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August 2008 Updates
 

Rosh Chodesh Elul - ראש חדש אלול


 

08.31.08  This evening marks Rosh Chodesh Elul (the "new moon" of the Hebrew month of Elul), which, according to Jewish tradition, was the time when Moses reascended Mount Sinai (the third time) to receive the second set of Tablets from the LORD. Since the tablets were not inscribed until 40 days later (on the 10th of Tishri, the date of Yom Kippur), the 29 days of Elul are considered a time of selichot (prayers for forgiveness) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days (Tishri 1-10).  For more, see this page.

Beginning on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (and continuing until Erev Rosh HaShanah) the custom is to blow the shofar every day (except on Shabbat). Psalm 27 is often recited every day during this time as well...

Psalm 27:1
 




Another Book Project...


08.30.08
  Since I am having a hard time finding a job, I decided it might be worthwhile to begun writing a new book (I will provide more details as things develop, chaverim). Your prayers for my strength in this matter are appreciated...  Meanwhile, please know that Olga and I are moved to tears over the outpouring of love and support from many of you. Thank you for standing with us during this difficult time!


 




Choosing to See...


 

08.27.08  This week's parashah (Re'eh) begins with the portentous words: "See (רְאֵה), I give before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). This has traditionally been understood to mean that God gives each of us the path of goodness (that leads to blessing) and the path of wickedness (that leads to curse). The singular form (re'eh is singular: "you see!") is used to stress the fact that although Torah is given to all "who have ears to hear," it is our personal responsibility to "choose life!" (Deut. 30:19) and walk its message out in our daily lives. This is an Either/Or of the heart, and there is no place for compromise in this decision. Moreover, since your life is part of a greater whole, you must understand that every deed you do brings to the world around you either a blessing or a curse.... To "correct" the world you live in (תיקון עולם), you must first correct yourself (Matt. 7:5).


 

An undisputed maxim among the sages of the Talmud is: "All is in the hands of God except the fear of heaven (yirat shamayim)" (Berachot 33b; Niddah 16b). But note something here. The Hebrew word for seeing (ראה) and the word for fearing (ירא) share the same root. We cannot genuinely "choose life" apart from personally seeing it, and we cannot see it apart from encountering its truth (or reality). We must individually focus our minds and attend to the revelation of God -- both written (i.e., in the testimony of Scripture) and unwritten (i.e., in the manifest evidences of creation). The reverence of God sanctifies our perception and enables us to see clearly. Perhaps this is why the perpetual enemy of God is called "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק), a name that begins with Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and whose value (in gematria) is 240 -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt. Amalek therefore suggests "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). Unbelief is a spiritual blindness that makes it impossible to see the path of blessing....

Today's Amalekim
 

Unlike the doubtful Amalek, we walk in emunah (faith) with ayin ha-tovah ("the good eye") of trust.  And we must be unflinching in our devotion to the truth, chaverim. Regarding the rise of the false prophet, for example, we are told that "the LORD your God is testing you (מְנַסֶּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם) to know if your really love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 13:4). All who love the LORD will love the truth and will take the time and effort to clear away the confusion by "testing the spirits" (1 John 4:1).

Concerning this matter of testing, while we know that we're not permitted to test (נסה) the LORD (Deut. 6:16, Matt. 4:7; Acts 5:9), we are permitted to do so regarding the matter of tzedakah (charity) and the offering of our tithes (Deut. 14:22, cp. Mal. 3:10). Here is a midrash that speaks along this line:

    There once happened that a person gave 100 measures as his ma'aser (tithe) each year, for every 1000 measures of grain that grew. In his will, he commanded his son to always take ma'aser properly.

    The first year, the son gave a tenth of 1000 measures, but then he said to himself, "How can I give so much as a tenth?" The next year he gave only 90 measures, but then only 900 measures grew. The third year he gave only 80, but only 800 grew. With each ten measures that he took away, his field was diminished by 100 measures, until it yielded only 100 measures, the amount that had originally been given as a tenth....

    For this reason the Torah says, Give Ma'aser so that you will be able to give it again and remain wealthy.  (Tzenah Ur'enah)
     

The whole idea of giving is counterintuitive to the egoism of our natural perspective, and therefore the giving person testifies that he or she is seeing the truth of God's reality and kingdom in the universe.... Stated simply: Hardening our hearts to the needs of others is an act of unbelief.

