October 2008 Updates
Dor HaMabul - The Days of Noah
10.30.08 "For just as the days of Noah were, in the same way will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away.... Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot - they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all - so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (Matt. 24:38-9; Luke 17:28-30).
What were these "days of Noah" like? What can we say about dor Ha-Mabul, the "Generation of the Flood"? In a word, Yeshua told us that this generation was asleep, blind, ignorant, unaware.... For ten consecutive generations -- from the creation of Adam until the generation of Noah -- people progressively became more and more ignorant of spiritual reality and truth. Eating and drinking, romantic intrigue and marriage, buying and selling, and other wordly affairs were the preoccupations of the day. People lived lives in abysmal ignorance of the spiritual reality around them. They "forgot" who God was, who they were, why they existed, and where they were going. In short, they were "unaware."
Spiritual blindness eventually leads to corruption and outright violence. Of Noah's generation it was written that "the earth was corrupt before God, and filled with violence" (Gen. 6:11). Rashi understood the word "corruption" (shachat) to mean sexual immorality (i.e., idolatry) and "violence" (chamas) to mean robbery. In general, however, the sages regarded the word chamas to refer to lawlessness, i.e., the condition of living without yirat ha-shamayim (awe of heaven). When we are spiritually dead, we are unconscious of the wonder of God....
One rabbinic tradition says that chamas (lawlessness) was revealed in the theft of trivial amounts. A Midrash (Genesis Rabbah) says that a person would walk into the market with a basket full of beans and leave with none. Each passerby would take just a few, knowing that the owner couldn't prosecute for such a small amount. It was not the "big sins" committed against heaven that brought down God's wrath (as it was later in the destruction of the Tower of Babel), but in the seemingly trivial lawless acts committed bein Adam L'chavero ("between man and his fellow man"). In Tractate Sanhedrin (108) it is written, "during the era of the flood, they transgressed every sin in the world but their fate was not sealed until they stretched out their hands in thievery."
Some of the sages think that God's judgment came in stages. The Great Flood was preceded by four successive generations of prophets that warned of the coming cataclysmic judgment: Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, and finally Noah. It is fascinating to understand that Adam himself was alive when Noah's grandfather Methuselah was born, so the original message of teshuvah (repentance) was an echo that came from Eden itself...
First there was the general disregard for the dignity of others as people created in the image and likeness of God. This led to sexual promiscuity that became rampant upon the earth: "The sons of God saw the daughters of man that they were fair, and they took for themselves wives, whomsoever they chose" (one midrash claims that the Dor HaMabul, the generation of the flood, would regularly exchange marital partners). God then gave mankind 120 years to repent from his sexual corruption or be faced with apocalyptic destruction (Gen. 6:3). Despite Noah's 120 year public building project and the preaching of his grandfather Methuselah, God's patience finally ran out (1 Pet. 3:20). God then "saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). Mankind refused to repent and turn to God....
There is a tragic progression at work here. The practice of "casual" acts of lawlessness eventually led to the acceptance and practice of sexual promiscuity. This, in turn, resulted in the loss of mankind's sanctity (kedushah), since this comes from man's ability to subordinate his instinctual/emotional desires to his intellectual/spiritual life. Genuine sanctity refuses to exploit others as means to an end. Disregarding this truth cheapens and impairs the sense of self, causing disintegration of the spiritual life. As humanity became more and more fractured and stupefied, God's "like for like" judgment resulted in "giving them over" (paradidomi) to the lusts of their hearts (Rom. 1:26). (In our culture of unbridled pornographic expression and sexual immorality, we mirror such an antediluvian worldview. Indeed, it is a mark of our age to be enamored with "degrading passions," with gender confusion and regularly practiced idolatry (i.e., fornication, adultery, homosexual relationships, and so on)). The final verdict of this practiced chamas (lawlessness) was the bestowal of a "depraved mind" (αδοκιμον νουν), a condition of being unable to reason properly at all. Since truth is essentially grounded in a sense of value, and value is a function of conscience, a depraved mind is literally insane from a spiritual perspective... People who are devoid of conscience are unable to reason along the lines of ethical truth at all. This promoted a cultural collusion to suppress the truth, to silence the truth-tellers, to kill the prophets, and to gag advocates for justice. Lawlessness squelches the inward voice of right and wrong within the human heart.
