June 2008 Updates
Spiritual Acoustics -
avoiding esoteric nonsense
06.30.08 Over the past few years there has been an increasing interest in the Proto-Canaanite cuneiform that is surmised to predate and underlie ancient Hebrew. Is there any value in studying these ancient Proto-Canaanite symbols? Can we find "deep" or "esoteric" meaning in the Hebrew Scriptures by studying ancient Hebrew pictographs? In this brief article, I survey some of the linguistic and exegetical issues....
Messiah and New Creation
06.27.08 While adding some new entries to the Hebrew Glossary pages today, I read something in Midrash Rabbah (Exodus Rabbah 30) that provides additional textual evidence that the coming of Mashiach Yeshua would herald new creation for humanity.
When God created the "generations" of the heavens and the earth, the Hebrew word toldot (תולדות) is used (Gen. 2:4). This refers to created order before the sin and fall of Adam and Eve. After the fall of Adam, however, the word is spelled differently in the Hebrew text, with a missing letter Vav (i.e., as תלדות). Thereafter, each time the phrase "these are the generations of" occurs in the Scriptures (a formulaic way of enumerating the generations of the heads of families), the word is spelled "defectively," with the missing Vav (ו). The Vav was "lost." However, when we come to Ruth 4:18 the phrase: 'These are the generations of Perez' is spelled with the missing Vav restored (i.e., as תולדות). In all of Scripture, the only two places where we see the restored spelling is in Genesis 2:4 and Ruth 4:18, which leads to the question as to what connection there might be between the creation of the heavens and the earth, the fall of mankind, and the creation of the family line of Perez?
The name "Perez" (פרץ) means "breach" (from paratz, meaning "to break through"). God was going to "break through" the families of mankind in order to restore creation back to its original intent. The letter Vav represents man, and the very first Vav in the Torah is associated with the "first and last man" as seen in Genesis 1:1:
The Restored Vav is a picture of the Mashiach who would would descend from the "generations" of the line of Perez. The genealogy of the descendants of Perez reveals that the promised abolition of death through the work of his descendant the Messiah was drawing near. Just as the original Vav was lost through the first Adam and his sin, so the Vav is restored the obedience of the "Second Adam," the Mashiach Yeshua.
Shabbat Shalom, chaverim.
06.27.08 Many people think of "freedom" as the ability to do what they want, when they want to, and according to their own immediate gratification. "Doing your own thing" is the catch phrase of those who want to be able to pursue their own desires (i.e., lusts) without resorting to any source of moral or spiritual authority...
This worldly freedom is not true freedom, however. Yeshua told us that "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin" and went on to say that "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom is moral and spiritual rather than physical. Freedom has to do with the ability of the will to choose according to the light of moral and spiritual truth. This freedom, however, is constrained by the nature or quality of being itself. In other words, freedom is a product of heart that acts according to its nature.
For more on this subject, click here.
Puzzles about Freedom
06.27.08 I added some additional information about logic, paradox and God's omniscience as a postscript to my recent Hebrew meditation (Paradox and Presence) today... Click here for additional information.
The Reciprocity of Prayer
06.26.08 One of the Names of God is El Rachum – the Compassionate God (the word rechem means womb, see Deut. 4:31, Isa. 49:15). Practicing compassion is therefore one of the middot ha-lev (qualities of heart) that should mark our lives -- especially in light of the rachamanut (compassion) given to us through Yeshua the Mashiach (Col. 3:13, Eph. 5:2).
Proverbs 11:27 states: "He who seeks good [for others] seeks [God's] favor, but he who searches out evil [in others] upon him shall it come." The sages remark that he who prays for another and is in need of the same thing is answered first (Talmud: Bava Kamma). For example, when the prophet Job prayed for his friends, God restored Job's own fortunes (Job 42:10). There is always a shared blessing when we pray for others, as King David said in Psalm 35:13: "may what I prayed for happen to me!" (literally, "may it return upon my own breast" [תפִלָּתִי עַל־חֵיקִי תָשׁוּב]).
This truth works both ways. When we seek the good of others, we find God's favor, but when we show indifference or apathy, it likewise shall "return upon our own breast."
Make His will as your own,
so that He will regard your will as His own (Pirkei Avot 2:4a)
Indeed, the very "law of Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is to bear one another's burdens (the word for burden is βαρος ("weight," from which we derive the word barometer). This same word is used in 2 Cor. 4:17 to refer to the "weight of glory" that we will experience in the world to come. Bearing one another's burdens reveals the glory of the One who bore our sin and shame at Moriah (1 Pet. 2:24).