A verse in our parasha speaks directly to this. Deuteronomy 15:10 says, "You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because of this thing the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake." The sages note that the phrase because of this thing (בּגְלַל הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה) hints that "the world goes in a circle." Today one is rich; tomorrow the other is rich. This is inferred from the connection between the word "because" (בִּגְלַל) and the word for "circle" (גַּלְגָל), both of which share the same root (גלל). Indeed, the sages consider the act of giving (tzedakah, i.e., charity) as one of the greatest of commandments, since it is the essence of God to give to His creation, and it is through giving that we are enabled to see the Divine Presence, as it is written in Psalm 17;15, "I will see your face in righteousness (tzedakah)" (אֲנִי בְּצֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶה פָנֶיךָ).

Sharmon Davidson Detail
 




Personal Update...

08.26.08  Today my wife Olga went to the doctor and heard the baby's heartbeat! Baruch Hashem! We are thrilled at the prospect of new life coming to our family, though we entreat your prayers for this child (and for momma, too, as she has been very sick with morning sickness for the last 10 weeks). The baby's due date (IY"H) is in March, 2009. I will keep you posted as things develop, chaverim....

Some of you have been kind enough to write and ask how the job search is going, etc. Well, I've sent out a number of resumes, etc., but I still have yet to obtain an interview anywhere...  We are not living in fear, however, since we are trusting in the LORD's provision and we know that many of you are praying for us. We humbly and sincerely thank you....


 

I have also been experiencing fibromyalgia, sleep deprivation, asthma, etc. recently.  Part of this is due to the stress of our situation. You prayers for us are sincerely appreciated....




Rosh Chodesh Elul - ראש חדש אלול


 

08.24.08   The season of teshuvah (repentance) begins next week, chaverim, running 40 days from the day before the Hebrew month of Elul until after Yom Kippur (this year, from Aug. 31st - Oct. 9th). According to Jewish tradition, Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first day of the month of Elul) marks the time when Moses reascended Mount Sinai (the third time) to receive the second set of Tablets from the LORD. Since the tablets were not inscribed until 40 days later (on the 10th of Tishri, the date of Yom Kippur), the 29 days of Elul are considered a time of selichot (prayers for forgiveness) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days (Tishri 1-10).  For more, see this page.


 

Note:  For a variety of reasons, Rosh Chodesh Elul is observed for two days, the 30th of Av and again on Elul 1 (this year, Aug. 31st and Sept. 1st).  Beginning on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (and continuing until Erev Rosh HaShanah) the custom is to blow the shofar every day (except on Shabbat). Psalm 27 is often recited every day during this time as well...


The Fall Holidays and Tishri

A midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) says that God originally planned to give us a holiday every month, but after the sin of the Golden Calf (chet ha-egel), He took away the planned dates for the months of Tammuz and Elul and "paid them back" in the month of Tishri. So originally the month of Tammuz was supposed to be the time of Yom Teruah (Rosh Hashanah); the month of Av was supposed to be the time of Yom Kippur, and the month of Elul was supposed to be the time of Sukkot.  So what about Tishri? This would have marked the time of Shmini Atzeret.




Parashat Re'eh - פרשת ראה

08.24.08   The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is Re'eh ("See!"), the 47th portion of the Hebrew year of 5768.


 

The parashah begins with a dramatic appeal to Israel to choose to obey the commandments of the LORD: "See, I set before you blessing (beracha) and curse (kelalah)" - a blessing if you follow God's ways, but a curse if you turn to idolatry and forsake the way of the LORD.

Blessing and curses come from how we treat others. A key concept given in the parashah is that of kol Yisrael aravim zeh lazeh, "All Israel is responsible for one another":


 

The LORD did not bring His people into the land in order to live pietistically selfish or self-aggrandizing lives, but rather to serve Him and others in love. The regular practice of tzedakah (charity) and shemitat kesafim (the forgiving of debts) were intended to promote a dignified society of people that cared for one another as mishpachah (family). Thus the LORD's people themselves were to be am segulah - a treasured people - helping to create a world of chesed (love) and beauty for all who are trusting in the LORD.




