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Passover Experiences

Passover Experiences

The First Passover

The directions from HaShem were clear. The last plague on the Egyptians was to be the worst, and we needed to be ready. Our humble abode was filled with our family, and a few friends. We were ready – we had been half ready for weeks as Moshe and Aaron had continually petitioned Pharaoh for our freedom. Nine plagues later, and still Pharaoh did not let us leave to worship HaShem. The lamb was ready for the twilight slaughter. Our job tonight will be to take the blood, paint the doorposts, roast the lamb, and to be ready. The blood on the houses was to be a sign that joined us all together. The blood showed our obedience to HaShem, and our distinction as the Children of Israel. We will be saved from the last of the plagues after this feast tonight and free to be a people. The bread is mixed, I’m not sure what the plan is if we need to leave in a hurry tomorrow.

First Passover in the Promised Land

It is the fourteenth of the month. We have made it to the Holy Land. Joshua now leads us – we camp at Gilgal near Jericho. We are the remnants of Israel, and we are recommitted. We have all been circumcised. Last night was Passover. We remembered that day not so long ago when Moshe and our parents ran from Egypt with bread baking in the sun on their backs. We remembered our parent’s story with lamb, matzah, and produce from this promised land. The manna has stopped today. The children of Israel are in a new land, clinging only to our shared story of liberation to keep us united.

Passover with Yeshua

“Now while they were eating, Yeshua took matzah; and after He offered the bracha, He broke and gave to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” And He took a cup; and after giving thanks, He gave to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the removal of sins. But I say to you, I will never drink of this fruit of the vine from now on, until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom. After singing the Hallel, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matt 26:26-30)

Another Passover Miracle

Passover was not supposed to be the time when one IS TAKEN into slavery. Peter’s arms are chained, and he is surrounded by two soldiers, with another fourteen guarding him. The lamb, the matzah, the bitter herbs – the fellowship of Believers. He is missing all that this week. Herod had arrested him and would kill him at the end of the holiday. Every Passover celebration he’d been a part of in his life go through his mind as he drifts off to sleep. “Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell. He poked Peter on the side and woke him up, saying, “Get up! Quick!” And the chains fell off his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals,” and he did so. Then he tells him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” Peter went out and kept following him—he didn’t know that what was happening with the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. After they passed a first guard and a second, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them by itself. They went out and walked along a narrow street. Suddenly the angel left him.” Miraculous freedom again at Passover.

Passover Today

Candles, matzah, charoset, horseradish, parsley, salt water, wine juice and shank bone. All the parts of the Seder are ready for dinner. The table is set for family and friends. We use the symbols to remember, to tell the shared story of the Jews being liberated from Egypt. The Haggadah adds the shared experience of the Jewish celebration of Passover over the thousands of years.

I pack my family’s lunch boxes for the day. No school lunch this week – my kids want matzah in their meal. Matzo ball soup for the oldest two, salad for my husband, charoset on matzah for the little one. We walk with the Children of Israel this week. Even as we live our daily lives, we remember, and we are there. We don’t merely share this with the numbers of the Children of Israel who fled Egypt, as time passes, we share in the celebrations and memories of all those who remembered Passover – we all stand on the banks of the Red Sea, ready for HaShem to show us His miracles for us today as He always has.

Full-time wife and mother of three, Dorothy Gitelman’s pursuits branch off in many directions. She serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, is active at her kids’ school, and accompanies dance classes.

The Unsettling Nature Of Miracles

The Unsettling Nature Of Miracles

Yeshua’s first miracle was small – He turned water into wine for a wedding party. It was a pretty fantastic miracle, especially if you like to drink, but in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t necessarily seem important. Now. If Yeshua was in front of Caesar when the water turned to wine or the High Priests, maybe that would be a strategic act. But this was a family friend. Not particularly important. His next few miracles were similar – a conversation with a loose woman by a well, healing a boy with a fever in Capernaum, healing a lame man on Shabbat. These miracles were not huge, earth-shattering miracles, they were everyday miracles, ones that treasure friendship, loyalty and love.

When Yeshua came to the children of Israel, He was scorned. He was considered blasphemous with his claim of being God’s son. He didn’t fit the shape of what Messiah was supposed to be. The miracles were nice, but they were all wrong. He was supposed to be a conquering king. He was supposed to overthrow the Roman government and set Israel free, the way the Maccabees defeated the Greeks. He was clearly not the Messiah – in the minds of those who expected such things. His miracles did not accomplish all the things Messiah was supposed to do.

Even now, these are some arguments against Yeshua as Messiah.

In some ways, I don’t blame those who feel this way. There are so many questions, so many gaps in logic that don’t make sense. It would be nice if faith fit together easily. Perfect peace hasn’t happened, so He can’t be the Messiah. Children die early, God can’t be real. Anti-semitism is rampant in the church, so calling on the name of Jesus is wrong. Why can’t gay marriage be okay with God if it’s a faithful relationship between two people who love each other? Where do dinosaurs and evolution fit into the picture?

Many of these questions do not get a satisfactory answer. The answers given may be filled with doubt or too weird to be true. How do we reconcile our questions with our faith?