Parashat Korach - פרשת קורח
06.23.08 Last week's Torah portion (Shelach) related the "sin of the ten spies" and the divine decree that the generation of Israelites rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die while in the desert. In this week's portion (Korach), the hard truth of their condition began to sink in, and the people bemoaned their fate and rebelled further by attempting to overthrow the Lord's designated leadership and return to Egypt. This rebellion was instigated and organized by Moses' cousin Korach, who - along with co-conspirators from the tribe of Rueben - was swiftly judged and put to death, thereby vindicating the Aaronic priesthood and Moses' leadership of Israel.
Note: I am currently rebuilding a large section of the web site due to problems with my web development software... You prayers are appreciated, since this will take me days of work to complete. Thank you, chaverim.
Reaping the Whirlwind
of Postmodern Despair...
Behold the storm of the LORD! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of the LORD will not turn back until he has executed and accomplished the intentions of his mind. In the latter days you will understand this (Jer. 30:23-24).
Note: The following update is philosophical in perspective; ignore this entry if you do not find it helpful.
06.23.08 One of the key characteristics of the "postmodern world" (i.e., the spirit of this age) is a rejection of the idea that objective truth exists. Truth is now regarded as a function of (political/social) power, and the ulterior motive ("subtext") for making a truth claim is simply the raw desire to control a set of outcomes... According to the disciples of postmodernism, "reality" is always more than the sum of its descriptions (regardless of how useful some of these might be), and there is therefore no final correspondence between a given description and a particular set of events in the world. In short, no one can claim that "transcendent, objective truth" exists which is binding on all people and cultures, especially in the realm of values and ethics (no one, that is, except these theorists themselves who excuse themselves from the implications of their own theory).
Now postmodern ideology is both hypocritical and self-stultifying. It is hypocritical since, as I already mentioned, its claim that objective truth is unknowable is itself put forth as a statement of objective truth, and it is only by virtue of hypocrisy that those who claim such can do such with a straight face. It is also stultifying because we intuitively know that objective truth exists. Our use of ordinary language ALWAYS assumes the "logical laws" of identity and non-contradiction. Deny these functions of language and we're (literally) "done talking," since words will no longer have referents.... Logic is no more the invention of mind than is the law of gravity or cause and effect. Similarly, we intuitively understand that object moral truth exists. For example, it is intuitively obvious that torturing babies for sadistic pleasure is always -- in every possible circumstance -- wrong. That is, you cannot postulate a "possible world" wherein the practice of torturing babies for pleasure is considered a morally acceptable world.... If you attempt to deny this you've opted out and left the realm of moral discussion altogether.... So there you have it, QED: objective truth about the "is" and the "ought," the factual and the moral, are simply inescapable for human beings.
The postmodern mindset is a product of despair that can be traced back to the work of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (d. 1804) and his "critical philosophy." Kant's so-called "Copernican revolution" left mankind confronted with an unknowable ultimate reality, a noumenal realm that is impenetrable to the operation of the human mind. All we can directly apprehend is phenomena (i.e., our own perspectives and perceptions) and therefore ultimate truth and meaning are literally based on fantasy (a fantasy which Kant nonetheless tried to rescue by means of postulates of "practical reason"). Kant's influence was enormous, and his legacy still haunts the world. From Kant's dualism sprang the pantheistic mind of Hegel, the mundane mind of Karl Marx, the defiant mind of Nietzsche, the practical mind of the American pragmatists, the absurd mind of French atheistic existentialists, the mystical mind of Wittgenstein, and the offended mind of Foucault and the deconstructionists. And here we are today, inheritors of this pagan (and entirely Greek-based) ideational tradition. Today's "postmodern man" is lost within his own private descriptions of life...
Tragically, the influence of postmodernism can also be seen in various expressions of the Christian Church. For example, the charismatic movement in the United States began at about the time that Kant's legacy had percolated down through culture in the guise of American pragmatism. Each successive "wave" of the "spirit" (i.e., new trends within the charismatic movement) can likewise be correlated with other waves of postmodern despair. In the 1960's, for example, atheistic existentialism became part of American pop culture and absurdism became the prevailing world spirit in the West. It's not a coincidence that this is when irrationalism started to become more "mainstream" in the Christian world...
It is important to remember that God doesn't share His glory with those who profane His Name. The Name of God is not subject to the spirit of the age and its linguistic conventions but rather represents His character and reputation. He is looking for those to worship Him in the spirit of truth -- for those who want to share His heart and passion for a lost and dying world... The Father's business is to save the world through the ministry of His Son Yeshua the Mashiach (Matt. 28:19-20).
The way of Yeshua is always hidden in this world -- it is a life of sacrifice, of struggle, and quiet confidence and joy. What man esteems and what God esteems are two different things. God invariably uses the lowly, the humble, and the weak to display His glory and power. God is not revealed by Cathedrals with ornate priesthoods and elaborate rituals any more than he is revealed by the hucksterism and nonsense shouted from televangelists or revivalists (nor, for that matter is He revealed in the convoluted music of J.S. Bach or in the arid theologizing found in many "Protestant" sermons). The Good Shepherd leads his sheep beside still waters...