Our culture today is surely as "the days of Noah." It is a culture rife with violence, madness, and untold depravity. And yet it is perhaps best exemplified by chamas -- the theft of trivial amounts. As we pilfer and filch, making compromises with the duty to pursue justice and practice the truth, we become progressively deadened, insensate, and devoid of conscience. We deny that each of us is created b'tzelem Elohim and thereby degrade our own humanity.
May the LORD Yeshua help us to take refuge in Him.
Parashat Noach - פרשת נח
10.28.08 The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat (Noach) concerns the patriach Noah, who was a type of Mashiach who rebirths the world and gives lasting comfort and rest.
Noach's very name foreshadowed the coming of Yeshua ("Jesus"). The name Noach (נח) comes from the shoresh (root) nacham, meaning to comfort. Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nuach (rest), and menuchah (rest from work). His father Lamech (meaning "powerful one") regarded Noach as a deliverer who would comfort us from the ravages of the curse (Gen. 3). In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), and He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the Cross at Moriah undoes the kelalah (curse) over the children of Adam. Indeed, His life, sacrifice, and resurrection was like a "magic spell" that "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse was forever broken (Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). By means of His Spirit we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).
In the days of Noach "all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth" (Gen. 6:5, 11), but Noach "found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen. 6:8). This is yet another foreshadowing of the Father's choice of Yeshua as the uniquely Righteous Deliverer of the world (Matt. 3:17). Of Noach it was said that he was ish tzaddik (a righteous man) who was tamim (blameless) in his generation: Et-haElohim hithalekh-noach - "Noah walked with God" (Gen. 6:9). Likewise Yeshua was entirely tzaddik (Rom. 5:19, Heb. 4:15, 1 Pet. 3:18; 1 John 2:1), blameless (Heb. 4:15, 1 Pet. 3:18), and One who walked with God (John 5:19, John 8:28, etc.).
Just as Noach's obedience to God saved a remnant from all the earth, so did Yeshua's obedience result in "the saving of his house" (Heb. 11:7). And just as God blessed Noach and his sons" (Gen. 9:1) and with them established His covenant, so in greater measure was this fulfilled in the Person of Yeshua, who provides all spiritual blessings to those whom He calls his brethren (Eph. 1:3, Heb. 13:20; Heb 2:11). Yeshua is indeed the "righteous man" who saves us in the true teivah (ark), the body of His Church.
Eschatologically, the "days of Noach" are a picture of the idolatrous conditions of the world that prevail just before the calling up of the followers of the Mashiach Yeshua before the time of Great Tribulation upon the earth: "As were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man" (Matt. 24:37). The seven day warning given to Noach suggests the seven year tribulation period to come (Daniel's 70th week). But please note that "the LORD shut him in" (Gen. 7:16).
Noach's teivah ("ark") had God Himself as its Designer (Gen. 6:15f), and salvation in Yeshua is by God's design (Jonah 2:9; Eph. 1:9, 1:11). Noach's ark contained only one door (Gen. 6:16), just as Yeshua is the only door to salvation (John 10:9). Noach's ark contained three levels (Gen. 6:16) and salvation has three own experiential levels (2 Cor. 1:10): past, present, and future. In the past (at Moriah) Yeshua delivered us from the penalty of sin; in the present, He is delivering us from the power of sin; and in the future He will deliver us from the very presence of sin. Baruch Hashem - may that day come soon!
Bereshit - Covenant of Fire
10.27.08 The six letters of the very first word of the Torah, Bereshit (בראשׁית), are sometimes compared to the six days of creation. The first and last two letters form the word brit (covenant) while the remaining letters form the word esh (fire), suggesting that the act of creation itself is a "Covenant of Fire."
Words created the universe, or rather, the Word of God. When the Divine Voice (i.e., the Word of God) spoke cosmic Light into existence (Gen. 1:3), God was not creating the physical light of the Sun or the Moon, since the heavenly bodies were created later (Gen. 1:14). This supernal light was the first expression of God's handiwork outside of Himself, His first revelation of contingent existence (i.e., existence that owes its source, continuance, and end to God's transcendent power and will). The Divine Light forms the canvass, if you will, of God's portraiture of creation (in three-dimensional terms, the Divine Light forms a sort of "container" that becomes the "house" of Creation). Among other things, this means that ultimate reality is grounded in the Source of Light, Love, and Truth -- regardless of how dark the present hour may appear....
