Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New Year's List

I prefer to call this a list rather than resolutions, because that is what this really is: a list of things I want and plan to do in 2009.

1) Take up yoga.

2) Skate and play hockey.

3) Do more visual art/drawing.

4) Record more music.

5) Take day trips around the province.

6) Read more. Way more.

I seriously want to be more physically active, spend less time in front of a computer, and get to a point where I can balance my professional and activist work with few conflicts.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday Update

The winter holidays is never my favourite time of year. A dark, cold time, where people are rushing around spending money in what seems like a race to acquire the most and best toys. Then, on the holidays themselves, people either go away, or spend time with family and friends. Most places in the city are closed. I tend to feel very alone and sad.

This year has been a bit different. First of all, I actually had people to shop for. I usually have one or two names on my list, but this year a number were added. While I may not be a rich person by any stretch, I felt like I was a part of something as I rushed around and picked up everything I needed.

Next, I tried to go out more. This was difficult, because December has had one of the earliest cold snaps I ever remember. But a wonderful thing about 2008 is that I reunited with an old friend of mine about six month ago. And unlike many of my friends, he is with vehicle. So it has made for some fun and interesting times. I have been to a lot of places in the city I have not been in a long time, some new places, and it is wonderful to share the experience.

Another blessing this year has been nurturing a friendship with someone special I met through work. He has become a role model and a mentor, fitting since I am the same age as his daughter. When he gave me a small bag of chocolate for Christmas (Callebaut, no less) and later told me how much he valued our friendship, I nearly broke down in tears. I spent some time with him and his family this Christmas, and I felt privileged to be included.

A few days before Christmas, I attended a Solstice celebration at City Hall. Yes, I know Solstice is a pagan kind of thing, but I was curious. It was presented by one of the local Unitarian congregations. I found it interesting, but reinforced my own beliefs since most of the service was focusing on worshipping the seasons and weather and nature. I would rather worship the One who made them all.

I also worked a casino to raise funds for one of the newspapers where I work. This was my first time doing this, and the experience was memorable. I ran chips, which means that I spent a lot of time hanging out in the volunteer lounge enjoying munchies and watching television until I would be called to bring chips out to the floor (escorted by a guard). Another perk was free meals form the restaurant, which I did not overdo I am proud to say - although I did hold out for supper until they were serving the prime rib!

Now, I know some of you may object to casinos funding non-profit groups. I must confess I have mixed feelings on this issue. However, no one is forcing the people who patronize such establishments to go there. In a way, it is not much different than a business that makes money through alcohol sales. At least in this case, the money goes to good causes.

Chanukah is still going on - three candles left to light. I was tempted to go to the community light up, but it was close to -30 that afternoon. Like I said, it has been a very cold December. I got some cool prezzies courtesy of the friend I mentioned a few paragraphs above. In keeping with tradition, I got eight presents - seven Scratch and Win lottery tickets, and sweetest of all - a 16 gig iPod touch! I should explain this friend and I go back a very long way.

New Year's Eve is coming up, and as always, I have no plans. I think it is a good night to stay off the road. Like in past years, I will probably be at home watching movies while sipping from a bottle of something or another. The movie marathon is already on, as I indulged in my annual Christmas tradition of watching Love, Actually, and also have been renting a few flicks. I even bought Mamma Mia, which is a movie that really cheers me up.

Wherever you are, whatever you celebrate, have a safe and happy holiday season!

Friday, November 28, 2008

I Am Actually Responsible For A Living Thing

Grafted Cactus
Originally uploaded by raise my voice
I was having coffee in Zocalo with a friend, and as we browsed the aisles of artfully designed housewares and gifts my eyes fixed upon a small display of grafted cacti. They are made by putting parts from two different plants together, after which they fuse to create a whole new plant. I find a lot of the plants that Zocalo sells to be beautiful and interesting, but then I saw this one cactus that literally melted my heart. I named him Sunshine (it has to be a him with the shape it is) because of the bright burst of gold at the top. He currently stands at 8.75".

I feel weird saying this, but I think Sunshine is cute. I have never considered a plant to be cute before. Nor have I owned one. Now I do. It makes me a bit nervous to know I am responsible for a living thing, but Sunshine makes me happy. Especially when skies are gray.

I also feel that Sunshine (or, Sunny for short) carries with him a spiritual analogy. At his base is the root and the stem. On top is a bright, bold statement (akin to our acceptance of the Divine). Together, a new creation is made, just as we are new creations when we come to faith.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Those Right-Wing Christians Done Good

I have some friends in the activist world who constantly complain about the actions and beliefs of those "right-wind Christians." Well, yesterday evening some of those Christians from King's College organized a rally in Churchill Square calling for the immediate release of Omar Khadr, a fifteen year old soldier, from Guantanamo Bay. After the rally, most of the crowd headed into the Winspear Centre to hear Khadr's pro-bono lawyer (who is from Edmonton) speak. A number of my activist friends were there, and I made a point of saying that this event was organized by Christians. Way to go, King's College students! Here are some photos I took in the square.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Parashat Lech Lecha

Parashat Lech Lecha (go forth, yourself!)
November 8, 2008/10 Cheshvan 5769

Genesis 12:1 - 17:27
Isaiah 40:27 - 41:16
Romans 4:1 – 25

This week’s Torah portion is about keeping promises. Promises are a two-way street for believers. When we are faithful to G-d, He is faithful to us.

However, even when we know we have to trust in the L-rd and be faithful to Him, sometimes our faith is tested. And sometimes, even when we have a message that we know is coming from the L-rd Himself, we decide to take matters into our own hands and do what we think is best, instead of what He wants us to do. We may be willfully disobedient out of fear, impatience, pride, or simple foolishness. Abraham, one of the Patriarchs of our faith, embodied several of these character flaws. In the end, however, the L-rd proved faithful and Abraham stood strong in his obedience.

In this week’s parasha, when he was still known as Abram, he and his wife (still known as Sarai) were following some directives from G-d. Abram was sent on a holy and very important mission.