Signs and wonders are ALWAYS ambiguous. Yeshua pointed this out in His parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Even if a person should encounter someone literally risen from the dead it wouldn't suffice to impart true faith. Indeed, Yeshua had stern words for those who wanted Him for the sake of "signs and wonders." He called them an "adulterous generation" -- because they were not interested in God's passion but rather in their own (Matt. 12:29; 16:4).
Yeshua told us that the "great" in the Kingdom of God are those willing to be the servant of all (Mark 9:35). Those who truly give Him glory -- who do not profane His Name -- will live in humility and will habitually ascribe glory to the Person and work of Yeshua the Messiah. They will agree with Paul's words: "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Gal. 6:14). The Holy Spirit, whom Yeshua explicitly called the "Spirit of Truth," always brings glory to its right focal point (John 16:13-14). We are called to live the "crucified life" and be filled with truth, chaverim.
New Hebrew Meditation
06.22.08 I wrote a new Hebrew meditation (Paradox and Presence) that briefly looks at Psalm 139:4: "For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether." This great Psalm of David is essentially about searching -- God's search for man and man's search for God....
Unlike some other Hebrew Meditations I've written, I decided to add some theological reflection regarding the apparent dilemma between God's foreknowledge (omniscience) and human freedom as a postscript on the page... Reflection on the doctrine of God's omniscience (like other essential doctrines of our faith) leads to paradox and tension within our human understanding (by means of which we are deepened in our surrender to the LORD and His will for our lives). This paradox is restated in Philippians 2:12-13: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (your part), for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (God's part). As Yeshayahu ha-navi (the prophet Isaiah) wrote: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).
Web Development Problems
06.18.08 Shalom Chaverim. Sometimes it seems like I never get a break from various technical problems I encounter while developing this site. I must spend half my time coding and fixing things rather than writing and sharing insights of Scripture with you. The software I am using to develop this site is having some database issues, probably because Hebrew4Christians has grown so large over the years. We now have literally thousands of pages of text, innumerable Hebrew graphics and audio clips, and countless free downloads. Sadly, I am getting database errors (and application crashes) whenever I try to update certain parts of the site -- in particular, the Scripture sections of the site.
So again I am earnestly asking for your prayers. This is undoubtedly a matter of spiritual warfare, so I humbly ask those of you who believe in this work to stand in the gap and call upon the L-rd Yeshua for grace and help. We are in this battle together... Thank you.
Parashat Shelach Lekha - פרשת שלח־לך
06.16.08 This week's portion of Torah (Shelach Lekha) primarily concerns the "Sin of the Spies." Instead of leaving Sinai to immediately take possession of the Promised Land, the Israelites first called for a "spying expedition" - a tragic error that would result in the LORD's decree that the entire generation that was rescued from Egypt would die in the desert. Only Joshua and Caleb were spared this judgment from Heaven.
How did Joshua and Caleb escape this great national tragedy? A passage from the Talmud (Tractate Sotah 34b) states that Moses foresaw the treachery and faithlessness of the spies (meraglim) and therefore renamed Hoshea (הושׁע) to Yehoshua (יהושׁע) -- in order to remind him that YHVH (י) must always come first. Another passage from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 107a) states that the extra Yod came from Sarai (שׂרי), who had "given up" the Yod to form the name Sarah (שׂרה). In this story, the Yod appeared before the LORD and complained about being deleted from this righteous woman of valor. The LORD, however, reassured Yod that the day would come when it would become the first letter of a great tzaddik's name (i.e., Yehoshua).
Also according to the Talmud, Caleb, who did not receive a special blessing from Moses, separated himself from the spies and went to Chevron (Hebron) to the cave of Machpelah where he prayed for protection according to the merits of the Patriarchs who were buried there (Sotah 34b). Note that the singular verb is used in Num. 13:22: [ויבא עד־חברוֹן, "and he came to Hebron"], which the midrash says refers to God Himself who met Caleb there). The Torah sages further note that Caleb is called the "son of Yefuneh", which means [a face] "turned away," suggesting that he turned away from the evil schemes of the other spies.
The Midrash (Tze'enah Urenah) notes that this Torah portion opens with God's command to send spies: "Send for yourself men that they may spy" (Num. 13:2) and correlates this act of sending with Proverbs 21:31: "The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but salvation comes from the LORD." The midrash goes on to say that a person should do as much as possible (in the realm of human effort) yet his heart should rely entirely upon God for the outcome (Prov. 16:9). Yet another Midrash states, however, that the sin of Israel was that they sent spies when they ought to have followed the Shekhinah cloud that was leading them in the desert. According to this account, Moses was afraid to speak out against the people, and the LORD answered, "Send for yourself" - in other words, "do what you want, Moses." Yet some other sages note that "send for yourself" meant "send them for your own benefit." Since Moses was decreed to die before entering the Promised Land, if the spies had sinned and Israel was turned back, Moses would live for additional years as Israel's shepherd. Two sages, three opinions, chaverim....