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen…By faith, we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen did not come from anything visible.” (Hebrews 11:1, 3)

Too often I find myself understanding the disciple we know as doubting Thomas. This poor dude missed out on the biggest event in the history of the world – the first appearance of the risen Yeshua. And he didn’t believe his friends. (Because it was a little incredulous, after all). A week later, when Yeshua returns to the house again, poor Thomas gets singled out.

“Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and look at My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe!” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Yeshua said to Him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed? Blessed are the ones who have not seen and yet have believed!” (John 20:27-29)

I have not seen firsthand many types of miracles. I have heard firsthand accounts of brilliant faith healings, of experiences in speaking tongues (both of personal prayer languages and supernaturally speaking another language), and of words given by God to speak into someone’s life. I have yet to experience these, but I still believe in such things.

Why? Because I have seen miracles. None of them are burning bushes or plagues like in Egypt, but they are my testimony to the reality of God. “We shall thank You and relate Your praise – for our lives, which are committed to Your power and for our souls that are entrusted to You; for Your miracles that are with us every day; and for Your wonders and favors in every season – evening, morning, and afternoon.” (Thanksgiving, Artscroll Siddur p 113). When you watch, you can start to catch these miracles.

When I was in my eighth month of pregnancy with my first child, we found out the baby had a heart condition. I decided to haul a bookshelf up the stairs, and I bled a little. Because of that, I was sent to an ultrasound, and the doctors were able to diagnose and prepare for my baby’s birth. During this process, I prayed and wondered. What miracle did God have in store through this trial, this test? There were those who laid hands on my basketball belly and prayed for perfect, complete healing. My husband and I prayed along, but something inside me knew that this time was not a perfect healing time. This time was a miracle in the working through the process. I knew from the beginning that God would come through for me. The miracle would be real, but not immediately. Now, though, after eleven and a half years, not only do I see God’s hand in my family’s life, I see how faithful prayers have brought about real miracles.

It’s not the miracle that was easy to ask for. It’s not the miracle I particularly wanted. But these miracles are the miracles God picked for my life. The unsettling nature of miracles is that they don’t follow our agenda, but God’s.

Yeshua’s miracles were not exactly popular among certain circles during His time, the way faith in Him was frowned upon in many circles now. His message was not “Israel is God’s chosen, and thus we will bend the world to live under Israel’s rule.” His message was Tikkun Olam – changing the world from the inside out. Instead of being conquering heroes, he taught His followers to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. He taught them to turn the other cheek, to keep their thoughts under control, and to serve instead of rule. Then, like the best teachers, He modeled the behavior He expected from His followers. The greatest miracles were not the physical healings, although those were incredible, but the sacrifice of His ego. He gave His life so that humankind would be reconciled to God.

The giving of the Ruach HaKodesh and intimacy with God is the most important miracle of all. Unsettling, too, because, after so many centuries, it may not seem like a huge thing now, to us. We hope for more, for something bigger, and miss the most important things. Today, walk in the Ruach, and watch in expectations for the beautiful miracles that come throughout each day.

Dorothy Gitelman is a full-time wife and mom of three who branches off in many directions. She is the editor of the UMJC Sisterhood Newsletter and website (Achot News,, serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, writes at her own blog (, and accompanies for dance classes.


There’s a wrapped box with your name on it sitting in your spot. You pick it up and smile – who wouldn’t smile when receiving a gift? You open it up and take out the contents.

Expectations. A random gift for a random day. A surprise token of thoughtfulness and appreciation. Nothing was expected, and everything was given.

Another scenario:

There’s a wrapped box with your name on it sitting in your spot. Three days after your birthday your loved one finally remembered to get you something. You pick it up and smile wryly. Is it what you asked for? After all these years could this person who knows you so well finally get it right? You open it up and take out the contents, disappointed once again.

Expectations. A late gift from a loved one. A delayed expression that did not hear you. Everything was expected, and nothing met those expectations.

Another scenario:

There’s a wrapped box with your name on it sitting in your spot. You pick it up and smile without reading the tag. Your loved one remembered today. You open it up and take out the contents. You didn’t even ask for this, but the gift is perfect, exactly what you love.

Expectations. A timely gift from a loved one. Thoughtfully presented and well-conceived. Some things were expected, and every expectation was met or exceeded.

Last scenario:

There’s a wrapped box with your name on it sitting in your spot. Right on time, though the wrapping job wasn’t professional. You pick it up and smile – the size was perfect for the gift you requested. Your loved one listened to your desires and followed through. You open it up and take out the contents. Perfect.

Expectations. A timely gift from a loved one. Planned and communicated by both parties, there were no surprises. Expectations were met, and everyone was pleased.

The older I get the more I would much rather receive exactly what I wish for and give exactly what others wish to receive. I don’t mind redirecting my children’s expectations lower so I can surprise them with a more expensive gift they definitely want. That way when they open their gifts, their expectations are exceeded. Last year, we bought the children all tablets of their own. I wrapped them in boxes with bags of old legos, so that the boxes rattled. The kids had many guesses as to what was in the boxes, and not one of them surmised that it was a tablet. They were all thrilled when they found they each had their own tablet!