The Torah (and indeed, all of Scripture) begins with the plosive letter Bet (ב) in the word Bereshit. Notice that this word is derived from the root rosh (ראשׁ), which means head or chief, with the surrounding letters forming the word bet (בית), meaning house:
Since we know that Yeshua was "in the beginning with God" and is Himself God (John 1:1-2), the "Head of the House of Creation" is none other than Yeshua the Mashiach (Hebrews 3:4). This is further confirmed by looking at the verse from Genesis 1:1 alongside the verse from John 1:1:
"In the beginning was the Word..." and this Word was made flesh and "tabernacled" with us (John 1:14). The body of Yeshua is Bet-El, the House of God Almighty.
The Word of God is compared to a fire, often symbolizing God's jealousy in relationship to His covenant. God revealed Himself to Moses as a "Burning Bush" (Exod. 3:2-4) and later called Himself Esh Okhlah - a Consuming Fire (Deut. 4:24). Fire surrounded the mountain at Sinai (Deut. 5:5) and later appeared as a Pillar (עַמּוּד הָאֵשׁ) that graciously illuminated the Israelite camp in the wilderness (Exod. 13:21-22; 14:24). The Fire of God consumed the holy sacrifices (Lev. 9:24, Judges 6:21, 1 Kings 18:38, etc.) and was present in the ministry of the prophets (2 Kings 1:12, Jer. 20:9). Indeed, the Word of God is likened to Fire itself (Jer. 23:29) - a destructive power for those who impugn the glory of God - but a source of warmth and comfort to those who heed the message. Indeed, fire is symbolic of God's terrible judgment to come:
When Yeshua Ha-Adon is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel... they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed... (2 Thess. 1:5-10)
What was the very first sin in history? It was not Adam's fateful eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, but rather the snake's lashon hara (evil words) - "Has God said...?" (Gen. 3:5). Part of the jealous outflow of the Divine Light is manifest in the very fires of Hell itself. In the end, "whosoever loveth and maketh a lie" (Rev. 22:15) will be "as chaff that will burn with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12, Luke 3:17). It is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, chaverim...
The first word of Scripture, then, implies a Covenant of Fire.... The moral of this lesson, as the ancient sage Akavya ben Mahalalel said, is to "know from whence you come; know where you are going; and know before whom you are destined to give an account (Avot. 3:1). Ask Yeshua to save you this very hour, friend.... Time is indeed short.
Parashat Bereshit - פרשת בראשית
10.24.08 During Simchat Torah ("Joy of the Torah") we read the last portion of the Torah (Vezot Haberakhah) as well as the first part of the first portion (Bereshit) to symbolize that Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - never ends. This Shabbat, however, the full portion of Parashat Bereshit is recited at synagogues all over the world....
Sometimes we are tempted to think of Creation as something "past tense." God created everything and then "stood back" to watch the drama of cosmic history unfold... This is an incorrect way of thinking about creation, however, since God not only created the universe but is also continually creating it yesh me'ayin - out of nothing (Heb. 1:3). And since parashat Bereshit is centered on creation, it is therefore centered on Yeshua Himself, of whom it is written: "all things were created by him, and for him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν) (Col. 1:16-17). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach....
I hope to add some additional comments about this tremendously important portion of Scripture later, chaverim.
New Hebrew Mediation - Fateful Listening
10.23.08 I wrote a brief Hebrew Meditation (Fateful Listening) that reminds us of the importance of taking refuge in the Word of God -- rather than looking for hope in the empty promises offered by the "princes of this world"....
Happy Simchat Torah!
10.22.08 As many of you know, each week in synagogues all across the world, a portion from the Torah (called a parashah) is chanted. Jewish tradition has divided the Torah into 54 of these parashiyot - roughly one portion for each week of the year - so that in the course of a year the entire Torah has been recited during services. The final reading of this cycle occurs on Simchat Torah ("Joy of the Torah"), a rabbinical festival celebrating both the completion of the year's Torah Reading cycle as well as the start of a new cycle.
During Simchat Torah, the last Torah portion (Vezot Haberakhah, from Deuteronomy) is read as well as the first verses of the first portion (Bereshit, from Genesis), thereby indicating that Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - never ends. The idea that Torah study is cyclical finds expression in the joyous ritual of dancing around and around the Torah, known as hakkafot.