The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Gen 12:1-3 NIV)

When Abram gets to Egypt, however, he does something very dumb – he passes off his wife Sarai as his sister to the Pharaoh. As a result, Sarai gets taken into Pharaoh’s palace, and the L-rd ends up inflicting serious diseases upon him. When Pharaoh discovers why he was being punished, he casts out Abram and Sarai.

Afterwards, Abram becomes wealthy in the Negev in livestock and currency, then travels through several other locations--Bethel, Sodom, and Hebron. Now, Abram thinks he has a problem – he has acquired so much land and material wealth that he is concerned that he has no one to inherit it all. He and Sarai have no children. So, he turns to the L-rd and the L-rd tells him not to worry because he will have a son. Apparently, however, trusting G-d to keep His word is not enough for Abram. So, when Sarai offers her maidservant Hagar to Abram, he takes her and she becomes pregnant. Soon, Sarai begins to resent her and treat her badly, so Hagar flees. The L-rd promises Hagar that the child she will bear will have many descendants. The son is Ishmael, and indeed, he has many descendants – the Arab kingdom.

Finally, we come to the generational covenant G-d makes with Abram in chapter 17.

"As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram ; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.” (Gen 17:4-6 NIV)

G-d tells Abraham once again that he will have a son with Sarah, a son who will be called Isaac. The L-rd also establishes circumcision as the mark of the covenant, so both Abraham and Ishmael are circumcised. The fact that Abraham was willing to undergo this painful physical alteration at the age of 99, and put all the men in his household through it as well, demonstrates Abraham’s faithfulness. It also demonstrates the transformation that comes when we choose to follow G-d – Abraham was transformed physically and by his name.

G-d has the power to change lives, when we let Him in. The prophetic portion describes the kinds of things those who choose to believe can expect to experience.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (Isa 40:28-31 NIV)

The Brit Chadasha portion continues to describe how G-d’s promises will be fulfilled to the faithful, pointing back to the Torah portion and the birth of Isaac.

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead-since he was about a hundred years old-and that Sarah's womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. (Rom 4:18-21 NIV)

Let’s remember to keep our promises to G-d by being faithful to Him. Our blessing will be His faithfulness to us.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Liberal vs. Conservative

I find these two labels to be confusing at times. I am not talking about the political parties either. I am talking about lifestyle.

It appears that there is a pre-conceived notion when someone is described as "liberal" or "conservative." A person who is liberal is a bleeding heart, anti-war, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pseudo hippy. A conservative person loves guns, is pro-life, pro-war, anti-gay, and a Bible thumper.

Is there no middle ground?

Both labels present contradictions and fallacies. Someone who is socially liberal (or, progressive), may be quite conservative when it comes to their spiritual life, or just life in general. Some liberals life akin to modern-day hippies. Some don't.

With conservatives, I suppose it is possible to be fiscally conservative but at the same time, have a social conscious. This is sort of like old-style Canadian conservatism before it started to follow in the neocon way of the United States.

I also cannot fathom someone being pro-life and pro-war.

I wonder if Jesus Himself was here today, what the hardline Conservatives would think of Him. I wear a button sometimes that says, "Jesus was a liberal."

And indeed, I agree with this statement.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Living Wage - Blog Action Day 2008

Today is Blog Action Day, when socially conscious bloggers unite to write about poverty. This article was originally published as my "Active Observer" column in the April/May 2008 issue of Our Voice: Edmonton's Street Newspaper. For an entire archive of my "Active Observer" columns on this and other issues of social justice in Edmonton, visit RaiseMyVoice.com.

Everyone who is willing and able to work deserves to make a living. How to achieve that in our supposedly booming economy is another matter.

The gap between the rich and poor is growing wider, with the extremes growing on both ends of the equation. A possible solution to the growing class of the “working poor” – those who have jobs but still find themselves coming up short each month for the basic necessities of life – is the institution of a living wage.

According to Public Interest Alberta, 21.9% of all working Albertans earn less than $12 per hour . One suggested solution is to raise the minimum wage, but even $12 is not a whole lot when it comes to keeping up with the cost of living resulting from the province’s supposed “boom.”

One of the problems concerning setting a living wage is defining an exact amount. Realistically, this can vary from person to person depending on circumstances. A single mother with three pre-teen children is going to have very different needs than a twenty-five year old bachelor who lives alone.

Another consideration is that certain kinds of jobs have limited potential for both career development and actual monetary value. The career ceiling is very limited for someone who pumps gas or checks out groceries, unless they end up an owner or a manager – certainly not in the majority of cases. Gradual pay increases over time for these sorts of jobs tend to be small because they do not require a lot of skill and training.

However, not everyone can or is supposed to be a doctor, lawyer or executive. This does not mean that other jobs are any less vital to our economy. Many so-called menial jobs ensure that society as we know it functions smoothly. It is the workers, through their labour, who provide the backbone for a quality of life that those in the upper echelons take for granted. Think about this: what would happen if all of the cashiers at Safeway simply decided not to show up for work one day? Or, if the same scenario ensued with any other job that is generally taken for granted?

A theoretical proposal is that society as a whole needs to examine and evaluate what is important in terms of its values. In practical terms, change has to start with each of us, to slowly and gradually create a paradigm shift in our society. On an individual level, this means taking stock of our own priorities, and allowing our lives to be living reflections of what we hold most dear. This may involve becoming less materialistic, or taking a different career path that allows us more time to pursue our passions or spend more time with loved ones.

As well, the average person needs to support workers’ rights. When a group of workers are on strike, don’t cross the picket line. In terms of day to day activities, don’t support corporations with lousy track records when it comes to employee treatment and pay. While low prices might be tempting to anyone on a budget or fixed income, supporting these kinds of businesses is only adding to the problem while lining the pockets of some of the biggest corporations in the world (and the obscenely rich executives who run them). At the very least, make an effort to shop at Canadian-owned companies, as well as ones that utilize the standards of Fair Trade, whereby the goods are certified not to have been produced in sweatshops and where the producers are paid a decent amount for their labour.

Perhaps it is some sort of fair trade regulations we need on a local level. Our quality of life should not have to suffer because of arbitrarily set wage limitations. The term “working poor” needs to be made obsolete.