Rashi notes that the sin of the spies essentially was one of lashon hara -- speaking evil by producing an evil report -- in this case, speaking against the nation of Israel (or more precisely, against God Himself, since His promise to give the land to the people was not held in sufficient esteem -- despite the miracles the Exodus generation had witnessed). The spies terrified the people by referring to the "children of the giants" (יְלִדֵי הָעֲנָק) and the heavy fortifications of the cities in the Promised Land. Essentially the spies claimed that "the people are stronger than God" (the phrase כִּי־חָזָק הוּא מִמֶּנּוּ can be understood in this sense), and the Israelites wept all that night and wished for death (Num. 14:2).
The Midrash says that since the people wept for no reason that night, God would provide them with reason enough. It was the Ninth of Av, and God decreed this to be a night of perpetual weeping. "On this night you shall cry for your Temple, which shall be destroyed on this night" (Midrash Rabbah).
The midrash goes on to comment that God did not immediately destroy the adult generation of the Israelites for the sake of His reputation, "lest the enemy say that the LORD does not have the power to bring them into the land." Moses' appeal on behalf of Israel was also based on avoiding chillul HaShem (desecration of God's Name): Wouldn't the Egyptians likewise think that God did not have the power to bring the people into the land if He should kill them in the desert? (Num. 14:12-14).
A Story about the Power of the Tongue
Regarding the power of the tongue, the story is told of a king whose son was very sick. The doctors told the king that only the milk from a lioness would save the prince, but how could such be had? A man approached the king and told him that if the king gave him ten goats, he would get the desired milk. The king agreed and promised the man great honor and riches if he succeeded. Thereafter, each day the man took one goat into the lion's den and offered it to them for food. Day by day passed, and the lions began to trust the man's presence. By the tenth day, the lions had gained enough trust in him enough to allow him to milk the lionesses.
Later that night the man had a strange dream: An argument broke out as to which of his bodily organs was responsible for this great success. First the hands claimed credit, then the eyes, and so on. Finally, the tongue said, "I caused this, for I asked the king for ten goats." The other body parts scorned the tongue's suggestion, but it replied, "You shall soon learn that everything depends on me."
The following day, among great pomp and ceremony, the man presented the milk to the king. When he approached the throne, however the words tumbling from the man's tongue were, "I present to you, O Majesty, the dog's milk which you requested!" Infuriated, the king sentenced the man to die and threw him into prison. That night he dreamed yet again and the tongue said to the man's organs, "You see now that I am greater then the rest of you? Because of me you shall all be punished." The other organs all admitted that indeed the tongue was the greatest and appointed it their leader. "Just save us from death!" they implored.
The next day, as the man was being lead out to be hanged, he insisted that he could indeed cure the king's son. When he explained to the king that he had misspoken, the king tested the milk and gave it to his son, who then immediately recovered. The man was spared and was made a great noble (adapted from Midrash Shochar Tov).
A Note about Tzitzit
This portion of Torah also gives the commandment regarding tzitzit or "fringes" (Num. 15:38ff; see also Deut 22:12; Matt. 9:20; 14:36; 23:5). Rashi notes that the word tzitzit
(ציצת) has the numerical value of 600 (in its Mishnaic spelling - which adds another Yod to the Torah's spelling) which, when combined with the five knots of eight threads yields a total of 613, the supposed number of the commandments (taryag mitzvot) listed in the Torah as enumerated by some of the Jewish sages:
But what about the Hebrew value of the word (ציצת) that adds only to 590? Some of the sages have said that since the word לציצת appears once, and since Lamed (ל) equals 30, it "makes up for" the three times in the Torah when tzitzit is spelled without the Yod... The four corners (of the tallit) represent the four expressions of redemption from Egypt: "I will take you out; I will save you; I will redeem you; and I will take you as my own."
Are there Two Torahs?
06.13.08 During Shavuot we revisited the miracle of mattan Torah -- the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, but you might be surprised to know that Rabbinical Judaism believes that two Torahs were given to Moses at that time -- the written Torah and the oral Torah. To help us sort through some of the issues, I wrote a brief essay that considers aspects of the oral Torah and its potential significance to us as followers of Yeshua, the Mashiach (click here to read).
06.10.08 I stayed up all night studying Torah and the miracle of revelation given to Israel at Sinai for Erev Shavuot. I also enjoyed seudat Shavuot and enjoyed a time of prayer and good fellowship with my in-laws.
Wishing you great joy in the truth and revelation of the Mashiach Yeshua and fulness of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh, chaverim.