Since Yeshua the Mashiach (Jesus Christ) is Torah Ha-Emet - the True Torah - we should likewise celebrate the Joy of Torah in our lives. Indeed, we have the greater reason to celebrate Torah, since Yeshua (Jesus) is of course the Central Message of the Torah -- its inner meaning and incarnation. He is the Living Torah, the Living Word, written upon our hearts so that we can truly dance and embrace the Truth given from God. Indeed, Yeshua did not come to destroy the Torah but rather to fulfill it (see Matt. 5:17-20, Jer. 31:31-34).
It is sadly common in Christian circles to consider the "law" as something obsolete and done away with, since Yeshua came to fulfill the New Covenant between mankind and God. However, it is important to understand that the Torah (i.e., law) is holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12), even if those seeking righteousness based on it's demands eventually discover the tragic fact that it is powerless to impart righteousness and life (2 Cor. 3:7-18). It is sin within the human heart that condemns people - not the Torah. The crucifixion of Yeshua condemned sin in the flesh (again, it did not condemn the Torah) and now the righteousness of God is imparted to those who embrace Yeshua by faith (Rom. 8:3-4). Enabled by the Holy Spirit, the Torah is now written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-3; Heb. 8:10-11), and we are empowered to fulfill the requirements of the law based on a new covenant relationship with God (Gal. 2:16, 3:2). We no longer seek righteousness by means of maintaining ritualistic or other ordinances (Rom. 4:5, Gal. 2:16) but by receiving the free gift of Mashiach's righteousness imputed to us through our trust (Eph. 2:8-9).
Because of Yeshua's victory, we do not strive for acceptance before the Father, we abide within it, chaverim… We should love the Torah and seek its wisdom, just as Yeshua Himself did... This is part of our legacy given to us in the Messiah.
Note: This is an ideal time for you to join the weekly Torah readings that are studied by Jews all over the world.
10.19.08 The weather was much warmer today so we were able to plan a simchah (party) for Sukkot this evening. Earlier we went to the grocery store to buy a few items for the occasion, and as we were checking out, my son Josiah excitedly announced to everyone present that today was a special day - it was Sukkot! When I quietly explained to the bewildered cashier that we had pitched a "tent" and were planning a celebration, Josiah protested that it was not just a tent, and then proceeded to stand up on the end of checkout line to loudly proclaim to everyone (in his just-turned-four-year-old's voice) that "Sukkot means that God shelters and cares for us; that we are all in God's hands!" It was a somewhat awkward moment, chaverim, but I was deeply grateful that Josiah seems to understand the inner meaning of this season.... We are indeed "all in God's hands" and we can all experience His Comfort as we trust in Yeshua as our Life-Giving Rock in the "desert" of this life....
Out of the mouth of babes... Here's something else endearing. After our meal we all took turns reciting the lulav blessing (al netilat lulav). When it was Josiah's turn, he carefully walked over to each person, looked intently at them, and then waved the lulav while offering his own personal blessing. For example, for grandma he said, "that your knees will be better" (grandma suffers from arthritis), and then he waved the lulav over her head, and so on for each of us. Josiah's spontaneous prayers revealed a genuine sense of compassion for each person present. It was a touching moment and the highlight of our evening together.
10.16.08 It has been cold up here in Minnesota (currently it's just 42 degrees Fahrenheit). Nonetheless, our beloved son Josiah has encouraged us to eat all our meals out in the sukkah - despite the chilly weather. He loves the blessings, the waving of the lulav, and the special lights of the season. Were you here, he'd be sure to wish you "chag sameach" and give you lots of holiday cheer....
Here's a quick picture of me reciting the al nedilat lulav blessing tonight:
And here are a few pictures from the last two days:
We wish you all "Sukkot Sameach," chaverim, even as we await the soon coming of the LORD Yeshua for us all....
Waving the Lulav...
10.12.08 "On the first day you shall take to yourselves the fruit of the goodly tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days." (Lev. 23:40)
Jewish tradition understood the Scripture above to refer to the "Four Species" (arba minim) that were defined as follows:
- Etrog (אתרוג), a lemon-like citrus fruit referred to as pri etz hadar ["the product of goodly trees"] that is minimally the size of a hen's egg. An etrog with an intact pitam (stem) is considered especially valuable.
