April 2007 Updates
04.30.07 (Iyyar 12, 5767) According to midrash, before you were born, the LORD called your soul to appear before Him and said, "After you are born, become a tzaddik (righteous person); don't become a rasha (wicked person)." Then He brought you into the world, but tested you by means of the yetzer hara -- the natural inclination to be selfish and bad.
I wrote a new Hebrew meditation (Temimut Torah) that looks at how the Torah of the Lord helps us overcome the yetzer hara by providing all we need to have our souls turned back to the way of true righteousness, soundness, and integrity. I hope you find it helpful as you seek the ways of holiness and truth.
Note: I am a bit behind on this coming week's Torah portion and hope to get to it soon...
04.27.07 (Iyyar 9, 5767) I read something today that reminded me why the study of Biblical Hebrew (and the Hebrew mindset and culture that informs it) must be primary over the study of the Greek text of the New Testament (even though the study of the Greek NT is certainly worthwhile). I am paraphrasing the original author here, but this is the basic idea: While it's possible that the Hebrew Scriptures are true and the Greek Scriptures are not, it's impossible for the Greek Scriptures to be true if the Hebrew Scriptures are not. In other words, the Greek NT is based on the authority and veracity of the Tanakh (Jewish Scriptures) -- not the other way around. Too many Christian theologians have this thing backwards, and read the Greek NT as the interpretative filter for the study of the Hebrew text. We must always remember to read the Scriptures in context, chaverim!
04.26.07 (Iyyar 8, 5767) Nearly every day I get several emails asking me questions about Hebrew or theology, and I try to find time to answer them. However, I am considering adding a FAQ section to the site as well as a guestbook so that site vistiors can post questions and I can reply online. Let me know if you think this would make a nice addition to the site!
04.25.07 (Iyyar 7, 5767) I updated the (second part of the) weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Kedoshim) and created another PDF file for you to download. This portion of the Torah is all about holiness and the call for the followers of the LORD God of Israel to become holy themselves. But what is holiness, anyway?
In Hebrew, the word kedushah (from the root k-d-sh) means sanctity or "set-apartness" (other Hebrew words that use this root include kadosh (holy), Kiddush (sanctifying the wine), Kaddish (sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), and so on). Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison and utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), entirely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is chosen and favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26). Indeed, holiness is a synonym for the LORD Himself (Hakadosh barukh hu - The Holy One, blessed be He).
The idea of the holy (kadosh) therefore implies differentiation: the realm of the holy is entirely set apart from the common, the habitual, or the profane. The holy is singular, awe-inspiring, even "terrible" or dreadful (see Neh. 1:5; Psalm 68:35). As the Holy One (hakadosh), God is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and "set apart" as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator and Lord. Yes, only the Lord is infinitely and eternally Other -- known to Himself as "I AM THAT I AM" (Exodus 3:15).
Holiness, then, implies more than an abstract or indifferent "metaphysical" separation (as is suggested by various forms of dualism), but rather separation from that which is mundane (chullin), banal, common, or evil. In other words, holiness implies absolute moral goodness and perfection. It is impossible that the Holy One could condone sin, since this would negate the distinction between the sacred and profane and thereby undermine the nature of holiness itself. The Holy is in opposition to the profane and therefore the LORD must hate and oppose that which violates the sacred.
Various practical mitzvot are given in this Torah portion through which a Jew is sanctified, or set apart to be kadosh - holy - and therefore fit for relationship with God. God is not only "wholly Other" (i.e., transcendent) but also pervades all of creation (i.e., "immanent"), and those who are called into His Presence must therefore be holy themselves. Such practical holiness results in sanctification obtained through the observance of commandments (mitzvot). These commandments include both mitzvot aseh (commandments to do something) and mitzvot lo ta'aseh (commandments to refrain from doing something). In addition, chukkim, or "statutes" are given that further separate the Jew from the customs and profanity of the surrounding nations.
For example, though it is inevitable (and psychologically necessary) that we make judgments about other people, the Torah states, b'tzedek tishpot 'amitekha, "in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (see also John 7:24), which implies that we must be forgiving and good when we think of other people.