Parashat Beha'alotekha - פרשת בהעלתך
06.09.08 I updated the weekly Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Beha'alotekha).
The Hebrew word beha'alotekha comes from the root alah (עלה) meaning to ascend or "go up," though in the causative stem (such as the hiphil, as in this case), it can also mean to "offer." The olah offering (same root) is a whole burnt offering in which the sacrificial animal is turned to smoke that ascends heavenward.
Midrash states that Aharon (Aaron) was completely humble in his office as the first Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of Israel. It is said that his task to light the lamps of the menorah was never routine for him, but he remained reverent every time he performed this avodah.
This seemingly modest act of faithful service again indicates that what man esteems and what God esteems are very often two entirely different things. After all, the light of the menorah was not visible to those of the camp of Israel since it shined within the confines of sacred chamber of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Only the priests who served could behold this light; otherwise it remained hidden from the eyes of man...
There is a "transposition" of values, a "holy irony," in the realm of the Spirit. From God's perspective that which considered great in the eyes of men is considered of little account, and that which is considered insignificant in the eyes of men is considered of great importance (Luke 9:48). The wisdom of this world (i.e., the pragmatic, the self-promoting egotism, etc.) is folly before God (1 Cor. 1:20, 3:19). Even the Mashiach Yeshua emptied Himself and was disguised as a lowly servant (εαυτον εκενωσεν μορφην δουλου). Unlike those various systems of religion that attach merit and status to those who have attained respectable levels of personal sanctity, those who are called great in the Kingdom of Heaven (מלכוּת השׁמים) will be recognized as the servants of all (Mark 9:35; 10:44).
Z'man matan Torateinu
06.08.08 Shavuot celebrates z'man matan Torateinu: the "Time of the giving of our Torah." It is customary to attend services on Shavuot to hear the Ten Commandments recited and to rededicate ourselves to live faithfully before the LORD.
Traditional Jewish minhagim (customs) include hearing a liturgical poem (piyut) written by Rabbi Meir recited at synagogue (called the Akdamut); re-reading the Book of Ruth (because it shows Ruth's acceptance of the Torah); decorating the home and synagogue with greenery (because it symbolizes new life); and recommitting ourselves to study the Torah and the truth of God's word. On Erev Shavuot we light the holiday candles, recite the holiday blessing (Yom Tov), recite the Shehechayanu blessing, eat a good meal, and study Torah late into the night (a custom called Tikkun leil Shavuot).
Timeline of Giving the Torah
There is a connection between Passover, the Omer Count, and the holiday of Shavuot that is rooted in the redemptive actions of the LORD God of Israel. According to various Jewish sources, the basic timeline for the giving of the Torah at Sinai is as follows:
- Nisan 1 - The Start of the Sacred Year
On the first of Nisan, two weeks before the Exodus, the LORD showed Moses the new moon and commenced the divine lunar calendar. This is called Rosh Chodashim.
- Nisan 15 - Passover
Two weeks later, God was ready to deliver the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. Earlier that evening the Israelites kept the Passover Seder and sprinkled the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. At the stroke of midnight of Nisan 15 the LORD sent the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. This was the breaking point for Pharaoh and Israel was "permitted" to leave Egypt. 600,000 adult males (plus the woman and children and a "mixed multitude") left Egypt and began the journey to Sinai under the leadership of Moses.
- Nisan 18 - Pharaoh Pursues
Three days after the Exodus, and regardless of the plagues and devastation that befell Egypt, Pharaoh mobilized his army and pursued the Jews to bring them back. Perhaps this was the result of Pharoah realizing that the "three-day feast to the LORD" in the wilderness was a permanent escape from his clutches....
- Nisan 20 - Pharaoh traps the Israelites
Pharaoh's army trapped the Jewish people against the Sea of Reeds. The shechinah glory of the LORD intervened and blocked them from attack.
- Nisan 21 - the parting of the Sea
The following day the LORD commanded Moses to order the Israelites to march directly into the waters of the sea. Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Judah was the first to jump into the sea; the water split, and "the children of Israel walked across on the dry land in the midst of the sea." When the Egyptians attempted to follow after them, the waters rushed back and drowned them. The Israelites celebrated their deliverance with the "Song at the Sea" in praise to the LORD.
- Nisan 24 - the first Shabbat celebrated
Two days later the Israelites arrived in Marah where they received the commandment to observe Shabbat.
- Iyyar 15 - Manna is given
One month after the Exodus, God provided bread from heaven (manna) which sustained the Israelites during their years of wandering through the desert. In light of the divine provision of food, the commandment not to collect manna on Shabbat is restated (on Iyyar 22).
- Iyyar 23 - Water from the Rock
38 days after the Exodus the Israelites arrived at Rephidim, a desert area. The people complained that they would die of thirst but the LORD commanded Moses to strike a rock with his staff to produce water.
- Sivan 1 - Arrival at Sinai
The Israelites finally arrived at the desert of Sinai (Ex. 19:1) where Moses was initially commissioned. Note that the question of whether the new moon of Sivan (Rosh Chodesh Sivan) fell on Sunday or Monday is undecided (Talmud, Shabbat 86b).