Yesterday was the federal election in Canada. The existing government was trying to get a majority of seats in Parliament. The Prime Minister felt a minority government would not work properly. Well, unfortunately he wasted his time and a whole lot of tax money, as another Conservative minority government was elected. Minority governments in Canada don't really last much longer than two years at a clip, so we can probably expect to head to the polls again some time in 2010.

Pretty much everything stayed the same in Edmonton, except in the Strathcona riding where NDP Linda Duncan won over incumbent Conservative Rahim Jaffer. I am very happy for her. I have had the privilege of meeting her a few times and she is very experienced and intelligent.

I spent much of yesterday evening live-blogging on Twitter, commenting on the numbers as they came in.

I got a book the other called Reaching the Left from the Right by Barbara Curtis. She is a former hippie who became a Born Again Republican when she became a Born Again Christian. This is what I just don't understand -- why does our faith have to make us socially conservative? I'll for sure talk more about this book after I read it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Prayer and Tears

I pray several times a day, every day. My final prayer of the day is right before I go to bed. This when it happens. No matter how long I pray or for what or whom, when I finish I realize there are tears streaming down from the corners of my eyes.

At the same time, even though I know that I am a child of God, I feel like I am wandering in the wilderness. I have several communities, but at once I am a loner. Challenges and tests come my way, and calling out to God is my only refuge.

I am witnessing to several friends, one of whom is very close to accepting the Lord. Please, may I speak the truth in love.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Day of Atonement

Today was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The holiest day of the Jewish year. I managed to make it to an afternoon service at my congregation, where we studied the Book of Jonah, as well as other Scriptures. Yesterday evening, after sundown when the holiday had already began, I was moved to read some Scripture before going to bed. The ones I was led to focus on were ones that we also looked at this afternoon, in particular Matthew 5 and 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Verses that outline holiness, sin, and redemption.

On a slightly related note, I have gotten serious about my walking and am now often wearing a pedometer. I am so curious as to exactly how much walking I do - I think I vastly underrate the distance I travel. For instance, to go back and forth from the church building where we meet is just slightly short of a mile. I thought it would be a half a mile at best.

And on another note all together . . . yesterday, my parents send in their absentee ballots for the U.S. election. They voted for Obama. My parents are not exactly what you would call progressive, but they are sick of war mongers running their home country. War mongers who pick airheads to be Vice President, who could end up being President one day, in which case the world has a lot to worry about.

Friday, October 03, 2008

L'Shana Tova

A belated happy new year! This week was Rosh Hashanah, which many people simply refer to as "the Jewish new year." We are now in the Days of Awe, which fall between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a time of reflection and introspection - seeing where our lives are going and what we could have done better over the previous year, particularly when it comes to sinning against other people and G-d.

There is a custom in Judaism that I really appreciate. If you sin against G-d, you pray to Him for forgiveness. If you sin against another person, you have to go to that person directly to apologize. There is no "greasy grace" here -- you have to suck it up and deal with the person one on one. That can be a scary prospect, depending on that the issue is.

Sin is serious business. That is why on Yom Kippur there is fasting, no wearing leather shoes, loads of prayer, and basically a day of discomfort all around. Alas, the cycle of sin begins again the next day. If you have sinned against someone, don't wait for Yom Kippur to make amends. Don't wait to pray for salvation from the One who has taken our sins from us.

Monday, September 22, 2008

UN International Day of Peace

Yesterday was the UN International Day of Peace. It was marked in Edmonton with a flag-raising ceremony at City Hall. A couple of new Canadians spoke about what life was like in the war-torn countries from which they came. I sang a song I often sing at peace-related events, called "I Only Ask of God." It's not a religious song as such, but a prayer to God for peace and human rights. It is a folk song from Argentina, and I try to throw in a verse in Spanish at the end (I sing a very literal English translation). God can mean so many different things to different people, and even though we may not agree on who He is, and I am glad to bring Him with me to these events.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rally for Change

On Saturday, I attended the Rally for Change. It was actually a rally for Jack Layton. Which in effect would be change, a change from the Conservative government from which we currently suffer. There were hundreds of NDP supporters filling the lobby of the Winspear Centre. It was the first time I have ever seen a major political figure speak live. I ended up filming from the second floor, as it just got way too crowded.

In churches, we don't talk about politics too much. At least in Canada, candidates and parties cannot be supported from the pulpit, lest the church risk losing its charitable status. We talk about issues that are hot properties in political circles, like abortion, gay marriage, poverty, and peace, but ultimately, at least in my congregation, we encourage people to vote with their conscience.

I used to think that being a Believer meant I had to vote a certain way or have certain political beliefs. I was so wrong. Religion and politics tend to be way too tied up together. When I hear people ranting about "right-wing evangelical Christians" I know they are making a generalization, but it is borne of this cookie-cutter mentality that is far too pervasive in church circles. Christian does not have to equal conservative. Jesus was a socialist. Deal with it.

Friday, September 19, 2008


Amongst my activist friends I am often thought of as the "religious one." I have not gone to some events because they came out on Jewish holidays, for example. Yet quite a number of my friends are involved with the Unitarians. In Edmonton, there are two Unitarian churches, one on the north side, and one on the south side. Most of them go to the north side one.

The Unitarian church has intrigued me for quite a while. I am totally in love with its commitment to social justice, something which I think is lacking in evangelical churches today. There is a focus on people's sexual behaviour, but on little else. I commented to a friend of mine last evening that I would like to see someone put on congregational discipline because they do not support the poor. She felt that was not Biblical. "Well," I said, "We're supposed to help the widows and orphans." (James 1:27) To me, that implies the poor and needy. It's an extension of that verse, the same way many of the verses that touch upon sexual behaviour are open to broader interpretation. She suggested I take this up with our pastor. I think I will.