The focal point and the very heart of what holiness represents is stated as v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Note that the direct object of the verb (ahav - to love) is your neighbor. But who, exactly, is my neighbor? Some Pharisaical types have claimed that the word rea (neighbor) refers only to one's fellow Jew - not to others at large in the world. However this is obviously false, since the "stranger" (ger) is explicitly identified to be an object of our love (Lev 19:34). And note that Yeshua the Mashiach answered this question by turning it around. Instead of attempting to find someone worthy of neighborly love, I am asked to be a worthy and loving neighbor myself (Luke 10:29-37).
The phrase v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha is considered the most comprehensive rule of conduct toward others found in the entire Torah. Thus Hillel, a contemporary of the Lord Jesus, commented regarding this phrase: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." The Lord Jesus said "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). The apostle Paul also wrote "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (see Rom. 13:10, Gal. 5:14).
The mystery of holiness is that it is bound up in true love...
04.24.07 (Iyyar 6, 5767) I updated the (first part of the) weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Acharei Mot) and created a new PDF file for you to download. Meanwhile, if it pleases the LORD, I will write a summary for the second portion (Kedoshim) and get it online later tonight or tomorrow.
Acharei Mot gives laws about the avodah (service) of Yom Kippur, when the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) would come before the throne of God Himself (represented by the Shechinah appearing over the "Mercy Seat" of the Ark in the Holy of Holies) to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people.
In later years, the Tabernacle rituals were transferred to the Jewish Temple, but the Yom Kippur ritual continued as defined in this Torah portion as long as the Temple stood.
The Talmud includes fascinating information about various miracles that began occurring some 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (i.e., 30 AD), just after the time of Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to the Right Hand of the Majesty on High. These miracles further indicate that the parochet of the Holy of Holies has been rent asunder, and now, by means of His avodah and zechut (merit) as our High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek, the way to the throne of grace has been made accessible to all who put their trust in Him. Please read the parashah summary for the details!
04.24.07 (Iyyar 6, 5767) We live in such an age of shamelessness and degradation that it might be helpful to think about a basic principle of Jewish thinking called tzeniut (tse-nee-OOT). This concept concerns the rules of modesty, chastity or the derech eretz (good manners, decorum) of the spiritual Jew.
Tzeniut is an act of chesed v'emet toward our neighbors, since it takes into account their fragile visual (and other) boundaries and esteems such as worthy of respect. It is fulfilling the mitzvah of lifnei iveir lo titein mikhshol, not putting a stumbling block before the blind (Lev 19:14), since many people indeed stumble on account of the immodesty and exhibitionism of others. Dressing (and acting) modestly is also a countercultural statement against the pornogrification of our age and the cheapening of life that the mass media regularly indoctrinates as "normal" to those who have abandoned themselves to the despair of yetzer hara (the evil inclination or "flesh").
In Orthodox Judaism women are required to be covered from the neck to the knee, and to have sleeves to the elbow (the Chasidim require a woman to have sleeves to the wrist and to wear stockings). The laws of tzeniut also require a married woman to have her hair covered and to refrain from being touched by a man other than her husband (or immediate family members).
A story from the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 53b) expresses the ideal of tzeniut: There once was a man who married a woman who had a stump for one hand, but the man never noticed the deformity until the day of her death. This woman was regarded to be of great modesty, since her husband never noticed her disfigurement; and yet her husband was likewise so regarded, since he never once examined his wife's body. Indeed, "love covers all offenses" (Prov. 10:12).
04.23.07 (Iyyar 5, 5767) This coming Shabbat we have another "double portion" of Torah, so I am busy writing the Torah summaries for both (Acharei Mot and Kedoshim). Unfortunately, time is limited for me, and I always end up abbreviating material that I wish I had further time to develop.... Alas, such is the nature of the Torah reading schedule: It's virtually a full-time job to write worthwhile parshanut every week! Please check back in a day or so for the summaries. IY"H they will be done soon.
04.20.07 (Iyyar 2, 5767) I added a new blessing, or rather an abbreviated one, for the brit milah (circumcision) ceremony. I wish you all a wonderful weekend, with Sabbath rest and shalom, despite the madness and despair of this world.
04.19.07 (Iyyar 1, 5767) In an attempt to get additional Hebrew meditations online that I've written over the last few years, I am updating the Mediations pages. Today I added one on Psalm 103:1: "Bless the LORD, O My Soul."
On a personal note: Occasionally I get email from well-meaning people giving me suggestions about improving my health... Thank you for your concern, but I have a chronic condition that includes Fibromyalgia that weakens my immune system, and usually I am only able to get about 4 hours of sleep at night. Your prayers are appreciated, chaverim.