- Sivan 2 - The Day of Distinction, "Yom HaMeyuchas"
On this day Moses ascended Mount Sinai and God told him to tell the people of Israel: "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (Exodus 19:4-6).
- Sivan 3-5 - the three days of preparation
On Sivan 3 the LORD instructed Moses to "set boundaries" for the people around the mountain in preparation for the giving of the Torah three days later.
- Sivan 4 - Moses writes the Torah
According to midrash, on Sivan 4 Moses wrote down the first 68 chapters of the Torah, from Genesis 1:1 to the account of the giving of the Torah in Exodus 19. This is unlikely, but it is part of Jewish tradition, nonetheless.
- Sivan 5 - the Covenant offered
On Sivan 5 Moses made a covenant with the Jewish people at the foot of Mount Sinai at which the people declared, "All that the LORD has spoken, we shall do and hear" (Ex. 24:7) -- pledging to "do" also before they "hear" the terms of the covenant.
- Sivan 6 - The giving of the Torah
On the 6th Sivan, exactly seven weeks after the Exodus, the LORD revealed Himself on Mount Sinai. All of Israel (600,000 heads of households and their families) heard the LORD speak the first two of the Ten Commandments. Following this initial revelation, Moses re-ascended Sinai for 40 days, to receive the remainder of the Torah. This date coincides exactly with the festival of Shavuot.
The Contemporary Date of Shavuot
Later on, after the Israelites had settled into the Promised Land, Shavuot began to take on other significance. Unlike the other mo'edim (holidays) given in the Torah, however, Shavuot has no explicit date but must be inferred from Leviticus 23:11 and 23:15: "And from the day on which you bring the omer offering -- the day after the sabbath -- you shall count off seven weeks." The key phrase is mi-machorat ha-shabbat (מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת), "the day after the Sabbath." Does this phrase refer to Sunday or perhaps to the Sabbath of Passover?
The Tzadukkim (Sadducees) argued that "Shabbat" here simply meant "Saturday" and accordingly the countdown should begin the first Sunday after Passover (Menachot 65). This would imply, of course, that Shavuot would also fall on a Sunday (though the date itself would change from year to year, since the day of the week for Passover varies from year to year). Christian tradition generally followed the reasoning of the Sadduces and incorporated "Pentecost" seven weeks after "Easter" Sunday (i.e., 50 days after Easter) in the liturgical calendar.
The sages of the Talmud interpreted "the day after the sabbath" to refer to the day after Passover (which is considered a sabbath), and accordingly began counting the seven weeks on Nisan 16 (Shavuot would then occur exactly seven weeks later on Sivan 6). This position prevailed in Jewish tradition and the modern Jewish calendar marks Shavuot on the fixed date of Sivan 6 (in May/June), exactly 49 days after the second day of Passover (Nisan 16).
Note: For Jews living outside Israel, Shavuot is observed both Sivan 6th and 7th. The additional day is called yom tov sheni shel galuyot.
Shavuot and Commitment
When the Jews exclaimed at Sinai, kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD speaks we will do" [Ex. 19:8]), they signified an abandonment to God's will for their lives. In other words, they first chose obedience before they understood the terms of the covenant. Only later, after Moses wrote the book of the covenant (sefer habrit) did they add v'nishmah (and we will hear/obey, from shama [Ex. 24:7]). The Jews first chose to do whatever the LORD commanded and then hoped to "hear" these words in order to understand their meaning. It is the quality of hearing that matters. As Anselm said, we believe in order to understand. The decision to serve God comes first, and then comes understanding.
This can be likened to marital love. First we make our decision to love and serve our spouse and then we are given understanding about how to abide our commitment.
According to Jewish tradition, God created the universe itself on the condition that Israel accepted the Torah. Each of us is called to likewise order our lives as if the existence of the universe depends upon our faith. Abraham was a tzaddik on account of his faith and redemptive history depended upon his obedience.
Jewish Midrash states that the Ten Commandments were spoken all at once, in a single divine utterance, and then repeated one-by-one to the Israelites. Unlike the other commandments of the Torah, these ten are unconditionally given. The LORD identified Himself as Elohim (not YHVH) when proclaiming them, indicating His role as Judge of the universe, and He used the second person singular (not plural) for the verbs: You shall not steal..."
Lev Echad - A heart of One
06.06.08 Salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) is always corporately understood. We are one "body," and when one member hurts, we all are affected (1 Cor. 12:26). This is summed up with the saying, kol yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh (כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲרֵבִים זֶה לָזֶה): "All Israel is responsible for one another." The sages reasoned that since the various commandments of the Torah cannot be literally fulfilled by any single person (e.g., the commandments given to the Kohanim (priests) do not apply to the Levites, the commandments given to men do not apply to women, and so on), all Jews taken together are considered a single person. This is why the Ten Commandments are formulated in the singular: "I am the LORD your (singular) God"; "you (singular) shall have no other gods before Me," and so on.