The main criticism of Unitarianism that me and my friend discussed, was that it takes the best of all faiths and puts them together under its own banner. There is nothing at all wrong with learning from other faith traditions. But when you pick and choose what you want, you end up with "everything and nothing" as far as a faith system goes. Yes, there are certain principles for ethical living that Unitarians follow, which are great, but they have little, if anything, to do with G-d -- and I am not just talking about the G-d of the Bible, lest anyone say I am lording (pardon the pun) my Judeo-Christian chauvinism over anyone. I am talking about G-d as a concept in general. And I am someone who holds following G-d and the Bible in high esteem.

Otherwise, Unitarians carry out their lives like any other church-going folk. They fellowship regularly. They make offerings. They sing hymns. They listen to sermons. The "sacred" in Unitarianism, seems to be social justice. Being good stewards of the environment, being critical of the government and its decisions, and treating everyone with dignity and respect. And with those principles, I cannot disagree.

Now, if only other churches got on board with those practices, we may see a radical demographic shift in church-goers!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Pics'n'Vids: September 18, 2008

Let the War Resisters Stay & Anti-SPP Rally
September 13, 2008

Pics (24 images):

Peggy Morton, ECAWAR (6:47)
Linda Leibovitz speaking on Omar Khadr (2:16)
Dr. Gordon Laxer, Parkland Institute (9:34)
Dr. Martin Tweedale, Council of Canadians (8:13)
Event organizer Aaron Skaley speaking on
war resisters (1:45)
and TILMA (Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Movement between Alberta and B.C.) (5:13)
Doug Meggison, Council of Canadians and ECAWAR (8:28)
Harlan, Vietnam draft dodger (9:31)


Grandmothers for Africa
Grandmothers for a New Generation (GANG) is an organizations seeking to support grandparents in Africa who are caring for their grandchildren, mostly orphans who have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. A rally on September 6 brought attention to the fact that inexpensive AIDS medications are needed in Africa, as they were promised by our government.

Photos (28 images):

Linda Duncan (3:43)
GANG Speaker (2:43)
Notre Dame de Bananes (3:53)
Raging Grannies (6:55)

Edmonton Poetry Festival
On September 13 I read some of my poems in front of a live audience at the Milner Library downtown. Edmonton's Poet Laureate Alice Major introduced all of the readers in our segment. "Poetry and politics do mix" was what she said after I finished. Five poems, five minutes (our allotted time). Three written by me, two with Radical Randy. Here is a look at my reading (4:53):
(Yes, I know I was reading very quickly -- like I said, I only had five minutes!)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Picnic Fun

Yesterday was our congregational picnic. We enjoyed a beautiful day outside in fellowship. Although the service was shortened dramatically, I actually found it far more meaningful to experience it outside than indoors. Being right in the midst of G-d's creation made everything so real. G-d doesn't live in a building, not exclusively. Sometimes a less formal environment can be more accessible to people who typically are not all that interested in organized religion.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Friendship Bag

We have a program called Secret Sisters at our congregation. The women fill out information cards, and then we put the cards together and do a draw. The person whose card we pull is our "Secret Sister" for a pre-determined length of time. We hold this person up in prayer, send encouraging notes, and occasionally a small gift -- all anonymously, until the cycle is over and we reveal ourselves.

For my birthday (which is today), my Secret Sister left a gift bagin the Sanctuary, with a card, and two small gifts. One is a desk ornament (a very cute metal dog) and the other is a "Friendship Bag." It's a bag full of different things, with an explanation on the outside. The items are symbolic representations of different aspects of friendship, using tangible items. Here is the list:


This Friendship Bag contains a few reminders of friendship.

Lifesavers - to remind you of the many times others may need your help and you need theirs.

Cottom Ball - for the rough roads ahead; seek the cushioned support of your family and friends.

Rubber Band - a reminder to stay flexible.

Sweet and Sour Candy - to help you appreciate the differences in others.

Candy Kiss - to reminder you that we all need hugs and kisses.

Happy Face - smiling not only increases your face value, it is contangious.

Candle - to remind you to share your light with others.

Band Aid - for healing hurt feelings; yours or someone else's.

Recipe Card - to share a favourite receipe with a friend as a symbol of caring.

Eraser - to remind you that every day you can start over with a clean slate.


I think friendship bags could be made with a variety of different items, personalized for the occasion or recipient. I'm definitely going to hold on to mine.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Parashat Masei

Parashat Masei (Journeys)
August 2, 2008/1 Av 5768

Torah: Num. 33:1-36:13
Haftarah: Jer. 2:4-28
Brit Chadasha: James 4:1-12

In this, the final Torah portion of the book of Numbers, Moses is commanded by G-d to record all of the journeys the Israelites took when they came out of Egypt. Chapter 33 lists these journeys, stage by stage. It ends with the Israelites camping along the Jordan, and getting ready to cross into Canaan. G-d has some specific instructions for Moses to tell the people:

Numbers 33:51 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: `When you cross the Jordan into Canaan, 52 drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places. 53 Take possession of the land and settle in it, for I have given you the land to possess. 54 Distribute the land by lot, according to your clans. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one. Whatever falls to them by lot will be theirs. Distribute it according to your ancestral tribes.

33:55 " `But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.' " (NIV)

G-d wants to make sure that His people are not corrupted by the idolatry which they will find in this new land.

Chapter 34 discusses the boundaries of Canaan, which in effect describes the borders of Biblical Israel. Chapter 35 talks about the Cities of Refuge, where those who accidentally kill someone can flee and be protected from being killed themselves in retribution. The portion ends with Chapter 36, discussing the inheritance of Zelophehad’s daughters, who were instructed to marry cousins on their father’s side of the family in order to make sure their inheritance remained within their clan and tribe.

The prophetic portion in Jeremiah talks about the people of Israel turning away from G-d and falling into idolatry. G-d is asking them how they can do such a thing after all He has done for them:

Jeremiah 2:5 This is what the L-RD says:
"What fault did your fathers find in Me,
that they strayed so far from Me?
They followed worthless idols
and became worthless themselves.

2:6 They did not ask, `Where is the L-RD,
who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness,
through a land of deserts and rifts,
a land of drought and darkness,
a land where no one travels and no one lives?'

