Different is Wonderful

Shabbat April 8, 2017

Different is wonderful—HaShem designs distinctions in order to call attention to His wonders.
It’s built into the Hebrew, just as it is built into Creation. Jews are different. Outsiders are different. The Adversary hates all of them, preferring conformity and crushing bondage.  Disciples are supposed to be different. Whose side are you on?  For every species, every individual is different, wonderful—all to the glory of God. V’eemru? (And let us say?)

From “The Szyk Haggadah,” Toledo Museum of Art

On Passover it is a custom for the youngest child to sing 4 questions ( if you know the first line, join with me in singing): Mah nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol ha-laylot?  What does it mean?  Why is this night different from all other nights?

Ultimately what makes Passover night different is that HaShem made a distinction between the Egyptians and the children of Israel.  In Exodus 9:4, Moshe announces to Pharaoh, “There will be a crushing plague.  But Adonai will make a distinction between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt, nothing will die that belongs to Bnei-Yisrael [the Children of Israel].”

Then, here’s how Moshe describes the tenth & final plague,  in  Exodus 11:7: “But not so much as a dog will growl against any of Bnei-Yisrael, neither man nor beast—so that you may know that Adonai makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel.” Whoa! Woe, woe, woe…

Why is Moshe so insistent about HaShem making a distinction? “So that you may know….” When HaShem does something extraordinary & wonderful, many people—stubborn & proud people, like Pharaoh—try to explain it away. Not this time! God makes a distinction between the Egyptians Bnei-Yisrael, so that you may notice and you may know.

Then I took a closer look  at the Hebrew for making a distinction: יַפְלֶ֣ה, ya-f’leh, means I will distinguish comes from a primitive root palah. OK…

Strong’s Dictionary defines the Hebrew root palah as: “to distinguish, put a difference, show marvelous, separate, set apart, sever, make wonderfully.” Hmm… The Hebrew for distinguishing or making a distinction also means to show marvelous or wonderful…. Interesting…

Moreover, the more modern Brown-Driver Diggs Dictionary says that palah is a form of feleh, which means extraordinary, wonderful. Does the word feleh sound familiar to anyone here? We sang it in Mi Chomocha: norah t’hilot, oseh feleh.  It’s from the song by the Sea of Reeds, in Exodus 15:11, “Who is like You, Adonai, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, awesome in praises, doing wonders?”

Oseh feleh means doing [oseh] wonders [feleh].  In other words, making a distinction is doing a wonder. In Hebrew, different is wonderful!  As Spock would say, fascinating…

HaShem designs distinctions in order to call attention to His wonders.  As HaShem told Moshe
in Exodus 3:20, “I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders that I will do
in the midst of it. After that, he will let you go.”  If Pharaoh hadn’t noticed the distinction between the Egyptians  the children of Israel, would he have let my people go?

Distinctions are wonderful: it’s built into the Hebrew,  just as it is built into Creation: distinguishing between day and night, myriads of distinct species… Isn’t it all wonderful?  Not only distinct species, every single individual is distinct, unique.

As Psalm 139:14 exclaims, “I praise you, for I am fearfully, and wonderfully (ni-f’leyti) made. Wonderful (ni-f’layim) are your works; my soul knows it very well.”  You are each different… wonderful… in the eyes of God! V’eemru?

Jews are different. It comes up a lot.  The Egyptians were suspicious of the Bnei-Yisrael—Pharoah even made up conspiracy theories about them, so that the Egyptians came to dread them.  Haman… warned the king about the Jews…their peculiar laws that made them different…  maybe dangerous …  “it is not in the king’s interest to tolerate them.”

Yes, our laws  and customs make us different… So other people become intolerant of us…  persecute us,  even seek to destroy us. Being different hasn’t always been welcome.  The Nazis exploited stereotypes about Jews that had been around Christendom for centuries.  Alas, these stereotypes about Jewish outsiders and their conspiracies have spread among Israel’s Arab neighbors, making peace negotiations difficult….

Jews are the outsiders of the world. All the more reason for Jews to tolerate outsiders among them. So Exodus 22:21 commands the Israelites, “You must not exploit or oppress an outsider, for you were outsiders in the land of Egypt.”

Outsiders are different…  that’s wonderful!  I praise HaShem for all the different people who come to Beit Simcha. Several Jewish visitors have also expressed appreciation for our diversity.  We are all different… because HaShem made us different… yet without favoritism or partiality.  V’eemru?

The Adversary hates Jews  and anyone who insists on being different. HaSatan prefers conformity and crushing bondage. The Accuser stirs up jealousy, hatred  and stereotypes.

This week I was at a meeting with clergy, who were mostly of the politically liberal stripe, when one of them blurted out  “Trump is the anti-Christ!” Well, I suppose if Trump is the second coming of Hitler… Now, if some of you think that’s over the top, I must also inform you that I’ve been in circles of conservative folks who have suggested , “Obama is the anti-Messiah!” Watch out!  Could Trump and Obama both be the anti-Messiah? Are they in league together? Folks, I doubt it.