When we live our lives "as one man with one heart" (כּאישׁ אחד בּלב אחד), we are better equipped to love others as ourselves (Lev. 19:18). Each of us -- and this is especially true and vital for those who belong to Yeshua the Mashiach - are connected to one another as ish-echad chadash (אישׁ־אחד חדשׁ) "one new man" (Eph. 2:15). Our welfare, blessing, and ultimate salvation is bound up with one another. Just as the midrash says that each soul is linked to a letter of the Torah, so each of us is linked to the LORD Yeshua who gave Himself up for us in order to reconcile us to God. Each child of God is part of the message of Yeshua's life and love in this world.
A Long Discipline
06.05.08 "Hashem created the world in six days - but He spent forty days teaching the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai" (Nezirus Shimshon). Imparting the truth -- even to one such as Moses -- was nearly seven times more time consuming for the LORD than the actual creation of the universe itself, demonstrating once again how intractable our human nature is and how difficult it is for us to turn to God in teshuvah....
And not only once, but twice did the LORD speak to Moses for forty days upon the fiery mount. The second time, you recall, occurred when God graciously permitted Moses to return after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf. Over the brokenness of tablets God spoke yet again - and there revealed to us the secret of His Name YHVH. Only after we understand God as rachum v'chanun is the breach restored and the covenant renewed.
This makes it all the more puzzling that traditional Judaism often considers itself a "meritocracy" wherein a person is rewarded for his or her own personal sanctity and righteousness. The tzaddik, the righteous man, is the one who walks in obedience to Torah and seeks tikkun olam (the repair of the world), but the Torah itself teaches that this is realized only after we accept our broken condition and confess our need for God's redemptive love.
Preparing for Revelation - שבועות
06.03.08 The two month wait is nearly over now, and we anticipate a time to recommit our lives to the LORD God of Israel. On Shavuot Jews are commanded to remember the revelation given at Sinai (Deut. 4:9) and to spiritually reenact kabbalat ha-Torah (the receiving of the Torah). This is symbolic of a wedding day, when God betrothed Israel as His own people, separate from all others. The goal of Passover redemption was to set us free to become God's own treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה, am segulah), a light to the nations: ambassadors for Heaven's voice... According to some of the sages, the entire Jewish nation will one day be saved from their spiritual exile on Shavuot.
As Messianic Jews, we likewise understand that our Passover redemption was designed by God to set us free to become appointed heirs (κληρονομοι) with Yeshua (Jesus) and to identify with His redemptive purposes in the earth (Rom. 8:17, Titus 3:7, etc.). By God's chesed we are now called God's own treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה, am segulah), a light to the nations: ambassadors for the Kingdom of God (1 Peter 2:9). We have been saved from our spiritual exile when the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) was given to us (Acts 2).
Collectively, the followers of Yeshua are called kallat Mashiach - the bride of the Messiah (2 Cor. 11:2, Rom. 7:4, Eph. 5:25-27, Rev. 21:9, 22:17). Presently we are living during a betrothal period in which the bride and groom are separated until the wedding. Our responsibility during this age is to be faithful to our Heavenly Bridegroom (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:24). When Yeshua returns, we will finally be united with Him and the glorious "wedding ceremony" will take place (Rev. 19:7-9; 21:1-2).
Shavuot begins on Sivan 6 on the Jewish calendar (June 8/9 this year). In Jewish tradition, the second day of Sivan is called Yom Hameyuchas - the "Day of Distinction" - since it was on this day that God told the Israelites that He would make them into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex. 19:5-6). A three day period immediately following (Sivan 3-5) is called shelosh yemei hagbalah - the "three days of setting the boundary" (Ex. 19:12) - and represents a time of enhanced sanctity. The Jewish day begins at nightfall and on Erev Shavuot (Sivan 6) it is customary to stay up all night studying the Torah in order to instill a deep longing for God's revelation to be given. According to some sages, one who studies the first and last chapters of a book of the Tanakh is considered to have studied the entire book, and therefore the custom arose to read the first and last chapters of each book of the Bible on the first night of Shavuot. The study of the Ten Commandments and the Taryag Mitzvot (613 commandments enumerated by the sages) is also a common custom during this time.
Since Shavuot recalls the momentous time when Israel received revelation from God at Sinai, at daybreak additional prayers and blessings are recited at the synagogue for the gift of the Torah (mattan Torah). However, since ignoring the Torah leads to ruin, admonition to pursue the study of Torah is also made during this time.