2:7 I brought you into a fertile land
to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
and made my inheritance detestable. (NIV)

The idea of turning away from G-d is again emphasized in the Brit Chadasha reading. The people are at once chastised for turning away from G-d and being double-minded, and told that turning back to G-d will protect them.

James 4:7 Submit yourselves, then, to G-d. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to G-d and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the L-rd, and He will lift you up. (NIV)

How this Torah portion has a practical application to our lives is quite simple, but complicated at the same time: the journeys that we take are affected by the choices that we make.

We are constantly faced with situations in which we have a number of paths that we can choose, and that choice ultimately affects the next journey, with the next set of choices, and so on. Because G-d gave us free will, we’re not little pawns on a spiritual chessboard. That’s part of faith: bathing our lives and decisions in prayer and G-d’s word, making the specific decision, and then dealing with the consequences.

When we keep focused on G-d, sometimes there are no “right” and “wrong” decisions – G-d works with us in whatever circumstances He finds us in. It is when we start to veer away from judging our actions and decisions against G-d’s standards in the Bible and not taking the time to pray over things, that things can start to get dicey. For example, being habitually angry, lying, cheating, stealing – these are all things that G-d warns us about. When we are living outside of G-d’s design, we’re sinning, and there are clear consequences for that – separation from G-d. The Israelites who fell into idolatry did not just do that by accident – they chose to, willfully. On the other hand, Zelophehad’s daughters married according to G-d’s wishes, and as a result their inheritance of land remained in their tribe.

“Oh, but I could not help myself.” “It was the other person’s fault” and other such excuses people make for their ungodly behaviour are common – but self-deceptive. Somewhere along the way, the person had to make a choice that led to the negative situation. This also doesn’t mean that the results of every choice we make, even when prayed over and held up to G-d’s word, will necessarily be wonderful. We find ourselves faced with tough situations at times, and sometimes none of the available options are palatable. But it is better to face the tough times with G-d than without Him.

The New Covenant portion states that that “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of G-d” (James 4:4, NIV). What does this mean? Again, it has to do with choices. Either we put G-d first in our lives, or something else becomes our G-d. I know people who are so into sports, or music, or movies, or some other kind of hobby, that it is practically all they talk about, think about, and do. For them, that object of their attention is their god. We don’t necessarily have to give up the things we enjoy or the possessions we have – but our focus needs to be primarily on G-d.

There are also people who are quick to make everything spiritual. Of course, G-d cares about everything that we do; He knows the number of hairs upon our heads. But if you are praying about what breakfast cereal to eat, or which colour socks to wear, you might be taking things too far. These things are temporary and external and of no lasting significance.

Finally, even when we willfully sin, there is always room for repentance. We’re human, we make mistakes, and not one among us is perfect. There are going to be times when we do something we shouldn’t do. And G-d’s attitude towards that is: fine. Do what you are going to do. And when you realize the error of your ways, and decide to turn back towards Me, I’ll be there for you. But He is never going to force us to make the “right” choices, whatever those may be, which is why how serious someone is about G-d is reflected in their lifestyle. It is all about choices.

Chazak! Chazak! V’nit’chazek!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

Today was the last service in which Alastair and his family took part. They are moving back to New Zealand to pursue a calling there in the Messianic movement. Alastair is one of the most talented worship musicians and leaders I have ever worked with, as well as an all-around G-dly man. We are going to miss him greatly. The relationship has been mutual -- our congregation would not be what it is today without his contribution, and today from the pulpit he said how much we have supported him and his family in so many different ways. And now, with this ending comes a new chapter in our history as a congregational family, as it means the rest of us in leadership, particularly in worship, have to step up to serve. I'm prayerfully considering G-d's will for my role.

On a different (and very cute) note, during worship today one of the kids just spontaneously ran up to me and hugged me. I thought that was really sweet and it gave me a lift for the rest of the day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Parashat Matot

Parashat Matot (Tribes)
July 26, 2008/23 Tammuz 5768

Numbers 30:1-32:42
Jeremiah 1:1-2:3
Acts 9:1-22

Parashat Matot demonstrates the transforming power of G-d that works both as we follow His word and as we allow the Ruach Ha’Kodesh (Holy Spirit) to enter our lives and guide our actions.

Numbers 30 described vows, particularly their importance and how they relate to the relationships between husband and wife, and fathers with young daughters still at home.

Numbers 30:1 Moses said to the heads of the tribes of Israel: “This is what the L-RD commands: 2 When a man makes a vow to the L-RD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. (NIV)

In Numbers 31, the nation of Israel is triumphant against the Midianites, and the spoils of the conquest are divided. Numbers 32 described what happens to the Transjordan tribes – these were two tribes, Reuben and Gad, with large herds and flocks who request to have their portion of the Land of Israel to be east of the Jordan River. Moshe objects to this at first.

Numbers 32:14 “And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the L-RD even more angry with Israel 15 If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the desert, and you will be the cause of their destruction.” (NIV)

The tribes, however, plead their case and receive permission after stating that they will be advance troops in case of an attack. These lands become part of the Biblical boundaries of Israel.

In the Haftarah portion, coming from the Book of Jeremiah, the L-rd calls Jeremiah, and through this call we can see the L-rd’s call on our own lives.

Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
6 “Ah, Sovereign L-RD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am only a child.”
7 But the L-RD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the L-RD. (NIV)

This is not the only example in Scripture where someone is called by G-d to do something, only for that person to have doubts. Sometimes as believers, we know in our hearts that G-d is with us, but we’re still afraid to act even if we are sure He is guiding our actions. Verses like these in Jeremiah should give us comfort and confidence that when He is with us, we need to let go and trust.

The Brit Chadasha portion is from Acts. Saul, a Jewish persecutor of believers in Yeshua becomes Paul, someone who is moved to preach the Gospel.

Acts 9:21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn't he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn't he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”
22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Yeshua is the Messiah. (NIV)

The transformation of Saul to Paul demonstrates how people can change though G-d’s redeeming power. We all have our “before and after” stories as believers. Paul has one of the most dramatic stories of coming to faith in the entire Bible, and one to which many Jewish believers can relate. Some of us come from backgrounds where we were quite suspicious and hostile toward believers in Yeshua, especially Jewish believers, who were seen to be traitors to their heritage. Then when Yeshua comes into our lives, our perspective totally changes. Non-Jewish believers also have their own stories of how answering the call of Yeshua on their lives has changed them.