Note: Some people keep their etrog long after Sukkot to make a sugared fruit soup from it that is eaten on the holiday of Tu B'shevat.
- Lulav (לולב), a ripe (green) date palm frond ["branches of palm trees"]. The lulav must be entirely straight with whole leaves that lay closely together and not be broken at the top.
Note: The term "lulav" also refers to combination of all three types of branches that are bound together for ceremonial waving (see below).
- Hadas (הדס) three myrtle branches ["boughs of leafy trees"]. The leaves of the hadas grow in tiers of three leaves each. Three hadasim are needed for the lulav bundle.
- Aravah (ערבה), the leafy branch of a willow tree ["willows of the brook"]. The branches grow long and are lined with long, narrow leaves. Two aravot are needed for the lulav bundle. Aravot need lots of water or they dry out. Often they are wrapped in a moist towel during Sukkot.
Note: Aravot are also used for a separate ceremony on Hoshanah Rabbah (the last day of Sukkot) when the branches are beaten against the ground until many of the leaves fall out. This ceremony is intended to symbolize ultimate victory over our enemies.
These four items are held together and waved during a ceremony called na'anuim (נענועים) for each day of Sukkot. The usual practice is to recite the blessing (al netilat lulav) and then wave the lulav three times in six directions: forward, to the right, to the back, to the left, up, and down (to proclaim God's omnipresence).
You can purchase arba minim (אַרְבַּע מִינִים) at most good Judaica stores. Usually, each of the four items is packaged separately. The following photo series shows you how we assembled ours for this Sukkot:
First you take the bundle holder and insert the palm branch (lulav) into the center (tighten using the bundle bands as needed). Take the two willow branches (aravot) and insert them into the left chamber, and the three myrtle branches (hadasim) and insert them into the right chamber. Finally, you take the "fruit of the goodly tree" (i.e., etrog) and get ready to recite the blessing...
Building our Sukkah
10.12.08 Today we bought our lulav -- i.e., an etrog (citron), a palm branch (lulav), two willow branches (aravot), and three myrtle branches (hadasim) -- and then assembled our sukkah. After we finished the main structure (we have an easy to assemble design), we laid up the schach, strung some Christmas lights on the sides, added a small table and chairs, and put some additional decorations inside. Hiddur mitzvah (הִדּוּר מִצְוָה) is a phrase that means "making a commandment beautiful," and we hope to make our sukkah a place of beauty... The sages note that the idea behind hiddur mitzvah comes from the great Song of Moses: "This is my God and I will enshrine (נָוָה) Him" (Exod. 15:2).
After nightfall we saw the nearly full moon and lit a small outdoor fire, praying for the coming holiday... We pray that you will sense God's shelter, glory, and love for your life, even in these difficult times, chaverim.
Sheltering Presence -
A Sukkot Warm Up
10.10.08 After the LORD delivered the Jews from slavery in Egypt, He said, "Follow me into the wilderness, into an unsown land" (Jer. 2:2). Over two million people - men, women, and children - heeded the call and left for the Promise of God.
Now the desert is a hard, dry place. Unless you were prepared with provisions and protection, a trek through it could be life-threatening, perhaps even suicidal. But consider what it must have been like for two million people! What would they eat or drink? Where would they find shelter? How would they avoid the scorpions, snakes, and other perils?
In a word, the LORD Himself sheltered the Jews with Clouds of Glory and supernaturally provided for them during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus. God performed miracle upon miracle, sustaining the people in the midst of the desert and its dangers.... Consequently, He commanded Moses that these acts of Divine Chesed be commemorated as the festival of Sukkot (Lev. 23:34; Deut. 16:13-16).
The word sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah (סֻכָּה), meaning a "booth" or "hut." In traditional Judaism, a sukkah is a temporary structure used for "living in" (i.e., primarily eating meals or entertaining guests) throughout the eight day festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"). The purpose of the sukkah is to remind us of the type of huts the ancient Israelites dwelt in as they made their trek through the dangers of the desert.