But what about unmet expectations? I live in a very Democratic state. There was little doubt in my neighborhood that Clinton would win the presidential election handily. Voter turnout was good, and in democratic eyes, things looked very good for their candidate. The next morning, and the week following the election, I encountered many people who were truly grieving the loss. The hearts that were so ready to celebrate came down hard and started to mourn. Unmet expectations resulted in great sadness for many people.

In the Besorah (Mark 8:27-30), Yeshua asks a question to gauge His follower’s expectations: “Who do people say that I am?”

“They told Him, “John the Immerser; and others Elijah; but others, one of the prophets.” Then He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered Him, “You are the Messiah!”

Just like the fictitious package from earlier, wrapped up and left in your spot, the word, “messiah” is filled with many expectations.

In Israel’s corporate experience, they experienced God’s sovereignty in very tangible political-economic ways. God freed the children of Israel from being slaves in Egypt, set them up with a new government, and handed them the promised land. God made Israel great in the eyes of the nations. God restored Israel through Nehemiah and Ezra. In the events of Hanukkah, God raised up great warriors – the Maccabees – to overthrow the Greek occupation of Israel. When Yeshua hits the scene, part of Israel was looking for the Messiah to be a military hero and prophet, like the ones before.

The prophets say:

“My servant David will be king over them. They will all have One Shepherd.” (Ezekiel 37:24)


I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to wage war…Then Adonai will go forth and fight against those nations as He fights in a day of battle.” (Zechariah 14:2,3)


“The kings of earth set themselves up and rulers conspire together against Adonai and against His Anointed One….You shall break the nations with an iron scepter. You shall dash them in pieces like a potter’s jar.” (Psalm 2:2,9)

Eventually, the Judean leaders confront Yeshua in the Temple during Hanukkah (John 10:22-36).They want Him to tell them outright that He is the Messiah. They want Him to start organizing His army, training soldiers and making war plans to overthrow the conquering government. They want a revolution. Their expectations are high, are not met, and are shattered.

The Messiah they meet is not the conquering King. He encourages them to pay taxes to Caesar. This Messiah wants to change the world, but He spends time with undesirables – not the religious leaders. He tells them that the Kingdom of Heaven at hand, and performs amazing miracles. Worst of all, this Messiah claims to be one with the Father. He is a blasphemer and should be stoned to death, not followed into victory!

He was a servant who washed His followers’ feet and gave His life to redeem the world from sin.

Who do you think Yeshua is? How do we know that Yeshua is the Messiah? I’d like to think that if I were alive when Yeshua walked the earth, I would be among those who followed Him. I don’t know. I more likely would have been among the religious who thought Him to be a human claiming to be God. Man cannot be One with God – unless it is true. How do we know if His claim to being One with God is true? Only the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, can convince our hearts. When we have experienced each for ourselves the TRUTH of who Yeshua is, then by the presence of the Ruach we would know.

I am convinced that now, more than ever, we need to remember that the Kingdom of Heaven has come near. No matter what happens in the government, the Kingdom of Heaven must reign in our hearts. When Yeshua sent out His twelve disciples, He told them, “As you go, proclaim, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near!’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with tza'arat, drive out demons. Freely you received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:7-8)

Be kind to others, pray for one another daily, lay hands on the sick in the name of Yeshua. The Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Who do you expect the Messiah to be? May He forever be the unexpected gift that exceeds all expectation.

Full-time wife and mother of three, Dorothy Gitelman’s pursuits branch off in many directions. She serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, is active at her kids’ school, and accompanies dance classes.

Oops, I Did It Again

Oops, I Did It Again

It happened again today. I was so careful. I set up all my safeguards, and still - I failed. 300 MB is hardly anything these days for a smartphone data plan. Most months, it is barely enough. I use WIFI for surfing and streaming. I carefully changed the settings for things that inadvertently use data to WI-FI only. I mostly use data to receive group texts and photos.

Apparently, I missed a setting. My eight-year-old son used my phone to document our Sukkot celebration. All his photos uploaded, creating a huge spike in data usage, and I went over my limit.

I got very mad at myself. I dont want to go over my data and waste money; I dont want to spend more money on a plan with large amounts of data. I want to stay within my limits. I usually succeed, but occasionally, I fail miserably.

All this effort, and still, I failed.

The High Holidays take a lot of effort. We have walked through the journey of Tishrei this month: Rosh Hosanna, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah. From the sweetness of the New Year, and the acknowledgement of our sins, to the confession of our sins, fasting and forgiveness of our sins, to the time of our rejoicing, to the giving of the Torah, we have looked ourselves in the mirror. We have become soft and vulnerable, allowing God to mold us for the New Year. We rejoice that God is with us.

And then, despite all our hard work, we do it again. Whatever your "it" may be. We have a fantastic season, then - oops, I did it again!

This thing I tried so hard to control becomes a failure, and I feel like a failure, as well. I am so comforted when I read in the Bible, 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. Ro 7:15

I made a choice to do the "right" thing, to follow the "right path."