04.17.07 (Nisan 29, 5767) Many of us are in various states of denial regarding our own sinful condition and need for deliverance, which can be illustrated by the case of the metzora (one afflicted with the spiritual disease called tzara'at) and its progression in the life of the afflicted.
A doctor friend of mine recently reminded me that tzara'at was an infectious condition. As long as the affliction was spreading across the body, the person was metzora and therefore tamei (unclean), but if the tzara'at (finally) covered the person from head to toe, he was to be considered "clean" (Lev. 13:12-13). In other words, in some cases the metzora needed to be entirely covered with their affliction before they were set free, and this further reminds me of our need to be fully identified with the death of Yeshua in order to experience the resurrection life! It is only by understanding how radical the need for our deliverance that Jesus' healing touch can be manifest...
04.16.07 (Nisan 28, 5767) I updated the weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Tazria and Metzora) and created two new PDF files for you to download.
This "double portion" of Torah deals primarily with the relationship between the sin of lashon hara ("the evil tongue") and the divinely imparted affliction of tzara'at, sometimes (inaccurately) translated as "leprosy."
I used to think lashon hara concerned cases of obvious abuse of the tongue, for example, slandering another person or using profanity. Now while these are certainly cases of lashon hara, the concept is larger than that, and includes saying something bad about another person even if it happens to be true. In other words, lashon hara is gossip, spreading evil (even if true) reports, or expressing a negative or critical spirit about others. Such behavior is explicitly forbidden in Lev. 19:16.
The penalty for lashon hara was tzara'at, a skin condition that could only be diagnosed by a kohen (priest), not a doctor. In other words, it was a spiritual malady that required spiritual discernment to treat. If someone was diagnosed with tzara'at, they were forced to leave society and undergo a period of mourning and teshuvah (repentance).
In traditional Jewish thinking, lashon hara is one of the worst of sins, and God is said to punish those who speak such with middah-keneged-middah -- "measure for measure" justice. Since spreading evil reports divided others and caused isolation and loneliness, the metzora shall be afflicted (with tzuris, troubles) and separated from the fellowship of Israel. Indeed, some of the sages point out that the word metzora (one afflicted with tzara'at) is related to the phrase, motzi ra (one who speaks evil), and thereby conclude that evil speech is the principal cause of the disease itself. Obviously we should flee from the sin of lashon hara! May the LORD help each of us to always "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15, 25).
Yeshua told us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34), and further warned us about the unthinking use of our words: "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall account for in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by you words you shall be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37).
A midrash states that when the children of Israel first heard the laws of tzara'at, they despaired and became very afraid. Moses reassured them by telling them that tzara'at was a sign from God that they were indeed a holy nation, since it is His way of encouraging them to do teshuvah in order to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Mashiach," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).
One final note of hope: In the Brit Chadashah, we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? Ah, this is a good sheilah (question), but it is directly answered when we apprehend that Yeshua is none other than YHVH who came in the flesh. For remember, it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God. Blessed be His Name forever.
04.15.07 (Nisan 27, 5767) I am feeling better, my voice is coming back (B"H), and I'm presently working on the Torah portion for this coming week (it's a double portion - Tazria and Metzora). Thank you, LORD, for your healing and love: "Blessed art Thou, LORD our God, Master of the universe, who bestows good to sinners, even as He has bestowed to me every good (birkat ha-Gomel).
If you are mindful of Jewish culture and the Jewish calendar, you know that today is also Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day... Please offer up a prayer for Israel's protection, chaverim, as she still has countless enemies in this world who would like nothing better than to see the Jewish people destroyed. We know this is impossible, since the LORD is faithful to His original covenant people, but that does not mean that Israel does not need our support and prayers. After all, if you are a Christian, you owe your spiritual life to the Jewish people, and especially to the One born the King of the Jews Himself: Yeshua the blessed Messiah! Sha'alu shalom Yirushalayim, chaverim.
Ask for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love her be secure. (Psalm 122:6)
04.13.07 (Nisan 25, 5767) My illness has completely taken away my voice, so I must resort to a quiet whisper to speak...
I often hear the LORD in moments of silence, when the litany words I use to think about Him or even to pray trail off into silent awareness of His glory and my unending and absolute need for Him...