A believing life involves faithfulness – just like the adherence to vows required in Numbers. It involves obedience – just like listening to and acting upon the call of G-d in our lives. And it involves transformation – just like Paul experienced. Blessed be He who calls us and transforms our lives!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Today's Scriptures

Here are some Scriptures I was thinking about today:

The sinful mind is hostile to G-d. It does not submit to G-d's law, nor can it do so.
- Romans 8:7

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of G-d rather than burnt offerings.
- Hosea 6:6

So we make it out goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
- 2 Cor. 5:9

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Another Loss

This afternoon, I discovered the shocking and saddening news that a young lady I knew passed away last weekend. Her name was Lisa, and she was a server at the Second Cup in my neighbourhood, where I spend a lot of time. She hasn't worked there for a while, but I always remembered her bright smile, sense of humour, and colourful dreadlocks. She was only twenty. A tragedy for a life to be cut so short like that. Definitely, I am sending some prayers up for her family and friends.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Environmental Stewardship

I made a decision this week to stop buying bottled water. The plastic, the waste of money on a resource that should be freely available, and the inherent wrong of paying for something that should be a universal human right finally got to me. So I purchased a metal water bottle, and have been happily refilling it. I feel it is right to reduce my carbon footprint as much as I can, and keep my wallet filled up at the same time! I've written before about how it is our responsibility as Believers to protect the Earth, in which our Father put us in charge. If drinking out of a refillable drink container helps achieve that goal, the Amen.

Some Scriptures for today:
Worship the L-rd with gladness; come before Him with joyful songs.
- Psalm 100:2

G-d is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them.
- Hebrews 6:10

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Here are some Scriptures I was thinking about today.

Romans 12:18
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

1 John 4:19
We love because he first loved us.

Col. 3:23
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the L-rd, not for men.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Life is Precious

Life is precious, fragile, and temporary. We never know when we will pass from this life into the next. I got a sobering reminder of this a few days ago, when I found out that a local youth leader lost his life in a vehicle accident over the weekend, leaving behind two small children and a pregnant wife. I went to junior high and high school with this person. Although I did not know him personally (he was a grade or two below me), I knew who he was, and it was a saddening shock to learn of the death of such a young man offering so much to the youth with whom he worked. I've been spending some time in prayer for his family, and spending time giving deep thought to life and its meaning. I keep coming back to the same conclusions: without faith, without G-d, there is no hope.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Musical Adventures and The Power of Prayer

G-d never ceases to amaze me with His ever-presence, His glory, and His faithfulness. Over the past few weeks I have taken part in various community and social activities, such as an inner city neighbourhood clean up. I did everything from photographing (my main job there) to actually going out on a truck and helping collect garbage. I even drove the truck -- just about a metre or so, but hey, I drove it!

I took part in a protest at the Legislature concerning the oil companies and their disregard for the environment. A friend wrote a song for the small direct action, which involved dumping a lot of plastic ducks into the wading pool. Only two small problems -- he was not confident singing, and he doesn;t play an instrument. So I was recruited. And I got right into it -- literally. I rolled up my pants and played the song in the pool, along with the ducks that had all keeled over on their sides (quite appropriate since the action concerned the deaths of 500 ducks at a tailings pond). A huge photo of me appeared in the local newspaper the next day, wet pants, guitar, and everything.

Then, I got a last minute music gig at a local coffee shop. My first solo set of longer than two songs, and a professional gig as well. I played for a half hour. The crowd was not that big -- mostly the other musicians on the bill and a few of my friends, plus some people who had just wandered in, but it was a great experience.

The next morning, I played at a downtown music and art festival. Being a church musician, I am used to playing in the morning, but not after playing another gig the night before. I was part of a songwriter's circle. There were four of us, and one of the other women was someone who attended my congregation for a number of years. I never heard her perform before, so it was a real treat -- she was wonderful, as were all of the other musicians.

The festival was an outdoor event, and it was raining hard with dark skies and thunder that morning. I prayed to HaShem for good weather, as I had been all week. But the rain would not relent. I became satisifed that whatever was meant to happen was happening. Then, as I arrived at the park, the sun came out. Even one of the organizers said I must have brought it with me. But I didn't. He did. And although the skies did threaten at times, there was no more rain and the event was a success. Amen and amen!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Passover 5768

So, Pesach is here once again. I survived two family seders. Actually, we all did. Any family event that does not result in homicide is a success in my book (yes, of course I am joking). My mother made brisket and matzah farfel. We read from these very old Hagaddahs that contain a very literal translation from Hebrew, presented in archaic English. According to this translation, instead of everything within us Praising G-d, our bones and kidneys are chanting to Him. This might have explained why I've been feeling a bit sore this week.

And there was the story of the Four Sons. I find that story somewhat annoying. Four boys, all perfect stereotypes. And where was their mother? I think someone should write another story of what ultimately happens to the Four Sons later in their lives. I've always had a theory that the One Who Wits Not to Ask is actually autistic or something. The Simple One probably has some sort of learning disability, the Wise Son ends up a Rabbi (of course), and the Wicked One ends up some capitalist giant, head of a major corporation exploiting sweatshop workers in the Third World.

I'm craving cinnamon buns and a host of other foods I was sick of before the holiday began. Otherwise, life goes on as usual.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Back in Services

I attended and participated in services for the first time in about a month, yesterday. Where have I been? Working, photographing, marching, protesting, performing, and hanging out with music stars from Quebec. In other words, a lot has been going on. It was also a much-needed sabbatical. Notice the word "sabbatical" is very closely tied to "Sabbath." But I have really missed everyone, enjoyed meeting some new faces, and got a thrill out of picking up the drumsticks again.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Missions Fest Missel

Yes, I know it is one month hence, but I wanted to write something about Missions Fest. I love attending Missions Fest and volunteering there with the congregation. It is one of our biggest outreach events of the year and a way of connecting with the Believing community in Edmonton. We always get a variety of people asking about who we are and what we do. Some people want to try to blow the shofar, or at least want to hear us blow it. I never try to play it. Bone is porous and there is no way of sterilizing it.