Lechem Ha-Chayim - לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים


 

08.21.08   The parashah for this week (Eikev) includes the famous statement: "Man does not live by bread alone, but from everything that comes from the mouth of the LORD shall he live" (Deut. 8:3). Note that Yeshua quoted this verse when he was tested with physical hunger in the wilderness (Matt. 4:3-4).

Although physical food helps us survive, we must ask the question, for what end? Do we live for the sake of eating (and thereby live to eat for another day, and so on), or do we eat in order to live? If the latter, then what is the goal of such life? What is the source of its nutrient and where is it taking you? What does your soul or "inner man" feed upon to gain the spiritual will to live?

Both the written Torah and Yeshua (who is the embodiment and expression of Torah) make it clear that we receive sustenance from the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the source of spiritual life.  But the word of God itself is a message of the very love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים) that is always sustaining us -- whether we are conscious of this or not. After all, for those of us who understand our brokenness and radical dependence, what "word" could we possibly endure were it not His words of hope, consolation, and even endearment?  The Love of God is our life, chaverim, and the love of God is most clearly seen in the life and sacrificial death of Yeshua the Mashiach...

The White Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, 1938
 

Yesterday I wrote about how God cleaves to us and therefore calls us to cleave to Him in return (devakut). Some scholars think that the Hebrew word for seeing (ראה) and the word for fearing (ירא) share the same root, and therefore we can close our spiritual eyes by not revering the works of the LORD. Similarly, we can close our spiritual ears by not heeding to His words of love for our soul...

Our very spiritual life -- its source and its end -- depends upon receiving the word of the Living God who is King of Eternity (אֱלהִים חַיִּים וּמֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם). He speaks words of hope and love to those who attend themselves to His Presence. May you hear Him speaking to you now.




New Hebrew Meditation - Devakut

08.20.08   The Hebrew word devakut (דְּבָקוּת) means "cleaving" and refers to communion with God. This word derives from the Hebrew root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue is devek which likewise comes from the same root). Today I wrote a new Hebrew meditation (Devakut) based on Deut. 10:20, "You shall revere the LORD your God. You shall serve him and cleave to him." I hope you find it helpful, especially as we near the season of teshuvah.


 




Sick with a cold...

08.19.08   I am sick with a cold/flu thing I picked up over the weekend. Your prayers for my healing are appreciated, chaverim....




Parashat Eikev - פרשת עקב

08.18.08   The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is Eikev ("on the heel of," or "because"), the third portion of the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). It begins: "And it will be (v'haya) because (eikev) you heed these judgments, and guard and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers." 


 

Eikev comes from the root akav (עקב, to "take by the heel"), as does the name Ya'akov (Jacob), who had "grabbed the heel" of his twin brother Esau while still in the womb of Rebecca. The first occurrence of this root appears in Genesis 3:15 (the "protoevangelium") where the LORD prophesied that even though the Mashiach's heel (עָקֵב) would be bruised, the entire head (ראשׁ, rosh) of the nachash (satan) would be crushed. B"H: Yeshua is our Serpent Slayer!


 

In the Weekly Torah Reading Cycle, the Haftarot (readings from the Nevi'im, or prophetic writings) usually follow the Torah reading for the week.  However, beginning with the Three Weeks of Sorrow until after the High Holidays, these readings change. First are three Haftarot of Punishment (leading up to Tishah B'Av), then Seven of Consolation (for the seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah), and finally one of Repentance (on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath before Yom Kippur). This week is the second of the seven "haftarot of consolation" that leads up to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.




Tu B'Av (ט"ו באב) - The Final Festival


 

08.15.08   Hebrew letters may be used to express numbers. The word "Tu" (ט"ו) is an acronym for the number 15 - derived from Tet (9) and Vav (6). The phrase "Tu B'Av" indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (which this year coincides with Shabbat Nachamu on August 15/16th), the time of the full moon.


 

The first mention of Tu B'Av (also called chamishah Asar b'Av) is in the Mishnah, where Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted as saying, "There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife... (Taanit, Chapter 4). 

Since Biblical times the 15th of Av has been celebrated as a holiday of love and affection, and in modern Israel it is celebrated as a sort of "Valentine's Day" (though it is a much older and sober holiday that St. Valentine's Day).