According to halakhah (Jewish law), the minimal sukkah must have two complete walls with a third wall at least the "length of a handbreadth." The walls can be made from any material, though the structure must be covered with a "schach" (סכך, thatched roof) made from only organic material (representing the Clouds of Glory). It is customary to decorate the sukkah by hanging fruit from the schach and adding other decorations. Since a sukkah minimally is contructed of two walls (that resemble a bent arm) and a third wall (that resembles a hand), some of the sages says it represents God's arm wrapping around us to give us shelter (a "divine hug"). The traditional view, however, is that the Sukkah is meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that protected the Jewish people while they sojourned in hostile and dangerous desert conditions.
The Torah states that we are to rejoice during the appointed time of Sukkot - samachta b'chagekha (שָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ) - and immediately reiterates that we are to be "altogether joyful" - hayita akh sameach (הָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ). (Deut. 16:14-15) For this reason, the sages called the eight days of Sukkot "Z'man Simchatenu," the time of our happiness.
But why are we commanded to "rejoice" and be "altogether joyful" during the season of Sukkot? Here are a few reasons:
- First, the festival recalls the great Exodus from Egypt and the miracles that God performed on behalf of the Jewish people. Since we are related to them and owe our faith to them, we should therefore be thankful and rejoice at God's sustaining care and providence of our faithful ancestors.
- Second, God Himself "tabernacled" with the camp of Israel in the wilderness. God's Sukkah is called the mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן), a word rendered as skeine (σκηνη) in the Greek translation (LXX). Moses was given the design for the mishkan on Sinai so that the LORD Himself would dwell in a tent in the midst of the people of Israel: shakhanti b'tokham - "that I may dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8). The covering of God's Sukkah was actually the cloud of God's Glory (Exod. 40:35-36). The Apostle Paul referred to the Jews being immersed ("baptised") by the surrounding Shekhinah Glory of God in their midst (1 Cor. 10:1-2).
- Third, after settling in the Promised Land, Sukkot became associated with the Festival of Fall Harvest, Chag Ha'asif (חַג הָאָסִף), or the "Feast of Ingathering" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). This was an autumnal celebration of thanksgiving for the fruit harvest, held during the full moon of Tishri.
- Fourth, King Solomon dedicated the Jewish Temple on Sukkot (1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 7). The Shekhinah glory of the LORD descended to light the fire on the altar and filled the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 7:1-10).
It later became customary (based on Deut. 31:10) that every seven years pilgrims would gather in the Temple Courtyard during Sukkot to listen to the reigning king read passages from the Torah. This ceremony was called Hakhel (הַקְהֵל, "assemble"), and it certainly was a joyful time.
- Fifth, the Scriptures record that Sukkot was the very first holiday observed after the Babylonian captivity, when the Second Temple was dedicated (Ezra 3:2-4).
- Sixth, over time Sukkot became the single most important festival held in the Promised Land, called "the Feast of the Lord" (חַג־יהוה, Lev. 23:39; Judges 21:19) or simply "the Feast" (1 Kings 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chron. 5:3; 7:8). Along with Passover and Shavuot, Sukkot is one of the three "pilgrimage festivals" that united all Israel in holy celebration. Pilgrims from all over Israel (and indeed the world) would annually come together and erect countless colorful booths near the Temple. They would purchase their four species (arba minim), light campfires, decorate their sukkas, and make themselves merry in celebration of the fall harvest. They eagerly anticipated the famous Water Drawing Ceremony of the Temple (nisuch ha-mayim), the dramatic light shows, the special music and the waving of lulav.... After the solemnity of Yom Kippur, Sukkot was a time of camping out and rejoicing in the LORD's provision and love.
- Seventh, it's likely that Yeshua (Jesus) was born during Sukkot, since the same verb that says He "dwelt" with us (σκηνοω in John 1:14) derives from the same root used in the LXX to refer to both the mishkan (Tabernacle) and the individual tents of Sukkot (σκηνος). As Mashiach ben Yosef, He attended the festival but did so "secretly" (John 7:8-10); when He comes again as Mashiach ben David, it will be openly, with the "Clouds of Glory" (Matt. 24:30, Rev. 1:7). Note also that the two great themes of Sukkot (during the Second Temple period) were 1) water, and 2) light. It's likely that Yeshua referred to Himself as both the "Living Water" (John 7:38) and the Light of the world (John 8:12) during the "drawing of the house of water" ceremonies during this festival.