Who is the man so wise that he can understand this? To whom has the mouth of the LORD spoken, that he may declare it? Why is the land ruined and laid waste like a wilderness, so that no one passes through? And the LORD says: "Because they have forsaken my law that I set before them, and have not obeyed my voice or walked in accord with it. (Jer. 9:12-13)
The sages sometimes make a connection between the Ten Days of Repentance (the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and the seven weeks of the Omer Count (the time between Passover and Shavuot). Studying God's revelation is a prelude to re-experiencing the joy of His Presence, though this requires diligence and hard work. In order to understand what God requires of us, we must make effort to study the Torah.... We therefore ask God to make Torah sweet on our tongues and to help us be "engrossed" in the words of the Scriptures.
All of this, obviously enough, indicates that Shavuot is a time when we are called to engage ourselves in the study of God's revelation and Torah. But how is this possible if we are not properly educated to do so? In the Talmud there is this statement:
"The world exists because of the breath of the schoolchildren who study Torah."
(Talmud Bavli Shabbat 119b)
In Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ) means "education," a word that shares the same root as the word "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, dedication). Unlike the ancient Greek view that pragmatically saw education as a humanistic means of escaping from "the cave of ignorance" to better one's personal power or happiness, the Jewish idea of education implies dedication to God and His concrete purposes on the earth. Rambam (Maimonides) notes that the word chinukh is borrowed from the Torah's description of dedicating a tool for use with the Holy Altar, "habituating the tool for its work." In other words, godly education is a process of being made a "fit vessel" for the service of God in the world. All other ends of knowledge ultimately exist for this purpose, and rightly understood, education is a form of worship.
Hence the Jewish value of teaching children the words of Torah and their obligation to live as Jews.
God said to the Jews, "I want to give you the Torah, but who will guarantee that you will obey its instruction?" The Jews replied, Heaven and earth will vouce for us," they offered. But God countered, "They are short-lived and do not last forever." The Jews then proposed: "The Patriarchs will be our guarantors." "Not good enough," said God. "They themselves owe Me...." "The prophets will be our guarantors." Again God responded, "Not good enough. They themselves owe Me...." "Our children will be the guarantor." "This is good guarantor!" Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings You have established strength. (Midrash Tehilim/Shocher Tov 8)
Torah learning is not an individual act. When we learn to "talk Torah" with each other as members of a community, we share the greater message of redemptive love that Yeshua gave to the world... Chaverim, pursue talmud Torah...
The Climax of Passover
06.02.08 The climactic holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost") occurs on Monday, June 9th this year (for those who live outside of Israel, it is celebrated for an additional day on the 10th). Technically speaking, since the Jewish day begins at sundown, we begin our celebration on the evening of Sunday, June 8th (Erev Shavuot).
In traditional Judaism, the festival of Shavuot marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the "Conclusion of Passover." Since the great Exodus from Egypt was intended to lead to the revelation of Sinai, the goal of Passover is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. God took the Jews out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people, holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them. Indeed, all of the mo'edim (holidays) are connected with this event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
According to the sages: The new moon of Nisan marks the start of sacred time, Passover remembers the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, the first day of Unleavened Bread remembers the Exodus from Egypt, the seventh day of Unleavened Bread remembers the crossing of the Red Sea, the counting of the Omer recalls the days before the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and Shavuot remembers the giving of the Torah exactly seven weeks after the Exodus (on Sivan 6). Indeed, Shavuot at Mount Sinai is sometimes considered the day on which Judaism was born:
When the Jews began to settle in the Promised Land, the meaning of Shavuot was transformed into an agricultural holiday that celebrated the LORD's provision for His people. In the final book of Torah, Moses reviewed the history and the laws given to the Jews and reminded them to faithfully observe Passover (Deut. 16:1-7), Unleavened Bread (Deut 16:8), the Omer Count (Deut 16:9), and Shavuot:
You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. (Deut. 16:9-11)
After the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the agricultural aspect of Shavuot could no longer be observed, and the Talmudic sages later re-connected this festival with the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai during the month of Sivan (Ex. 19:1).
For the Messianic Jew (or Christian), Shavu'ot is the time of celebrating the birth of kallat Mashiach - the Bride of the Messiah (or Church), since the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was poured out to the believers in Jerusalem during this festival (Acts 1:8; 2). In other words, the great redemption of Passover was accomplished so that we would be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and made free as God's restored children, no longer subject to slavery and fear, but given holy access to the Divine Presence Himself. For more information about Shavuot, click here.
Parashat Naso - פרשת נשא
06.01.08 In the midst of the Torah reading for this coming Shabbat (Naso), the LORD gave the priests of Israel three special pesukim (verses) used to bless the people (sometimes called the birkat kohanim). This blessing is for you, chaverim, during this season of rededication to the love and care of the LORD God of Israel as revealed in Yeshua our Mashiach, blessed be He.
Note: If I can find the time, I will add some additional thoughts about Naso here.... I am still fighting this sickness, chaverim: your prayers are appreciated.