Tu B'Av
 

Since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, prophetically Tu B'Av pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), the LORD Yeshua our beloved Mashiach. Click here to learn more about this special holiday of love and romance!


 




I AM ... Your Neighbor

08.14.08  This week's Torah portion (Vaetchanan) repeats Aseret Hadibrot (the Ten Commandments) as they were initially given in Parashat Yitro (Ex. 20:2-17). Though there are some slight language differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions, both begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and both end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD. We must learn to disregard the claims of our ego and cling to the idea of chesed. So who is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day...

Good Samaritan
 

Spirit and truth, chaverim: בְּרוּחַ וּבֶאֱמֶת.  Deuteronomy 4:39 commands us to "know this day and lay it to your heart that the LORD is God alone." The glory of the LORD fills the entire earth (Isa. 6:3).  It's never sufficient to merely know about the LORD. Holy knowledge must be taken into the heart so that the will conforms to the truth....




A New Son will Rise - פרשת ואתחנן


 

08.13.08  Do you know which book of the Bible was Jesus' favorite? Yes, it was Devarim (Deuteronomy). And regarding Devarim, parashat Vaetchanan is one of its richest portions.

The word Vaetchanan (ואתחנן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), meaning to find favor or grace (חֵן). The gematria of Vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (תְּפִלָּה) -- which suggests (according to some of the sages) that Moses pled no less than 515 times to be allowed into the Promised Land. Finally God said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun."

Moses' sin that led to his exile was that he "struck the rock twice" (Chukat). But why was this sin so severely dealt with by the LORD?

Strikes the Rock
 

The rock was a picture of Him who was stricken for His people (Isa. 53:4 and 1 Cor. 10:4), and Moses' second striking suggested that Mashiach would need to be stricken a second time in order to provide the needs of the people.  No! The Rock that was once smitten for the people was now to be spoken to as the Living Rock (1 Cor. 10:4). The entire Exodus was a parable: "As below, so above" (and conversely).  Moses conveyed the wrong message, suggesting that the first striking had been insufficient and that something more was needed.  The price he paid for this disobedience was severe: exile from the Promised Land.  And so it is to this day: those who attempt to add to the work of the LORD by affecting works of their own righteousness will likewise find themselves in a state of exile from grace....

Midrash on the succession of Yehoshua (Joshua)

According to midrash, when the time arrived for Yehoshua to be anointed king, God told Moses it was time for him to die. "If that is what it depends upon," Moses replied, "I would rather be a student of Yehoshua and he be my teacher." Said God: "If you so desire, well and good." Moses then "covered himself" and went to Yehoshua's tent where Yehoshua was teaching Torah. When it was discovered that Moses was there, all the people exclaimed to Yehoshua, "What is this? You sit while your teacher Moses stands?" Yehoshua then tore his garments and wept, saying, "My master, what are you doing here?" Then all the people implored Moses to teach them Torah.

Moses replied that he was no longer permitted to teach the people Torah, but the people prevented him from leaving and pressed upon him. Finally, the Heavenly Voice called out: "Learn Torah from Yehoshua." The people then were quieted while Yehoshua taught with Moses sitting at his right side and Elazar at his left.

After Yehoshua's address, the people came to Moses and asked him to explain what Yehoshua had said. Moses, however, replied, "I myself do not know."  At that hour, Moses finally prayed: "Master of the Universe, the time has now come that I wish to die."

Some time afterward, Moses was told from Heaven, "One more hour to your death." He began to bless each tribe separately... Then he was told, "One half-hour to your death," and he began asking forgiveness from the leaders of Israel who in turn asked Moses to forgive them. Moses was then told, "One minute to your death." He then said, ברוך שׁמו חי וקים לעולם ועד, "Blessed is His Name, who lives and abides eternally." He then asked Israel to remember him after they came into the Promised Land. Moses was then told, "One half-minute more to your death." He then put his hands upon his heart and said to Israel: "These hands, which received the Torah, will be buried in the earth." And then his soul left him. The LORD Himself buried Moses in Moab, but no one knows the location.


Yehoshua as a Type of Mashiach

Despite the foregoing midrash, what's important here is that Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) is seen as a "type" or foreshadowing of Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), the "new anointed son" who would lead Israel into the fullness of God's promises.