Of one thing I am sure: Yeshua may be Lord of Lords, but He’s not a politician! Baruch HaShem! In John 18:36, Yeshua answered Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Meanwhile, watch out for stereotypes that stir up jealousy and hatred. V’eemru?  Rather, love your enemies. V’eemru?

Disciples of Yeshua are supposed to be different… well maybe not that different….but different enough for others to notice.  Yeshua is different;  His followers are supposed to be like Him. Moreover, HaShem expects us to be holy, which means set apart for Him. V’eemru?

I hate to break it to you all, but that could be trouble… Though not all Yeshua’s followers are Jewish, all His followers should be expect to be different, like Jews, hence expect to be treated as Jews have been… not necessarily tolerated.

Yeshua did give us a head’s up, in the Sermon on the Mount.  The Beatitudes sound hunky-dory, but actually Yeshua didn’t promise anything warm and fuzzy. Actually, the Sermon is a divine reversal of human expectations. If you come expecting the kingdom of heaven to make you rich, Yeshua says, “Blessed are the poor.” If you come expecting the kingdom to make you comfortable: “Blessed are those who mourn.” If you come expecting the kingdom to make you powerful, He says, “Blessed are the meek.”

Sure, the kingdom of heaven is wonderful…. But it’s different… from the kingdoms of the earth. V’eemru? Fellow followers of Yeshua, are you good with that? Are you willing to be different?

Just in case you weren’t following Yeshua too carefully so far, the last two beatitudes are zingers.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake….” Moreover, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you … on account of Me.”  Sometimes we think that if we are righteous, then we should be treated righteously, or at least fairly.  Wherever did we get that idea? Not from the Bible… certainly not from Yeshua!

Righteousness can get you into trouble… especially with those who aren’t!  Plenty of righteous people have been thrown into prison or lion’s dens. The good news is that wherever a truly righteous person goes, the kingdom of heaven follows. V’eemru?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew a thing or two about prison and persecution for righteousness sake, because he recognized that his faith required him to confront the evil of Hitlerism.  He wrote wisely: “God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. He marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments, performs His wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak  and the broken.”

In other words, God chooses the outsider…  He even came into the world as an outsider, and a Jew.

After the Beatitudes, Yeshua continues His Sermon, “You are the salt of the earth….”  Many observations  and lessons have been made about the salt the earth, but one thing should be clear:  Salt tastes different from anything else; salt gives its salty flavor to everything else.

Yeshua then goes on to warn about salt losing its saltiness or salty flavor.  Actually, salt is quite stable. cannot lose its saltiness. So what does Yeshua mean here?  If salt is put into enough water, it can be dissolved or washed away.  Salt must maintain a level of concentration to taste salty. In other words, disciples should be intentionally salty, by hanging together, with Yeshua. V’eemru?

Different is wonderful!   1 Corinthians 15:41 says, “There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.”

Though there are a trillion trillion stars in the universe, astronomers have yet to discover two that are the same,  I doubt they expect to. Every star is unique and shines forth a unique glory for God.  So does every daisy, every rose, every creature in the sea, on the land, every bird, every human being. Though we can see categories, generalizations of things; nevertheless, every single person is different  unique— whether it be different thumbprints, distinct ear rims,  unique irises—your eye has its own color, furrows and  swirls that make your eye so unique that biometric scanning can scan your iris and recognize that it can only be you, you alone.

Wonderful!  Every one of you,  every single thing, is awesomely wonderfully made!  V’eemru?

Wonderful, because HaShem does wonderful things!  Isaiah 29:14 proclaims, “Therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things (ha-f’lee’) with this people, with wonder upon wonder (ha-f’lay’ va-feleh)…”  Remember, feleh also means distinct and separate: every wonderful thing God does is unique. V’eemru?

HaShem does wonderful things, because He is wonderful,  His name is wonderful!  For as the angel of the Lord said to Samson’s father (before he was even born), in Judges 13:18, “Why do you ask for my name? It is wonderful.” It is not only that HaShem does wonderful things; His name is wonderful, His name is wonderful, Yeshua my Lord….

His name is also, El Shaddai, Banner, Fortress, Lord, Provider, Redeemer, Refuge, Righteousness, Sar Shalom, Shepherd, Branch, Lamb, Lion of Judah, Rock, Savior, Immanu-El (God with us), El Elyon (God Most High), Alpha and Omega, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, Messiah, Yeshua.  No wonder Orthodox and Messianic Jews alike call Him, HaShem—the Name.

Isaiah 9:6 prophecies of the One who will be child to us a king over us: “His Name will be called Wonderful (feleh) Counselor, Mighty God, My Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace.”

Even more names! All of them wonderful, all of the different, naming different ways of knowing who He is to us, who is all these things  and a trillion trillion more, too wonderful to name!  V’eemru?

This sermon and questions may not to be reprinted in whole or in part without the express written consent of Messianic Rabbi Glenn D. Blank of Beit Simcha. Your generous support for our ministry and building project is appreciated!

Scripture references are mostly from The Tree of Life Version (TLV) though occasionally other versions. Verse citations provide Jewish numbering, with Christian numbering in parentheses.

 

 

 

 

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