A couple of people asked about Jewish people in the congregation. One woman teared up at my presence and said, "Bless you." Another person, an older man, was rather incredulous. "A real Jewish girl?" "Yes. I am." Part of me was flattered; another part wondering what kind of sheltered lives some people lead if they have never met anyone Jewish before. Or maybe just the fact I am a Believing Jew makes me some sort of rare specimen.

I am thinking of getting involved with the Micah Challenge. It is an organization for Evangelical Christians and churches who want to do something about poverty and social justice around the world. There were also a few other ministries present that seemed a bit more progressive (at least, in relation to most Evangelical institutions). I gained hope.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Expressing The Sacred

A couple of months ago I was at a party, and was explaining to the gracious host why I practise certain things in the name of my faith. In particular, we were talking about keeping kosher. I said that it was my belief we live in a world where very little is held sacred anymore, so I felt an extra obligation to do something that connected me to my faith as a result.

She disagreed with part of my statement above. What is sacred to some people may have nothing to do with religion, but instead be a connection to the earth and its people. Protecting the environment, for example, and in doing so driving less and making other lifestyle choices.

I have to admit that one of the reasons I take part in peace marches is because I hold the value of peace to be sacred, and taking part in the marches connects me to that value as well as others who share it. At the same time, my values come as a direct result of my faith. We are supposed to protect the earth which He created and entrusted us with. Yeshua is the Prince of Peace, so working for peace brings us closer to Him.

Yet even those who profess no faith still hold certain things sacred. Perhaps they do have faith, but express it in different ways, outside of the Western concept of religion. Or perhaps G-d is trying to reach them, and this is how they are reaching back without even knowing it.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Third Day Adventure

On Sunday evening I went to the Third Day concert at the Shaw Conference Centre. The show closed Breakforth, which is a big conference for people who work with congregations in different aspects of ministry. I always describe Third Day as a sort of a Christian version of the Allman Brothers. Definitely the style is Southern Rock, and many of their songs are not even overtly religious, although my favourites are the ones where they put Psalms to music. Psalms are beautiful poetry, and definitely something to which a Jewish person can relate, being in the Old Testament. It is because of their excellent musicianship and meaningful lyrics that the band has a crossover following with people like me.

I went with some friends from my congregation, who fortunately drive a four wheel drive vehicle, because of course Sunday turned out to be the worst blizzard of the year so far. It was something like -35 with the windchill, blowing snow, and lousy road conditions. We went anyways. By the time we got to the Shaw to connect with the other set of friends waiting for us already there, the lineup extended back into Canada Place and was starting to loop around (the show was general seating). Security was monitoring the escalator down into the Shaw, but we explained we were meeting people and had their tickets. We all found each other at the top of the lowermost staircase leading into the Shaw, just as everyone was allowed down to the doors. Talk about timing!

The show got started a half hour late because the band was delayed due to the weather. Someone started a chant: "Who do we want to see? Third Day! Why are we here? Jesus!" Except we thought "Jesus" sounded sort of like "Cheezies" and this was the first of several times we got funny looks from the people around us. Other funny looks were due to the fact that one of my activist friends decided to come to the show also and wear his "George Bush is an International Terrorist" t-shirt. To a Christian rock concert, featuring a band from the South, who just got back from playing for the troops in Iraq. Hey -- I like their music. Never said anything about their politics. I was actually worried my friend would end up getting mobbed or something, but fortunately that did not happen.

Finally, the doors opened and in we ran. Some interesting behaviour from Christians -- I practically got ran over by some guy stampeding towards the front, even though we were told not to run. One of us got to the front and saved a bunch of seats, and then was told to leave for no apparent reason -- she was TICKED! But we got some good seats a little further back, and me, my George Bush hating friends, and she headed for the front anyways to stand.

First up was Geoff Moore, who was a big sensation in Christian music back in the mid-90's. A totally nice guy, with music a bit too mellow for my taste. Mostly he was there to promote Compassion, which is a sponsorship program for children. I know all about it -- I have sponsored a child in Bangladesh for over two years now. He showed a video that made everyone cry -- a worship leader from the Netherlands met his sponsored child in Bolivia. He asked the little boy why he liked going to church, and the boy's answer was, "Because no one hits me there." The video is on YouTube.

After a short break, Third Day was on stage, just a few meters away from us! It was loud, exciting, and wonderful. They played many of my favourite songs. I even cried during "Your Love, Oh L-rd," which is Psalm 36 and my absolute favourite. I was dancing, waving my hands in the air, and did not even mind all that much when the people jumping around in front of me stepped on my toes a few times. A lot of people think Christian music is wimpy, but these guys really break the mold. They gave everything they had in their performance which was sincere and energetic. I especially liked that they did so many of their older songs, because their first album (self-titled) is my favourite -- I never get tired of it.

My activist t-shirt sporting date got a few weird looks, but a man in front of us at one point told him that he liked his t-shirt. I told the man that I was worried about him wearing that there. He said, "No, I totally agree with it." This was after weeks of me pleading, begging, and evening bribing him not to wear the shirt. We eventually compromised that he could wear it as long as he wore a cross (to show he is of the same faith, but differing politically). Well, he said he is *never* going to let me forget this! Frankly, I am as pleased as anything that not everyone who attended that conference was of the right-wing Evangelical mindset.

Afterwards, the weather had gotten even worse. And we were all hungry. And despite my protests, we ended up at McDonald's where I reluctantly broke my two and a half year boycott. Everything was either closed or unacceptable to the others. If I was not famished I would have just skipped. Getting in and out of the truck was not fun. We all sort of jumped out on the count of three, into the cold, and ran for the door. Same thing on the way back in. I would yell, "Polar Bear Club!" every time. I am not sure if people actually do this anymore, but that refers to those groups who would run in their beathing suits in cold weather and jump into an ice cold lake. I am not sure why anyone would do that. It really does not sound like fun.