 

Yehoshua was Moses' faithful companion at Sinai (Ex. 24:13) and overseer of the "Tent of Meeting" (אהל מועד), taking every opportunity to be near God's presence (Ex. 33:11). He was a capable commander of the armies of Israel who regularly routed the enemy in battle (Ex. 17:9, etc.). Yehoshua was humble and of impeccable moral character, a true servant of Israel filled with Holy Spirit (Num. 27:18). Before the catastrophe of the Sin of the Spies, Moses renamed him from Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) to Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), appending the letter Yod to make his name begin with a divine prefixive (יָהּ־).  Yehoshua (i.e., Joshua) and Yeshua (i.e., Jesus) come from the same Hebrew root yasha (ישׁע) meaning "salvation" (in the Greek LXX, Joshua is spelled Ιησους, the same spelling for Jesus in the New Testament). Yehoshua was steadfast in his faith (Num. 32:12) and willing to be "despised and rejected of men" rather than appease the mob...

Both Yehoshua and Yeshua were faithful leaders of Israel (Deut. 1:37-38; Matt. 2:6); both were directly ordained by God; both appointed 12 men (Josh. 4:4; Mark 3:16-19); both led the people of God to the Promised Land and engaged in warfare for the Kingdom of Heaven; both performed various miracles; both allotted the inheritance of the LORD to God's people (Deut. 1:38, 3:28), both circumcised the people (Yehoshua at Gilgal; Yeshua in the Spirit); both married a Gentile bride (Yehoshua married Rahab, Yeshua married the faithful of the nations), both signified salvation by means of the "scarlet cord," and so on.  Moses was the "lawgiver" who was unable to give rest (salvation) to Israel; Yehoshua led the way after the great lawgiver died. The people could not enter the land of promise until Moses was dead (see Rom. 7:1-4).

Another midrash says that when Yehoshua was born, no one took note, but when he died, all of Israel took note. Nonetheless, the Israelites did not mourn for him properly. One was busy with his vineyard, the other with his field, yet another with his coal. "The Holy One, Blessed be He, therefore sought to make the whole world quake" (Midrash Shmuel 23:7). This is also an apt description of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, the Suffering Servant, whose birth went unnoticed, but His death and resurrection indeed shook the world!

Whitehead Carving
 

In Aramaic (the language of the Talmud), the word Nun means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. The first mention of the word is in Exodus 33:11 in reference to Yehoshua, the "son of Nun." Yehoshua, the one who succeeded Moses and was able to enter the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Mashiach, blessed be He...




Shabbat Nachamu  - שבת נחמו

08.11.08
  The "Three Weeks of Sorrow" are now over and the Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av is called שבת נחמו (Shabbat Nachamu) the "Sabbath of Comfort," based on the Haftarah reading of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..."  The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both of the Temples that were destroyed.  Thematically, this shabbat marks a time of joy over our anticipated comfort: Despite our present tribulations, in the end the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.

Moses Pleads
 

The Torah portion for the Shabbat Nachamu is Parashat Vaetchanan (פרשת ואתחנן). This portion of Torah includes some of the most fundamental texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot (please see the links for each of these topics in the commentary for the Torah reading).  In addition, this portion includes Moses' prediction of the galut (exile) and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the latter days).

On a personal note, we are still in need of prayer.  My fibromyalgia is really keeping me from sleep, and I am also dealing with asthma issues. Thank you, chaverim...




Josiah's Upsherin (First Haircut)

08.08.08
  Our beloved three-year-old son, Josiah, had his very first first haircut today (called an upsherin, אפשערן). Here are some before/after pictures, chaverim:


 

Among the Chasidic community, upsherin marks a boy's entry into the commencement of Torah study. A kippah (yarmulke) and tzitzits can now be worn and the boy will be taught to read the Hebrew alphabet.


Your prayers for Josiah are appreciated!
 

On another note, some of you have been kind enough to write me and ask how the job search is going. Well, I have sent out resumes, emails, etc., and we are fervently praying for God's direction, but so far ... nothing. Nonetheless we are not discouraged, since Yeshua told us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (מלכוּת אלהים וצדקתוֹ), and all the daily cares of this world would be provided for by the Lord (Matt. 6:33). As King David wrote: "In the time of trouble he shall hide me in his pavilion: in the secret of his tabernacle shall he hide me; he shall set me up upon a rock" (Psalm 27:4). God will never forsake us, chaverim (Psalm 37:25, Matt. 28:20, Heb. 13:5, etc.).