When the children of Israel sit with Moses in the last few chapters of Deuteronomy, they are given a choice: follow God for the blessing, or turn away from God for the curse. This choice does not mean that Judaism is works-based theology, in which their salvation was based on what one does the good deeds one performs bring about the blessing.

This is not it at all. The choice between blessing and curse is the same choice we are given when we decide to follow Yeshua as our Messiah. He said to his followers, If you love me, you will keep my commandments. To choose the curse is to choose life apart from God. To choose the blessing, is to choose life WITH God.

And life with God is full of grace. Even when we sin unintentionally.

So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his error in which he sinned unintentionally and did not know it, and it will be forgiven him. Lv 5:18

The liturgy in the Yom Kippur prayers says, For the sins which we committed knowingly and unknowingly.

As hard as we try, we sin. As many times as we are forgiven, we sin again.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. Ro 8:1-2

I was charged extra for my data overage. My husband, while not overjoyed, was not upset at me the way I was upset at myself. I am grateful that even though the moment is over that we walk through the Holy season, I have a moment of failure, but there is grace and there is forgiveness.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. He 4:14-16

Reflection, Preparation, and Elul

Reflection, Preparation, and Elul

Recently, my youngest son, who is 7, was walking around with a small flashlight, shining it on everything. After telling him not to shine it in any faces, he started shining it on all sorts of different surfaces. “Mom, look! The glass reflects the light. Your pants reflect the light. The TV reflects the light….” And so on and so forth. Indeed, the different surfaces bounced light back to us, but not all surfaces gave a good image. The mirror gave an exact representation of the flashlight, electronic screens and granite counter tops reflect well, whereas the hardwood floors and fabric certainly reflect light back, but the details were engulfed by the surface.

Flashlights and reflection made me think of spiritual reflection. The month of Elul, the Hebrew month preceding Tishrei is a month of reflection leading up to the High Holidays. During this time, we are in prayer and reflection on how we measure up to the Torah.

The Torah tell us, “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse – the blessing, if you listen to the mitzvoth of Adonai you God that I am commanding you today, but the curse, if you do not listen to the mitzvoth of Adonai your God, but turn from the way I am commanding you today, to go after other gods you have not known.” (Deut. 11:26-28)

This verse sets out God’s expectations clearly:

Expectation 1. If we identify with Adonai as our God, we will follow His mitzvoth, and we will be blessed.

Expectation 2. If we turn away from Adonai as our God, do not follow His mitzvoth, and allow other gods to take His place, we will be cursed.

So, how do we know if we are on track? Life has changed somewhat since those words were first uttered. The concept of other gods and idols was more tangible back then. Groups of people had temples dedicated to multiple gods. We don’t exactly have temples dedicated to Zeus or Baal scattered next to our strip malls. The majority of people in our midst, at least in the USA, acknowledge a single greater being over everything – whether they worship Him or not, they’re not worshiping other gods in the same way the other people did in the time of Moses. So it’s not too much of a stretch for most of us to say that we identify the God of Moses as our God, and more or less follow the Ten Commandments. Is that enough for the blessing? How would we know?

Reflection and prayer. We must be wise and examine our lives carefully. I like that Elul comes in August and September. It coincides with the beginning of the school year, which inevitably brings new routines and habits, especially as my children grow. “We are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Messiah.” 2 Corinth. 10:5.

This year, I’ve been rather introspective. I have been using a journal to capture my thoughts and habits. I have been convicted by the Ruach to spend time focused on Shalom Bayit, peace in the home. I never thought before that Shalom Bayit was something I had to work on – I have a loving home, a well-fed and husband I respect and love, and happy children. But I struggle with housekeeping and maintaining routines. And those certainly figure into Shalom Bayit.

Philippians 4:6 says “Do not be anxious about anything—but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” According to this, housekeeping falls under “in everything,” so I started praying about my housekeeping. It feels so stupid to say that I struggle with this and that God wants me to work on this. It feels like such a small blip on the radar of life. I could write an article (in my mind, BIG ministry), or I can fold laundry (LITTLE ministry?). I’d much rather do BIG IMPORTANT THINGS. On the other hand, “But the fruit of the Ruach is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 4:22-23). Housekeeping falls under the “self-control” part of the manifestation of the Ruach in my life. And living in the Spirit is indeed a BIG IMPORTANT THING.

Reflection and preparation go hand in hand. As we reflect on our lives, we prepare for the High Holidays. To put it in a mundane context, to feed my family, I need some preparation. I reflect on what my family enjoys eating, what is healthy for us, what our schedule will be, how easy our meals need to be. After I assess this, I plan my menu for the week and make a grocery list. I take the list I have prepared on my phone to the store so that I can prepare to feed my family by buying the foods I need. Reflection leads to preparation. Good preparation sets up our activity for success.

As we walk through Elul, let’s continue to reflect on our walks with God. As mundane and small as our struggles may seem or however overwhelming they might be, I pray that God would prepare us all to experience the High Holidays in a new and amazing way.