- Finally, when Yeshua returns to establish the Messianic Kingdom on earth, He will once again "tabernacle" with Israel in Jerusalem (Ezek. 37:27-28; Rev. 21:3). The visible manifestation of the LORD, the Shekhinah glory, will be seen as a shining fire over all of Mount Zion (Isa. 60:1,19, Zech. 2:5), and all of the nations of the earth will journey to there to celebrate Sukkot (Zech. 14:16-19). "Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy" (Isa. 4:5).
Note: This hope is expressed in the prayerbook blessing for the end of Sukkot: "May it be Your will, Adonai our God and the God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled the mitzvah and dwelled in this (earthly) sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the Sukkah of the Skin of the Leviathan."
Midrash says that in the world to come the Messiah will cause the "Leviathan" (a giant fish created on the 5th day of creation) and the "behemoth" (a giant ox) to destroy one another (Leviticus Rabbah 13:3). From the beautiful skin of the Leviathan God will construct sukkas to shelter the righteous (Bava Basra 75a). The remainder of Leviathan's skin will stretched out over Zion as a canopy, and the light streaming from it will illumine the whole world. This is sometimes called "the Sukkah of the Skin of Leviathan." Within these canopies, the righteous will eat the meat of the Leviathan and the behemoth in great joy.
But how is the modern observance of celebrating in a sukkah supposed to be joyful? After all, the usual amenities of life are missing there.... How does "dwelling" in a frail little hut invite us to be happy?
Sukkot reminds us that we are sojourners, too, just passing through.... Like father Abraham, we live in a foreign land as ger v'toshav - "strangers and sojourners," looking forward to the City of God (Heb. 11:9-10). We do not need the so-called securities that this world can offer us -- including a stable stock market -- to be happy and provided for, chaverim -- not if we truly understand that we are surrounded by God's sheltering Presence. What more could we want, especially as we consider this fleeting and moribund world we live in? As Paul said:
This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent (σκηνος), which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.
(2 Cor. 4:17-5:2)
10.08.08 Yom Kippur begins shortly.... To all of you we wish: G'mar chatima tova b'ahavat Yeshua - May you be sealed in the book of life by the love of Yeshua, chaverim....
YOM KIPPUR MEDITATION
You're always listening
10.07.08 As the world roils in the news of economic chaos, this week's Torah (Ha'azinu) reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. The Torah reading is a prophetic song that begins, הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וַאֲדַבֵּרָה - "Give ear, O heavens, and I will speak" (Deut. 32:1). The song is didactic, intended to teach us something. It begins quietly: "Like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb...." The Spirit here appeals to the humble to drink in the message given from above. Heed first the kol demamah dakkah, the "still small voice" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) and receive the proclamation of the Name of the LORD and His greatness (Deut. 32:3, see also Ex. 34:6-7). Understand His attributes (middot): the LORD is the Rock (הַצּוּר), his deeds are perfect, and all His ways are just. He is the Faithful God (אֵל אֱמוּנָה), without iniquity, forever true and upright (צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא) (Deut. 32:3-4).
The world has its message or its "song," chaverim, which is invariably focused on fear and egotistic self-preservation. We are tempted, are we not, to listen and accept such propaganda without serious reflection.... After all, we are always listening to someone, but the all-important question is to whom? The inner voice of your soul gets its messages from somewhere. Tragically, many of our opinions are formed by heeding to the "voice of the world," i.e., the crowd, the songs and movies of pop culture, and especially the propaganda (er, "news") that is designed to manipulate and enslave the masses....
Who are you listening to? The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body. How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, chaverim. Listening to other voices (regardless of how seemingly well-intended) means cutting yourself off from the Source of life itself.... Hearing and obeying are linked, and "hearing" the messages of this corrupt world can eventually make you into an enemy of God Himself (James 4:4). The world always speaks its message to members of its "crooked and twisted generation" (Deut. 32:5). How else do politicians gain their audiences?
So what's the message of this prophetic song? What's it all about? Well, Ha'azinu is essentially about Israel's history: past, present and future. It begins with Creation itself and the establishment of the 70 nations (Deut. 32:7-8). It goes on to say that the LORD chose Israel as the "portion" of His people (Deut. 32:9). God found them in a desert land and protected them "as the pupil of His eye" (v.10). He was like an eagle brooding over its nest, "fluttering over its young," covering them with its wings, and carrying them over the high places. In poetic terms, the LORD suckled them with "honey out of the rock" and fed them the fat of lambs (v. 11-14).