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim.




Tishah B'Av - תשׁעה באב


 

We are nearing the end of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow," a 21 day period of national mourning for the destruction of the Jewish Temple. The Sabbath immediately preceding Tishah B'Av (the Ninth of Av) is called Shabbat Chazon (שבת הזון - the "Sabbath of vision"), based on the Haftarah reading (Isaiah 1:1-27) that gives a vision of the coming destruction of the Holy Temple. It is common during this time to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst.

 

Note: The fast of Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, August 9th at sundown. For more information, click here.




Sinat Chinam and Tishah B'Av


 

08.07.08  Tishah B'Av remembers the destruction of the two Holy Temples of Judaism.  According to the Talmud (Yoma 9b), the first Temple was destroyed (586 BC) because of the sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed, but the Second Temple was destroyed (70 AD) because of what the sages call "baseless hatred."  This baseless hatred (called sinat chinam) is considered a more serious offence than the earlier sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple: It took 70 years to rebuild the First Temple, but Jews are still waiting to rebuild the Second Temple, even after more than 1,900 years....

    Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed. But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together. (Talmud: Yoma 9b)
     

Though sinat chinam (שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם) is often translated as "baseless hatred," it literally means "hatred of [their] grace (חֵן, chen)." In essence, then, sinat chinam is the rejection of God's grace. But since Yeshua the Mashiach is the embodiment of all of God's grace (John 1:17, etc.), sinat chinam represents a rejection of Him...  Is it any wonder, then, that the Mashiach foretold the destruction of the Second Temple based on Israel's rejection of Him (Matt. 24:2)?

Recall the context, chaverim.  During His "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11), Yeshua was greeted by the cries of Jewish Passover pilgrims: "Hosanna!"  This word is actually the phrase "hoshiah na" (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now." The Jewish pilgrims were singing Psalm 118:25-26 and applying it to the greater Son of David, Yeshua, who had come:


 

Matthew notes that hoshiah na was addressed to Yeshua Himself, "to the [greater] son of David" (לְבֶן־דָּוִד), thereby indicating that the Messianic Hope was presented to Israel (Matt. 21:9). For a flickering moment the proper praise was given to Yeshua as Mashiach ben David, though of course He had come to them as Mashiach ben Yosef, their Suffering Servant, the One of whom the prophet Isaiah clearly foretold


 

Immediately after his "triumphal entry," Yeshua went directly to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "money changers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:12). After this the blind and the lame were able to enter the Temple -- and Yeshua healed them. 

Despite performing miraculous works of healing in the Temple that day -- including opening the eyes of the blind and causing the disabled to walk -- the kohanim (chief priests) and soferim (scribes) were "indignant" at His actions and therefore sought to put Him to death (Mark 11:18).

In the evening Yeshua left the Temple for Bethany, the home town of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, where He stayed the night. The following morning He walked back to Jerusalem, and being hungry, saw a fig tree along the way. When He saw that the fig tree was without any fruit, Yeshua pronounced these words: "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once (Matt. 21:18-19).

He then returned to the Temple where he was once again accosted by the religious establishment who questioned his authority. Yeshua turned the tables on his accusers by giving them a dilemma to solve: the baptism of John: was it from God or from man?  Unwilling to answer him, Yeshua then prophesied the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21:28-32), indicating that despite their supposed status as the "good sons" of Israel, even tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of God before them. He went on to say that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to a people producing its fruits" (Matt. 21:43).

The Pharisees and the Sadducees then attempted to "entangle him in his talk" and sent their disciples to him to pose tricky questions. Yeshua, however, exposed their "baseless hatred" -- their sinat chinam - and confounded them all (see Matt. 22). Beginning in Matthew 23, Yeshua then began his denuciation of the "scribes and the Pharisees," pointing out their hypocrisy and their unclean motives.  חֲנֵפִים אַךְ־אוֹי לָכֶם סוֹפְרִים וּפְרוּשִׁים (akh-oy lachem soferim u'perushim, chanafim): "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! (Matt. 23:13-ff).