Full-time wife and mother of three, Dorothy Gitelman’s pursuits branch off in many directions. She serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, is active at her kids’ school, and accompanies dance classes.
Trusting God When it’s Scary: When I Got Lost in Minecraft
Earlier this month, we studied the parsha, Shlach, from Numbers 13:1-15:41. This Parsha is familiar to me. I know the story – I have heard it since I was a child. In a nutshell: Moses sends twelve spies into the land, one from each tribe. They go, explore, and return. They bring back amazing examples of the rich produce of the land. They also brought along stories of the inhabitants “We also saw there the Nephilim. (The sons of Anak are from the Nephilim.) We seemed like grasshoppers in our eyes as well as theirs!” (Numbers 13:33). Most of the spies did not think that they could take the land. Only Joshua and Caleb spoke in belief that the land could be taken. As a consequence, God decrees that the Israelites would wander the desert until this generation passes away. Only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the promised land.

Now, it seems so easy when you have heard the story so many times. “Don’t you know that God always takes care of His people? OBVIOUSLY just trust that everything will be okay. It doesn’t matter that the odds are against you. Trust God.”

All those statements are true, but I started thinking less flippantly about the fears of the people this week after I started playing Minecraft with my kids.

I can hear the question….Minecraft? Either you’re wondering WHAT Minecraft is, or WHAT Minecraft could possibly have to do with Torah. First, for those of you who don’t know what Minecraft is, you probably have heard of it somewhere in the edges of your experiences. Minecraft is a game in which one is “spawned” in a mostly uncivilized world. A world comprised of blocks is created just for you, complete with different environments. Mountains, swamps, hills, forests, deserts, rivers can all be created. In creative mode, you can use unlimited supplies to civilize your world, building buildings, and roads, domesticating animals. When you change to survival mode, you have to mine for wood, stone, iron, coal and other basic supplies to start civilizing your world. When difficulty is on, you have to fight monsters to keep your world safe.

Anyone who has played Minecraft knows that the first thing you should do is find some shelter. So I started by making a house (in the SAFE creative mode), and then got lost exploring. Being in a virtual unfamiliar, unmapped world was intimidating, and, to be honest, a little scary. I hadn’t even turned on survival or difficulty yet! All I knew in this world was lost (to me), and although I could build something new, there was something I had already invested time and energy in that I could not find.

Can you imagine being a fairly recently freed slave from Egypt? As a people, you had lived in the familiar world of Egypt for 430 years. (ex 12:40 says 430 years. 1586!!! Think Shakespeare and early colonization of Virginia.) For as long as your personal and communal memory would allow, you would have been a part of Egypt. And now, you are on the move to God’s promised land. This is exciting, but scary.

Going through unmapped territory in Minecraft is hard. You have to get good at marking landmarks. As you start inhabiting the land, you make it your own, and you become more familiar with the world around you. When you know the area really close by, you explore a little more. It looks good, exciting and fruitful. I haven’t even tried the mode with monsters yet. Why? I’m not sure I can handle surviving a night without all the supplies I need. I don’t trust myself to succeed.

I think this is what the majority of the spies were thinking when they ventured into the world that was unknown to them. Yes, the land had plenty to offer. Yes, this was God’s promised land to Abraham. Yes, it would be good, but how could they venture out and win? Joshua and Caleb had the faith that God could overcome. The rest of Israel started grumbling. I can almost not blame them. It is easier, and we FEEL safer staying where we are.

My 12-year old son, who loves to play Minecraft and fight the monsters, says to me that the key to defeating the monsters is having the right tools, and understanding their weaknesses. I suppose you can flip that around and say that they key to success is understanding our strengths. If you have diamond armor, when fighting creepers and skeletons, you are protected against the foe. Joshua and Caleb understood their strength.

We see them rely on their strength in the book of Judges.  In the first chapter, God reminds Joshua many times to “…be strong and courageous!” (Joshua 1:18). Joshua relies on God to be his strength. He knows that God has given the land to them, and will fight for them.

Spies are sent again into the land. These spies, from a generation of freed people who grew up in the desert, came back with a different report. ““Surely Adonai has given all the land into our hands,” they said to Joshua. “Indeed, all the inhabitants of the land have melted in fear before us.” (Joshua 2).

At the end of this part of the story, God comes through just as He promised. God IS their strength.

I think sometimes we take for granted in these familiar stories that God will come through. The stories and their outcomes are so ingrained in our communal memory that sometimes the largess of the faith of Joshua is lost on us. It’s not always easy to believe in God. It’s easy to be frightened. It was logical to think, like most of the spies, that we could not do it. It’s not as easy to put this faith into action as we see it for the characters.

In each of our lives, we have “big, scary things” that we worry about. Faith can be hard. But, take courage! God is with you. Don’t be afraid.

Full-time wife and mother of three, Dorothy Gitelman’s pursuits branch off in many directions. She serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, and accompanies dance classes.

What a Ropes Course Taught Me

What a Ropes Course Taught Me

We say we trust. We say we trust in systems. We say we trust others. We say we trust ourselves. We say we trust God. But do we really? And who should we trust?

Trust is a commodity that I feel needs to be given carefully and graciously. I do not trust everyone. I do not always trust in systems. I don’t think I even trust myself at times. I have let myself down before – more times than I’d like to admit. I think I trust God more than anything, but trust actually comes hard for me.