To that end, I thought it good to listen in to just one stanza of the song the LORD Himself taught Moses just before his death (see Ha'azinu - Give Ear!), a lyric "Shema" that exhorts us to cleave to the LORD and always remember His glory and greatness:
The LORD is perfect (tamim) in His works... all His ways are just (mishpat)... He is a God of truth (emunah -- fidelity, steadfastness) without iniquity (ein 'aven)... He is forever righteous (tzaddik) and upright (yashar).
May such words be written upon our hearts, chaverim, as we call upon the LORD God of Israel for our daily sanctification.
In everything we are to give thanks, not just for those things we find personally satisfying or amenable to our fickle dispositions, but even for our troubles and difficulties, since (even in our groaning) we can trustingly surrender ourselves to the limitless goodness of the LORD, blessed be He.
04.12.07 (Nisan 24, 5767) Getting sick (and especially living with chronic pain) is difficult, though it is not devoid of comfort if we are attuned to the Presence of the LORD in the midst of our struggle. Unlike those who only can lay hold of temporal comforts and whose experience of peace depends on the vagaries of earthly circumstance, we who believe in Yeshua understand that suffering in this life (even our own sometimes monotonous affliction) has a genuinely good and redemptive aspect to it. We who look to the risen Lord Yeshua can endure, for we affirm that our momentary afflictions are preparing us for the unveiling of an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17). As author Walter Wangren Jr. put it:
"The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can't stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope -- and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend upon it) disappoint us."
May the LORD strengthen you with unshakable joy, chaverim.
04.11.07 (Nisan 23, 5767) I am still sick with a fever and other ailments, so your tefillot (prayers) are sincerely appreciated. Many thanks to so many of you, too -- for writing me and telling me that the site has been a blessing to you. That encourages me greatly and prompts me to continue to press on in this work.
And I'd also like to thank those of you who used or read the H4C Passover Haggadah I wrote just before Passover. IY"H, next year's will be even better, with more music and additional Messianic insights! A few of you have asked me to write something similar for other mo'edim (such as Shavu'ot (Pentecost) and the fall festivals). Unfortunately, I will not be able to do this now, since my schedule presently includes working two jobs, working on this site (and the forums), doing ZLM Hebrew lessons every month, attending my fellowship and playing music there, raising a family, spending time in prayer, and trying to keep my balance through all of this! Besides, my next major project here (in addition to regularly updating the weekly Torah portion) is to enhance the Biblical Hebrew grammar material, a project that is long overdue. I also would like to include an apologetics section, if the LORD so wills.... Please be patient with me -- this is a labor of love that I do at the expense of my sleep!
04.10.07 (Nisan 22, 5767) Despite running a high fever, I updated the weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Shmini) and created a new PDF file for you to download. I hope you will find it helpful in your understanding of kitvei HaKodesh - the Holy Scriptures.
We are in process of "counting the Omer" that was to be brought to the Jewish Temple every day from the second day of Passover up until the great festival of Shavu'ot ("Weeks" or Pentecost), an event that prophetically marks the birth of kallat Mashiach - the Bride of Messiah. For more information about this, click here.
Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, takes place on the 27th of Nisan, which this year begins Sunday April 15th (at sundown) and runs until sundown on Monday, April 16th. Shoah is the Hebrew word for "destruction" and is another name used to refer to the European Holocaust, when six million Jews - including one and a half million children - were systematically murdered by the Nazis (YH"SH, Y'Sh) during World War II.
We must never forget what happened to the Jewish people, just as we must always be vigilant for political power that seeks to impose fascist control or that seeks to "scapegoat" other peoples for political or ideological purposes. May the LORD God of Israel protect His people and give us wisdom for this evil age.
For more information about the Nazi Holocaust, please see:
04.08.07 (Nisan 20, 5767) I hope you had a wonderful day remembering the resurrection of Yeshua from the dead! Baruch Hashem - the LORD has swallowed up the sting of death on our behalf! Death could not contain His glory and power, and His invincible Life is forever unleashed upon this world.... We need no longer live in fear, since we are but a heartbeat away from His presence on the other side of this veil.
I am working on this coming Torah portion, but we have all been sick over here, and I am presently running a fever (I also chipped a tooth tonight!). Therefore, the Torah summary will most likely be late this week (but that's actually okay, since the Passover Readings are valid until Wednesday of this week). Please offer up teffilot for us, especially little Josiah, since he has been sick for over a week now. Thank you.
