his journey, the promise to be returned to the land of his fathers is completed. Of course, he is without the love of his life, Rachel, and is further burdened by the sinful acts of his sons in Shechem during the final leg of their trek south. But he does not forget these critical events in his life. In fact, the whole future of the nation of Israel is, in many respects, determined by some of the things which occurred during these travels down the hills of what would later be called Samaria and Judea.

In his final days, as Israel is blessing his sons, the ultimate destinies of Reuben, Simeon, and Levi are uttered. Because of their lustful and treacherous acts they lose the right to receive the blessings bestowed upon the firstborn. Instead, such a firstborn status is ultimately passed onto Judah:

“Then Jacob summoned his sons and said, ‘Assemble yourselves that I may tell you what will befall you in the days to come. Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; and listen to Israel your father. Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power. Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—he went up to my couch. Simeon and Levi are brothers; their swords are implements of violence. Let my soul not enter into their council; let not my glory be united with their assembly; because in their anger they slew men, and in their self-will they lamed oxen. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; and their wrath, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel. Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father’s sons shall bow down to you. Judah is a lion’s whelp; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He couches, he lies down as a lion, and as a lion, who dares rouse him up? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. He ties his foal to the vine, and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine; he washes his garments in wine, and his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes are dull from wine, and his teeth white from milk’” (Genesis 49:1-12).

From these blessings and penalizations, you can see how the actions which took place in Shechem were indeed inappropriate. If the murders were consistent with God’s laws and His true intention, then Simeon or Levi would have inherited the blessing of firstborn. But instead, those blessings were passed onto Judah.

Lessons Learned

In our study of the Torah, today’s challenge is to reflect upon the life of Jacob and his sons and seek a better way. What is our Heavenly Father trying to reveal to us as we contemplate the traumatic life of Jacob, and his struggle to return to the home of his father? Regardless of Jacob’s bad decisions and the consequences of them, God is still going to accomplish His will via the people He has chosen to represent Him in the world. For unknown reasons, He does not cover up or hide the transgressions of the people chosen to be His own possession. The Biblical record includes their faults, demonstrating such a chosen people to truly be people.

This reality should not encourage Believers to pursue things contrary to God’s way. Instead, with the benefits of the Scriptural records preserved for us, we should learn to honor the verbal commitments that we have made to the Lord and to each other. We should recognize that what we say and what we do have long term consequences for us as well as our children. We should learn from the mistakes of those who have preceded us, so we do not repeat them. We see that Reuben, Simeon, and Levi were denied the blessing of being the chosen, main leaders of Israel.

Spirit-Led Decisions

Like the Apostle Paul who lists the example of a sinner in Romans ch. 7, wanting to overcome temptation, if we similarly struggle, we should be willing to admit our faults and strive to do better. Jacob had faults that did hamper his effectiveness in accomplishing God’s purpose for his life, and what we commonly remember him for are the good things he achieved near the end of his life—not necessarily in the time period we are considering in thisparashah.

We each should strive to let the Spirit of God and His will prevail in our decisions, not succumbing to any excuses as to why our way might be better, and certainly not waiting until the end of our lives to be the most effective in His service. We each have choices to make, and if we are filled up with the Ruach HaKodesh we should seriously consider the negative consequences that will result if we are guided by a sinful ethic. As we mature in our walks of faith, it should be natural for us to simply choose the path that the Lord has laid out, guided by the imperative of love. Paul summarizes what God’s love (agapē) is to chiefly embody in his words to the Corinthians:

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away…When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 11).

Walking in unconditional love is, at times, a difficult action to take, but one which pleases our Heavenly Father. It definitely exhibits the traits of a maturing saint who submits himself or herself to the required will of the Lord.

Secondly, when encountering those inside, and even outside of the Body of Messiah, we need to exercise grace and mercy. Yeshua the Messiah spoke specifically about our natural, fleshly proclivity to judge others:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).

If we take this truth to heart, we will knowingly conclude that our flesh wants to justify itself without first examining its own faults. We might look down on others who do not see things we way we do, or who remain in immaturity. Rather than be a partial human judge—it is much better to humble ourselves, pray for those who are wrestling with issues of sin, and let the impartial Judge, God Himself, work through the issues with such people. Who in his or her right mind would want to judge another person’s heart, when such a person’s own heart has glaring deficiencies that need to be worked through?

Finally, we have an excellent summary remark to consider by James the Just:

“My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

Is it not better for Spirit-led followers of Messiah Yeshua to seek this level of restitution with those who have strayed from the truth? Such a restoration, though, needs to be tempered with the same love and mercy that saved us!