I learned a lesson in trust the other weekend when being challenged to go up on a ropes course. In New Haven, CT, a huge furniture store opened recently, complete with a ropes course, zip-line, pizza place, and ice cream place. Finally, we decided to visit and see what it was all about. I ended up going up with a couple of others.

Standing, looking at the bridges snaking up to the ceiling, I considered the truth of the situation. The truth of the situation was that a company such as this would be in huge legal and financial trouble if this was not safe. So it had to be safe. I watched people climbing. Each person wore a harness, connected to a track overhead. No one fell off a bridge as I watched. The only people falling were the ones repelling down the four stories––on purpose! The zip-line looked fun, safe enough, with the harness holding all the people who flew across the path.

As scary as it looked, I decided not to chicken out. Not that day. It was a lesson in the truth, and in trust.

We suited up, my 10-year-old daughter next to me, as brave as I was. The harness was secured around me, we clipped to the track, and climbed up the stairs.

The first step onto the bridge was the hardest. I used to get butterflies in my stomach walking over wooden bridges. A rope bridge with steps was a little more intimidating. But I took the first step. And one step at a time, I made it across the bridge. I trusted in the truth, and accomplished more than I thought I could. The second bridge was too hard. It was all rope, and I was afraid I’d freeze in the middle, and I knew that my daughter was right behind me. We turned around, and went back over the first bridge. It wasn’t so hard that time.

My daughter and I climbed for a long time. Up, across, one step at a time. We encouraged others along the way – “You can do it! You got it! Just move your leg and you’re there!” By the end, I had even crossed a couple of bridges only made from rope, and the easier bridges I was able cross rather quickly.

The whole experience made me think about trusting and about the truth. The Bible tells us to “trust in God” many times.

Trust in Adonai forever, for the Lord Adonai is a Rock of ages. (Isaiah 26:4)

Trust in Adonai and do good. Dwell in the land, feed on faithfulness. (Psalm 37:3)

Trust in Adonai with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

“Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. (John 14:1)

Trust in God. He is a Rock. Do good, dwell in the land, be faithful. Don’t try to trust your understanding. Don’t worry. Trust in Yeshua, too.

Trust takes knowing the truth, believing in it, and acting on it. I trust my husband to love me and take care of me. I know he will do it in the future because he has always taken care of me, given me things I need (and don’t need). He gets up in the morning, works hard at work, pays the bills, spends time with the family. He shows me his love for me by his actions. My husband loves me is the truth. I can trust this truth by expecting the truth to continue in the future.

We can trust in God because the truth is that He is our Rock. He created the world, He redeemed the Jewish people from Egypt. He redeems us from our sins. This is the truth. We know that the Truth of who God is, and who Yeshua is will stand firm forever.

Because of this, we can shed our fear and start to trust in Him.

How do you need to trust in God today? Take one little step to move forward in your relationship with him. The bridge is safe; you are in a safety harness. Go for it.

Full-time wife and mother of three, Dorothy Gitelman’s pursuits branch off in many directions. She serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, and accompanies dance classes.

Library Fines and Reconciliation

Library Fines and Reconciliation

I love the public library. I borrow books, read them, return them. My children do the same. Books, audiobooks, sheet music, movies – are all at our disposal for free. Well. Not exactly for free. There are inevitably fines for overdue books, and cost for any lost books. I’d say we lose at least one book annually, and that cost tends to add up. A mentor once told me that she considers the cost of library fines as her “dues”. It’s free membership, but a cost she would willingly pay to “rent” the books. At least once a year, usually right before a school break, I assess our fines, bite the bullet, and pay whatever the library is asking of me.

Other people have had traumatic experiences with borrowing books. I know one woman in her twenties who told me that she lost the first book she ever borrowed from the school library in middle school. She never found it, and logically never returned it. She felt so badly about the loss that she never borrowed a library book – from anywhere – again! I’ve known other people who built up so much debt in lost books that they avoided the library at all costs for years.

I understand the feeling.I get a pit my stomach that tells me I know I did something wrong, even if it was by mere neglect. What is it about the library that evokes such strong feelings? We accept a free gift– the gift and privilege of borrowing books and other materials. And then, in essence, we transgress against the library. We commit a sin by not turning in the book on time, or worse yet, we lose someone else’s property! 

What do we do when we find ourselves having broken the relationship with the library? One option, the logical thought, but not always the most instinctual, is the way my friend sees things. When you lose things or bring them late, you pay the fine, and you move on. The relationship between patron and library is mended, and things resume as usual.

But what about the others? We owe something now because we were less than perfect, and we can’t pay up. The cost is too much, and we know it. We are ashamed. We hide and we never return to the library. The relationship is broken.

Our library celebrated National Library Week this month by forgiving all overdue fines, and promising to work together with patrons to cover the cost of lost books. When I heard this announcement, I was beside myself. Forgiveness of my fines! Covering my lost books! I had 2 lost books since last summer, and I had been avoiding the library since my card and my son’s card were frozen due to the debt owed.