04.05.07 (Nisan 17, 5767) Hu kam min-hametim! He is risen from the dead!
Jesus was crucified on Nisan 14th (during the day, before erev Pesach, during the time of korban Pesach at the Temple) and rose from the dead (yechiyat hametim) three days and nights later, on Nisan 17 (which was a Sunday that year). The Christian churches, of course, make "Easter Sunday" the official date to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus, though if we follow the Jewish calendar, Nisan 17 may or may not fall on a Sunday using our Gregorian calendar.
If you are interested in the timing of the events -- from Jesus' early seder with His disciples -- to his arrest and crucifixion -- to His resurrection, then take a look at the page Reishit Katzir: Messiah as the beginning of the harvest.
I don't think we should be fussy or "pedantic" about the timing of these events, however, since the essential point is that Yeshua is risen indeed! We rejoice that He has conquered the power of sin and taken the sting out of death. His resurrection demonstrates that His sacrifice as Seh Elohim (the Lamb of God) was accepted on our behalf, and now we can have peace with God and experience the resurrection power of lasting grace in our lives through faith. We also need not fear death, since we know the One who has overcome it and who has promised us ultimate salvation from its power.
04.03.07 (Nisan 15, 5767) Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover to you! I have added the customary Passover Week readings to the site, and I also created a PDF file on Reishit Katzir (First Fruits) in commemoration of the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah (techiyat Yeshua ha-Mashiach), the great Passover Lamb of God.
In Exodus 12:15-20 God instructed the Jews to eat unleavened bread for seven days, from Nisan 14th at evening until Nisan 21 at evening. Thus, beginning with Passover begins a seven day festival called Chag HaMatzot, or the Feast of Unleavened Bread. This period of time is meant to further sanctify those who have been redeemed by the LORD God of Israel by abstaining from a symbol of evil - chametz (note that Jewish tradition lumps Unleavened Bread together with Passover to form an eight-day holiday generally called "Passover Week").
Of crucial importance to those of us who are believers in Yeshua is His resurrection from the dead (techiyat hametim). This occurred exactly three days after His crucifixion, on Nisan 17 (for the details of the time sequence from Yeshua's early seder to His resurrection, see the Reishit Katzir page). The important point, of course, is not the exact time and date of His resurrection, but that He is risen indeed! We rejoice that Yeshua has conquered the power of sin and taken the sting out of death: His sacrifice as Seh Elohim, the Lamb of God, was accepted on our behalf, and now we can experience the resurrection power of His grace in our lives through faith. We also need not fear death, since we know the One who has overcome its power and who has promised us ultimate salvation from its power.
Just as Yeshua was our First Fruits, so "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created." (James 1:18)
Our Passover Seder Pictures
We had a wonderful seder Mondy evening. My in-laws house was chametz-free, the seder table was beautiful, and the H4C Haggadah read well, and we all ate a wonderful meal together. Overall, it was the highlight of a lot of time preparing to meet the LORD during this appointed time. We praise the LORD Yeshua for a wonderful time commemorating His sacrificial death for us all. Here are some pictures:
Top row, left to right: 1) Our Seder table; 2) reading the Haggadah, 3) Josiah performs Urchatz, 4) Josiah dips Karpas. Bottom row, left to right: 1) about to eat Maror; 2) preparing the Korech sandwich; 3) Josiah at Motzi Matzah, and 4) John blessing the Afikomen.
04.01.07 (Nisan 13, 5767) Pesach Sameach! Happy Passover! I just finished (for the time being!) the online Passover Seder material and created a Passover Seder Guide for you to download! I hope you will find it of some benefit for your Passover celebration! Worthy is the Lamb who was slain!
Note that the Passover Seder Guide is a large file, over 1.5MB, so if you have a slow connection, it might take some time to open (you can save the file by clicking the "Save a Copy" button in the Acrobat Reader window). Also, if you print this document, I recommend using the highest quality paper you can find, since some of the Hebrew graphics have a lot of fine detail I don't want you to miss!
For a brief Passover Meditation I wrote last year, please see Seh Elohim - the Lamb of God.
Cleanse out the old leaven
that you may be a new lump,
as you really are unleavened.
For Mashiach, our Passover lamb,
has been sacrificed.
Let us therefore celebrate the festival,
not with the old leaven,
the leaven of malice and evil,
but with the unleavened bread
of sincerity and truth.
1 Cor 5:7-8