The life of Jacob and his choices have been preserved for our instruction. Jacob was always reminded of his encounter with God at Peniel as he limped through the remainder of his life (Genesis 32:25, 31-32). Have you ever had a dramatic, life altering event, that has initiated needed change away from the ways of the flesh? As you contemplate V’yishlach this week, what important lesson might you be overlooking? Hopefully, unlike Jacob who wrestled with God, the only limps that we have in life are those that come from bent knees in continual prayer and humble submission to God’s will—and not any kind of reminder for chastisement from Him. In such prayer, we will learn the discernment of when to speak, and when to be silent.

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FESTIVAL OF JUBILEE

FESTIVAL OF JUBILEE
by David Wilkerson
[May 19, 1931 – April 27, 2011]

The history of the Jewish festival of Jubilee is found in Leviticus 25. This
observance begins with the Lord’s command that Israel allow the land to rest
from cultivation every seventh year. The seventh year was to be a sabbath year,
in which the land would lie fallow. During that year, the people were to do no
planting, picking of fruit or harvesting of any kind: “Six years thou shalt sow
thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit
thereof; but in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a
sabbath for the Lord: thou shalt neither sow thy field, nor prune thy vineyard”
(Leviticus 25:3-4).

God was literally shutting down all agricultural activity for an entire year.
That meant Israel would have to live for that period without any visible means
of support. They would have to put their lives completely into God’s hands,
trusting Him for all supplies.

Of course, this required a lot of faith. Think about it: For an entire year
there would be no intake of crops for food . . . no harvest of grain to feed
cattle . . . no work for farmers . . . no labor for vineyard keepers. Most
Christians today would panic after only a week of this, much less a year.
Indeed, the Israelites wondered: “What are we going to do for food during the
seventh year? How will we feed our families, our cattle? We’ll use up
everything we have in the sixth year, just prior to the sabbath year. Are we
supposed to sit idly by while our children go hungry? Does God really expect us
to watch the grapes rot on the vine? ”

Yet God had a clear purpose in commanding a sabbath year for the land. It was
meant to reveal His faithfulness to His people. “If ye shall say, What shall we
eat the seventh year? behold, we shall not sow, nor gather in our increase: then
I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth
fruit for three years” (verses 20-21).

What an incredible promise! God was guaranteeing Israel a triple harvest (see
verse 22): “If you will just step out in faith and trust Me, I will give you a
harvest during the sixth year that will provide you with enough provisions for
three years.”

I believe the Lord is saying something important here. And that is, no matter
what our circumstances, He always provides for those who trust and obey Him.

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WHEN GOD SAYS “TRUST ME,” HE MEANS IT!

WHEN GOD SAYS “TRUST ME,” HE MEANS IT!
by David Wilkerson
[May 19, 1931 – April 27, 2011]

Think for a moment about all the ways God has met the needs of His people
throughout history.

When Israel was in the wilderness, they had no supermarkets or grocery stores.
There was not even a blade of grass in sight. But God rained down manna from
heaven so the people would have bread, and He caused birds to fall by the
bushel from the sky so they would have meat. He caused water to gush from a
rock. And He supernaturally kept their shoes and clothing intact, so that they
never wore out in forty years of use.

In the Old Testament, we read that a hungry prophet was fed by a raven. A
barrel of meal and a bottle of oil supernaturally replenished themselves. And
an entire enemy army fled upon hearing a strange noise—leaving behind enough
supplies to feed an entire city of starving Israelites.

In the New Testament, we read that water was turned into wine. Money was found
in a fish’s mouth to pay taxes. And five thousand people were fed with only
five loaves of bread and two fish.

All these miracles of supply cry out to us, “God is faithful. He can be
trusted!” And in Leviticus 25, we read of another supernatural phenomenon—an
especially ripe harvest in the year before the sabbath for the land.

Next, God commanded that the people observe seven consecutive cycles of
sabbaths for the land: “Thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee,
seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be
unto thee forty and nine years” (verse 8). In other words: “You are to
celebrate this sabbath every seventh year, for a period of forty-nine
years—seven sabbaths times seven.”

In biblical terms, the forty-nine-year period would comprise a whole
generation. The implication here is that such a period would provide enough
time for an entire generation to learn to trust the Lord. Over that time,
parents and grandparents would build up a history of faith, so they could tell
their children: “Yes, it’s true! God supplied everything we needed the first
six years, but when the seventh year came, many of us were afraid. Yet God’s
provision saw us through to the eighth year, and right up to the ninth.
Sometimes it was frightening, but there was always enough. No one starved, and
no one had to beg. Every need was supplied. God tested our faith—and He
remained faithful!”