We brought the food back to the pastor's house (the pastor's wife was amongst the friends in attendance at the concert), where we ate and hung out a bit. My friends' daughter is now one year old and walking. And curious. She picked up a flyer left by the neighbourhood's provincial candidate for the Progressive Conservatives and everyone was telling her to bring it to me (hardy har har), but then she turned and headed towards the fireplace, so I was telling her to throw it in there. In the end she gave it to her mom.

In the days that have followed, I have loaded up my iPod with Third Day and been listening to their music a lot, which I often do with an artist following a concert. The experience was a great step outside my comfort zone and worth braving the weather. As one of my friends said afterwards, it was a huge "music-gasm."

Monday, January 28, 2008

Drumming - A Dream Come True

I used to always want to play the drums. For some reason, my parents did not want me having a drum kit in our home. Fortunately, I also wanted to play the guitar, so I went that route instead. However, drumming has always been in the back of my mind. I would sometimes fool around on drum kits, but never played anything seriously.

Still, I own several percussion instruments, a practise drum pad, and a set of sticks called "stingers" -- they look like a bunch of thin sticks banded together. On Friday night (or Saturday morning, depending on what time it was), I had very vivid dream that I was playing the drums with my stingers, and one of the sticks was broken.

In the morning, as I was leaving for services, I grabbed my stingers. I play on the worship team on Saturday mornings, and I was going to sit this one out as a split on a finger on my left hand made me unable to play guitar or mandolin. However, I thought I would sit in on a couple songs during rehearsal, totally screw up, have a good laugh, and that would be that.

I was both amazed and surprised that I was able to keep time and a regular rhythm. Using mainly the kick, snare, and one of the cymbals, I played during both the rehearsal and service. My dream had come true, and I realized a lifelong goal. The only difference was that my stingers stayed intact during the whole event.

Afterwards, I headed to a music store and got some proper drum sticks and a set of brushes for the slower songs.

Sometimes dreams come true on their own. Sometimes dreams can come true, if you are willing to put in the required effort to make them happen.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Don't Let Your Choices Plague You

Parashat Va’era (and I appeared)
January 5, 2008/27 Tevet 5768

Exodus 6:2-9:35
Ezekiel 28:25-29:21
Revelation 16:1-21

We celebrate the Israelites gaining freedom from the Egyptians every year at Passover. This week’s Torah portion contains a major chunk of that story, with the first seven of the plagues that befell Pharaoh and the Egyptians after Moses and Aaron approach him, asking for freedom for their people. Moses was directly asked by G-d to approach Pharaoh to ask for their freedom.

Ex. 6:28 Now when the L-RD spoke to Moses in Egypt,Ex. 6:29 he said to him, “I am the L-RD. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” (NIV)

Pharaoh kept refusing, and the plagues kept coming to try to show him how G-d is real. With each refusal came another plague: the water of the Nile river turned to blood. Frogs overran the land. Swarms of insects caused much damage. Livestock was plagued and died. Hail fell from the sky and ruined the crops. Here is a list of the plagues found in this portion, which are the first seven of the total ten – the list is continued in the next portion.

1. (Exodus 7:14-25) rivers and other water sources turned to blood (Dam)
2. (Exodus 7:26-8:11) amphibians (commonly believed to be frogs) (Tsfardeia)
3. (Exodus 8:12-15) lice or gnats (Kinim)
4. (Exodus 8:16-28) flies or beasts (Arov)
5. (Exodus 9:1-7) disease on livestock (Dever)
6. (Exodus 9:8-12) unhealable boils (Shkhin)
7. (Exodus 9:13-35) hail mixed with fire (Barad)
All through these events, Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened.

Ex. 9:34 When Pharaoh saw that the rain and hail and thunder had stopped, he sinned again: He and his officials hardened their hearts.Ex. 9:35 So Pharaoh's heart was hard and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the L-RD had said through Moses. (NIV)

This reminds me of situations in our lives where we know we have to do something – maybe it is something that is unpleasant, or something that would require a lot of work to achieve – and so we are reluctant, and we maintain our reluctance even in the face of consequences to our inaction. Pharoah’s refusal to obey Moses, and, in effect, a refusal to obey G-d Almighty, not only brought consequences for himself, but for all of his people. Speaking as someone in a leadership role, I think that carries a very important message.

The Prophetic portion is the foretelling of Egypt’s conquest by Nebuchadnezzar. Egypt would become desolate and the people scattered, but eventually brought back together, but not the way it was before.

Ezek. 29:15 It will be the lowliest of kingdoms and will never again exalt itself above the other nations. I will make it so weak that it will never again rule over the nations.Ezek. 29:16 Egypt will no longer be a source of confidence for the people of Israel but will be a reminder of their sin in turning to her for help. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign L-RD.’ ” (NIV)

The New Testament portion is set in the End Times and is about the seven angels, each with a vial or a bowl, and one by one they pour out the contents of their vessels onto the earth, followed by the results. Seven angels, seven bowls, seven grievous consequences, some of which are similar to the plagues that occurred in Egypt, while others aren’t: sores, sea turning into blood, people being scorched with fire, and so on. Finally, the seventh bowl is poured out, causing a large earthquake.

Rev. 16:18 Then there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake. No earthquake like it has ever occurred since man has been on earth, so tremendous was the quake. (NIV)

The main connection to the Torah portion is the number seven – here there are seven angels, and in the Torah section there are seven plagues. The number seven is of particular significance in Judaism, as it is considered to be a number associated with G-d and all things relating to Him – for example it was on the seventh day that G-d rested after seeing that His creation was good. However, as we will see in next week’s portion, there are ten plagues total, so the fact that the Brit Chadesha portion also uses the number seven is a loose connection at best in this particular instance.

However, what Parashat Va’era communicates over all is that when a person, people, or nation willfully chooses to disobey G-d, there will be consequences. They may not be as immediately obvious as a plague or sudden destruction, but can fester over time and lead to downfall. The choice is always ours to make.