 

After Yeshua ended his denunciation, he lamented for Jerusalem: 

    O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord' (בּרוּךְ הבּא בּשׁם יהוה). - Matt. 23:37-39
     

After this, Yeshua left the Temple for good and never looked back. In Matthew 24 Yeshua's disciples made a last-ditch appeal for Jewish tradition and ceremony by pointing out the glory of the Second Temple. "Look at these beautiful buildings of the Temple, Lord..." It was then that Yeshua pronounced judgment on the Temple and the Levitical system, predicted the Roman destruction of the Temple, and so on (Matt. 24:1-2). This was apparently unfathomable to the disciples, who apparently still considered Yeshua to be a "reformer" of Temple Judaism, perhaps the one who would restore it so that the Kingdom of God would be finally manifest upon the earth. Yeshua went on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the promised Days of Messiah (יְמֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), otherwise known as the Messianic Kingdom.  He foretold that one day praise would rightly be given to Him as Israel's True King, but only after the travail of the coming Great Tribulation upon the earth. Only after the Jewish people cry out to Him as their LORD (Matt. 23:39) would the Kingdom of God be established in Zion.

Please note that there were actually TWO separate cleansings of the Temple recorded in the New Testament. The earlier cleansing is described in John 2:13-22 and the later one is described in (both) Mark 11:15-19 and Matthew 21:1-16.  In Mark's account of the second cleansing, Yeshua actually stopped the "carrying of the ritual vessels" -- meaning He LITERALLY stopped the Temple sacrifices of Israel. Mark 11:16 states: "And he would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the Temple":

    And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves;  And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city.
     

Yeshua certainly knew the Temple and its supposed beauty.  He razed it because Israel forsook His greater sacrifice. The Jewish sages had it half right.  It was indeed because of sinat chinam that the Second Temple was destroyed, but this was most clearly revealed in the rejection of Yeshua as Israel's King and Savior....




These are "the Bees"

08.04.08
  Parashat Devarim is read every year on the Shabbat immediately before Tishah B'Av.  At the beginning of this portion, Moses gives words of musar (rebuke or correction) regarding the Sin of the Spies. It was this sin of unbelief, you may recall, that led to the LORD's decree that the generation that left Egypt would not enter into the Promised Land.  The New Testament calls this defining moment the "provocation" or "rebellion" (παραπικρασμος, Heb. 3:15-4:1). According to the Talmud, the LORD decreed that this date (the 9th of Av) would be one of perpetual mourning, foretelling the time when the people would grieve over the Temple that was destroyed in their midst.

In the midrash Pesikta Rabbati (פסיקתא רבתי) it is noted that Moses began his last book with the phrase eleh ha-devarim ("these are the words") because the Torah is compared to a bee (דְּבוֹרָה) whose honey is sweet but whose sting is poisonous (the word devarim (דְּבָרִים) looks like the word for bees (דְבוֹרִים)). The words of Torah give joy and sweetness to those who heed it (Psalm 19:10), but is a deadly poison to those who do not. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb. 10:31), and as Yeshua said, "from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him" (Luke 19:26): הַמֵּבִין יָבִין

Lamentations 5:21
 

Some of the Chazal (sages of the Talmud) suggest that we should only offer musar (correction) to others when we are close to our own day of death, just as Moses waited to the end of his life to offer rebuke to the children of Israel. We do this in order to avoid the dreadful sin of lashon hara (evil speech).  This is why the Book of Devarim begins, "These are the words that Moses spoke," suggesting a distinction between his words and the words of the LORD. If we offer rebuke to others prematurely, we run the risk of making people feel shameful and discouraged, rather than encouraged to perform teshuvah and return to the LORD. Constructive criticism given at the end of one's life, however, does not induce shame and will retain itself in the loving memory of the one rebuked.





Parashat Devarim - פרשת דברים

08.02.08
   The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is Devarim ("words"), the first portion of the last book of the Torah. The name of the book comes from the Hebrew phrase אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים (eleh ha-devarim, "these are the words...") found in the first verse. In our English Bibles, Devarim is known as Deuteronomy, a Greek word (δευτερονομιον) that means "repetition of the Torah" (from the Hebrew phrase מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh ha-Torah in Deut. 17:18).


 




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