The point is, when God says, “Trust me,” He means it!

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SHOCKER: GUESS WHICH COUNTRY IS THE LARGEST PRODUCER OF BIBLES

When one thinks of China, Christianity and the Bible are likely two of the furthest things that come to mind. “Communism,” “forced abortions,” one-child policy” and other terms are, more generally, what’s the nation is known for. But now, a shocking new development has come to the forefront: China, a country that makes many products consumed in the U.S. and abroad, is now also the world’s largest Bible producer.

Amity Printing Company is the only outfit in China that is permitted to produce Christian Bibles. While the Chinese government doesn’t have the most stellar record when it comes to religious freedom, Amity Printing has been fast at work, with the company’s chairman, Qiu Zhonghui, announcing that the business published its 100 millionth Bible in July.

According to a report by Christian Today, the Amity has printed 60 million Bibles, including nine ethnic minority editions in various languages. Additionally, 40 million copies were printed in more than 90 languages and sent to about 70 nations and regions across the globe. The outlet goes onto describe the Christian population in China and the expansion that has led to the nation’s new designation as top Bible producer:

China has more than 16 million Christians today, the Xinhuanet report states, as well as 1,800 seminarians in 18 Bible schools. It also has 55,000 churches and gathering venues, 100,000 church volunteers and 36,000 missionaries.

But some believe the number of Christians in China is actually much higher than the country’s government has said due to the large number of Christians who worship separately from churches run by the government. An article that appeared in the May 2011 issue of First Things magazine, and was written by social sciences professors, combines a number of different surveys to suggest that there may have been about 70 million Christians living in China in 2011.

In 2010, the UK-based Bible Society reported that the growth of the church in China was too rapid for the Bible publisher to keep up with. Christians living in rural areas, or those who don’t belong to CCC/TSPM churches, are often forced to live their faith without the book.

Considering that the printing venture, a joint effort on the part of United Bible Societies and the Amity Foundation, started in 1988, this accomplishment is fascinating.

Christianity Today (different from “Christian Today”) notes that the Chinese government is welcoming this development, with spokesperson Guo Wei recently claiming that officials both respect and protect religious freedom. Wei also went on to say that the government “will continue to support printing and publishing Bibles in China.”

The irony here is that Christian missionaries regularly smuggle Bibles into the nation — an act that some experts claim is dangerous for both the individuals doing it and for locals. Considering author David Aikman’s claim in an interview with Christianity Today that heavy government restrictions have been placed on Bibles (they are only available at government-registered church bookstores), it’s understandable why some have tried to work around the system.

Experts like Christina Graham, director of operations for East Gates International, a group that works to help with Bible distribution locally in China, say that working legally through the system is more effective. There are 70 sales outlets through which the Amity Bibles are available in the country — outlets that Graham helps coordinate.

“We’ve found that working legally in China is far more effective in the long run,” Graham told Christianity Today. “We’ve developed incredible relationships with both governmental officials and house-church believers because we choose to respect the religious policies in their country.”

Amity Printing is based in Nanjing, China.

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TEEN SENTENCED TO 10 YEARS OF CHURCH ATTENDANCE AFTER DUI MANSLAUGHTER CONVICTION

An Oklahoma teenager In Muskogee, Oklahoma, who pleaded guilty in the tragic death of another teen has been given an interesting sentence: 10 years of church attendance in exchange for not heading to prison. The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, is not fighting a judge’s mandate, as his lawyer deems the decision both fair and appropriate.

“My client goes to church every Sunday,” attorney Donn Baker told Tulsa World. “That isn’t going to be a problem for him. We certainly want the probation for him.”

Alred, who was convicted of DUI manslaughter, crashed into a tree last year, an incident that led to the tragic death of his passenger and friend. Tulsa World has more:

The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene.

Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.

Although not legally drunk – he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness – he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol.

In August, Alred pleaded guilty to manslaughter as a youthful offender and Muskogee County District Judge Mike Norman implemented the intriguing church-based penalty. The district attorney’s office will monitor the teen’s attendance to be sure that he complies.

Some experts have contended that mandating church attendance creates a separation of church and state issue. In addition to going to church, Alred will need to wear an ankle bracelet to monitor his alcohol intake, speak at events about the negative results of drinking and driving, finish high school and go for counseling. Additionally, he will undergo drug tests.

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