This library system showed that it valued the relationship between the library and the patron more than it valued payment for transgression. I proudly pulled out my library card, and my kids’ cards, and assessed the damage. It came to $47. “You can pay whatever you think is fair,” the librarian told me, “and your fines will be zeroed out.”

I told my seven-year old son that I was thinking about using this anecdote as an illustration in this article. He said, “So you’ll talk about God and how He forgives us? Yes. Exactly.

The Creator of the Universe, the Holy One of Israel, the One who will Reign Forever created humankind and wants a relationship with us. Humankind sins. Torah was given to Israel so we can see where we stand in relationship with God. Yeshua came to forgive us our sins.

I’ve known this for a long time. Sometimes, God needs to remind us of things that we already know. Rarely have I been so struck by God’s love for me, and for the gap in our relationshipas when the library forgave my fines. Just as I was unable to continue borrowing books from the library until my fines were forgiven, our relationship with God is not reconciled until we accept forgiveness for our sins through Messiah Yeshua.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

My relationship with the library is restored. I already have a book on hold, borrowed an audiobook and my children came home with whatever they wanted to carry. Better yet, my relationship with God is being constantly renewed. I am grateful for everyday parables that show us His awesome love!

Full-time wife and mother of three, Dorothy Gitelman’s pursuits branch off in many directions. She is the editor of the UMJC Sisterhood Newsletter and website (Achot News), serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, and accompanies dance classes.

The Journey’s Start

The Journey’s Start

As a dance accompanist, I play for a variety of age groups, from preschool through adult. One day, while playing for three classes in a row, I noticed something––the teacher taught the same material to all three classes, adjusting the exercises to make it appropriate for the different age and experience levels.

Just about every time I accompany, class begins with a plié combination. Plies are foundational to many types of dance because they strengthen the body, and prepare the dancer for more complicated movement. (For the un-ballet oriented in the world, a plié is a leg bend, similar to a squat, but entirely different in technique.) As dancers advance, plié combinations get a little more complicated, but the core of the exercise is the same. A 10-year-old could join a pre-ballet (3 and 4-year-old) class, and get a good workout if she worked the exercises at her level of ability. After plies, the content of dance classes teach the same skills. As students’ skills progress over the course of years, the classes get harder, but the basic structure remains the same.

What can a three-year-old understand about dance? Quite a bit. It is nowhere near what an older child or an adult can understand, but there certainly is understanding.

Let me change the question.

What can a three-year-old understand about God? Same answer. Quite a bit. Nowhere near what an older child or/and adult can understand, but there certainly is understanding.

When can a child make a decision of faith? Some people believe a child should not be asked until they are at least 13, some people believe 7; some people think it is a choice that should be left until adulthood. I think the Bible teaches us that faith in God is a journey, not just a moment. I think a child can make a choice early about God and continue to make choices to walk with Him as this child grows.

My parents were adamant that their children be allowed the space to choose God for themselves. They presented us with plenty of opportunities to choose God, setting an example by walking in relationship with Him, without pressuring us to choose. At the age of five, I started my walk with Yeshua. I remember making the decision. God loved me. That’s a good thing. I asked Him into my heart. This set me on the right path. I vividly remember in second grade not taking someone else’s pencil, even though I needed one because it was not right. That may not seem like a big deal, but in my life it was – it was a choice for God.

From then on, I tried very hard for my path to be beside Him. I rededicated my life to God at 16, and in college prayed for God to direct me to a place of worship. No stories of drugs, alcohol or sex for me. My testimony always felt rather boring. In a nutshell “I said yes to God when I was little, and He always has been there for me. The end.” What else is there to say?

King Josiah had a pretty “boring” testimony, too. “Josiah was eight years old when he became king, and he reigned 31 years in Jerusalem. He did right in the eyes of Adonai and walked in the ways of his father, David. He did not turn aside to the right or to the left. In the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, he began to seek after the God of his father, David. In the twelfth year, he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, the Asherah poles, and the carved and molten images.” (2 Chronicles 34:1-3)

Well. It was a “boring” testimony until Josiah got older and was used by God for His purposes! Imagine a third-grader as king! He was probably a smart, compassionate child, already with a heart for God. Someone in His life instructed him in God’s ways. By the time he was 16, he was ready to act on God’s word.

Throughout Torah, God reminds parents to tell our children the ways God blessed us and what God means to us. He understands children ask questions, and wants us to answer them.  “For He established a testimony in Jacob and ordained Torah in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to teach their children, so that the next generation might know, even the children yet to be born: they will arise and tell their children. Then they will put their trust in God, not forgetting the works of God, but keeping His mitzvot.” (Psalms 78:5-7)

Recently, I had the honor of helping to lead a Bat Mitzvah service for twin girls. As their father blessed his daughters before the congregation, he told them that they must decide for themselves to believe in Yeshua and to have a relationship with God. He said that he and his wife had been preparing them for this time that they can choose for themselves, for a long time. Parents lay the groundwork, after that, it is up to God and to the children.

The V’ahavtah is my guide to teaching my children about God and His commandments. “You are to teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 11:19) If we talk about God and set a good example as we walk in His ways, our children will pick up on it. One day, they will choose for themselves.

How much can a child know about God? Enough to start a journey.

But Yeshua said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

-       Matthew 19:14

Full-time wife and mother of three, Dorothy Gitelman’s pursuits branch off in many directions. She is the editor of the UMJC Sisterhood Newsletter and website (Achot News), serves as a cantor at her home congregation in West Haven, CT, and accompanies dance classes.

Social Rules

Social Rules

Children are pretty good at picking up on social rules, and emulating it. It doesn’t take long for a child to learn that it is appropriate to say goodbye as they leave, or wave hello as they arrive. Some kids get this as early as five months old. Other kids take longer to notice social things. Some kids like my youngest son, who is seven, need to learn social rules the way most people learn math. One of the accommodations my son has is working with a social worker at school to learn how to get along with others. They have been working from a book called, “Social Rules for Kids”. In this book are a hundred scenarios that a kid might encounter, presented in an “if-then” format. “If you are telling a joke, you should stop laughing at your joke with the person you’re telling the joke to. If they are not into the joke, stop telling it. You know they are not into the joke if they start talking about something else.”  

The book, “Social Rules for Kids” was the first thing I thought about when I looked at the Torah portion Mispatim (Exodus 21:1 - 24:18) from the first week of February. The portion of Mispatim, along with the rest of Torah, is full of “if-then” statements – social rules, perhaps – for the Children of Israel.

Having just left servitude in Egypt, Israel needed to organize to become a nation. In Egyptian culture, what the Pharaoh said, was law. God needed to show His people a new way. Israel needed some rules to know how to behave as human beings.

The week I was thinking about Mishpatim I was reminded about Hammurabi’s Code. Each quarter, our school hosts a Showcase Assembly in which parents can attend, and see what the students have learned. My oldest son, with his seventh grade class, has been studying ancient Africa in Social Studies. One of the reports at the assembly was on Hammurabi’s Code. I hadn’t thought about Hammurabi’s Code in a long time (although I probably learned about him in seventh grade, too).

Hammurabi created a universal set of laws for the diverse set of people he governed. He collected existing laws, compiled them, and published a list of 282 laws. Both Hammurabi’s Code and the Covenant Code (the laws in the Torah) have been analyzed from a historical perspective, and many historians have found correlations between the laws. Both codes are actually rather similar both in formatting and in content. Both sets of law are embedded in the midst of a narrative in which a people proclaim their allegiance to a king. In the case of Hammurabi’s code, the king is Hammurabi, in the case of Torah the King is God.

Compare, for example, the following passages. The first is from Hammurabi’s Code, the second is from Torah.

“If a man knock out the teeth of his equal, his teeth shall be knocked out. If a man strike a free-born woman so that she lose her unborn child, he shall pay ten shekels for her loss.” (Hammurabi’s Code)

“If men fight, and hit a pregnant woman so that her child is born early, yet no harm follows, the one who hit her is to be strictly fined, according to what the woman’s husband demands of him. He must pay as the judges determine. But if any harm follows, then you are to penalize life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, blow for blow.” (Exodus 21:22-25)

Historians have dated Hammurabi’s Code back to 1754 BCE. As I do my quick research (I am not a qualified Biblical Historian, nor do I play one on TV) on the date of the events of Exodus, I find that the dates are not very solid, and there is not much historical or archeological evidence for the events from Exodus outside of the Torah. Historians place these events at anywhere from 1400 BCE to 1200 BCE. In any event, Hammurabi’s Code predates Torah.

How can we reconcile the fact that Hammurabi’s Code predates the giving of the Torah? I tend to both read the Bible literally, and consider solid historical research, and I believe that God’s truth shines through in the end.

Hammurabi collected laws that existed in the Babylonian area to compile his Code. Where did these laws originate? suggests that these codes derived from the Noahide covenant. A quick search suggests that the events of the Flood happened around 3000 BCE. With the rest of the inhabitants of the world wiped out, the population of the world descended from Noah’s family. The Noahide covenant, from Genesis 9:1-17, is listed as follows from “Do not deny God. Do not blaspheme God. Do not murder. Do not engage in illicit sexual relations. Do not steal. Do not eat of a live animal. Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to the law.”Even if Hammurabi’s Code predates the giving of the Torah, the precepts themselves were derived from the laws that God gave humanity from the flood. [1] [2]

Following the Torah does not come naturally to humans, just like following social rules does not come naturally to some kids. God gave us rules so that we could know when we sin. As we study Torah, we learn about the nature of God. We can study and learn Torah – the way some people study math. And the more we learn, the more intuitive the rules become.

“Now the Torah came in so that transgression might increase. But where sin increased, grace overflowed even more— so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness, to eternal life through Messiah Yeshua our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

Thanks be to God that we have grace through Messiah Yeshua! My son is learning daily how to follow social rules. Sometimes, though, that doesn’t matter. I love him dearly, and I know how much he loves me back. When I was sick this week, he found a thermometer to take my temperature, brought me water, stroked my head, and let me sleep. He was working not from the rules in a book, but from his love for me.

I think that’s what the law of grace is like. We can’t be perfect, but we can certainly show our love to God from the depths of our heart.

[1]At the time of

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