But Jeshurun (יְשֻׁרוּן, a term of endearment for Israel from yashar, meaning "upright") "grew fat and kicked," forsaking the God who made him, and "made fun of" (נבל) the Rock of his Salvation (צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ) (v. 15). Israel then turned to other so-called gods, even sacrificing to demons ("no-gods"), disregarding the message of the fathers (v. 17). Israel "forgot" the LORD who gave them life (v. 18). This provoked Him to "hide His face from them" (see the entry on hester panim, the Divine Absence, below). The Jews would be sent into exile and provoked relentlessly by a "nation of fools" (Deut. 32:21; see Rom. 10:19, Hos. 1:9-10) -- perhaps an ironic play on Israel's "making fun of" the Rock. Misfortune and disaster would be the reward of their forgetfulness. Indeed, God would have destroyed Israel completely were it not for the sake of His Name and reputation among the nations (v. 26-27). The LORD, however, would never allow Israel's enemies to think their strength was behind His chastisement of His people.... No, and despite their worldly claims to the contrary, their Day of Calamity is soon at hand: God Himself will exact vengeance and recompense upon the nations in the latter days (v. 35).
In the "end of the End of Days," when God sees "that their power is gone and nothing is left," He will recall His mercy and pour out comfort upon His people Israel. Then He will judge the earth and the dreadful "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם יְהוָה) will come. The nations will be judged with catastrophic judgments (v. 37-43). God will avenge the blood of His children, repay all those who hate Him, and atone for Israel (וְכִפֶּר) on that great and awesome day (v. 43). This is ultimate fulfillment of Yom Kippur, friends....
Are you listening, chaverim? Bring greatness to the Name of the LORD by keeping His word within your hearts. "For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live" (v. 47):
For it is no empty word for you, but your very life,
and by this word you shall live long in the land.
Study Torah! Take hold of truth. Gain daat Torah - a Torah perspective - and read between the lines of the world's "news." Do not heed the messages of this world and live in its present despair (or promise, as the case may be). Quit playing charades. Take heed rather of the message of life.
Time is short and the days are evil. There will be a day of Reckoning. On that Day, what you valued most will be exposed once and for all. The masks will all come off. The truth of what you worship will be manifest to all. You will then give account for how you spent your life, what messages you believed, what voices you heeded....
Upcoming Holiday Dates (5769)
10.06.08 This is a spiritually intense time of year... The following holidays are all set to occur over the next three weeks, chaverim. Be sure to plan accordingly!
- YOM KIPPUR - Wed. Oct. 8th
Yom Kippur begins an hour before sundown on Wednesday the 8th. The 25 hour fast runs until an hour past sundown on Thursday, Oct. 9th. This is perhaps the most important holiday of the Jewish Year and holds tremendous prophetic significance. It is considered a mitzvah to eat a sacred meal with loved ones (called Seudat Mafseket, a meal of cessation), just before the fast begins....
- SHABBAT - Fri. Oct. 10th
Yom Kippur is followed by the regular weekly Sabbath on Oct. 10-11th. The Torah reading for this Shabbat is Ha'azinu, the great prophetic song that Moses was commanded to teach the Jewish people before he died.
Jews in the Diaspora always read parashat Ha'azinu on the Sabbath before Sukkot (see below). In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (Talmud: Shabbat 103b).
- SUKKOT - Mon. Oct. 13th
The following Monday evening marks the start of the eight-day festival of Sukkot (referred to as "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). It can be argued that Sukkot is the climax of all the festivals in Scripture.... Everything leads to it as a culmination in God's prophetic plan. This year Sukkot ends with Shemini Atzeret on Tuesday, October 21st.
Note: The Torah Reading Cycle is suspended for the holiday week of Sukkot as well as for Shemini Atzeret (sometimes referred to as the eighth day of Sukkot). Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah, and Shemini Atzeret Torah readings are from Leviticus 22-23, Numbers 29, and Deuteronomy 14-16. These readings detail the laws of all of the mo'edim or "appointed times" on the Jewish calendar and include the mitzvot regarding the festival of Sukkot.
- SIMCHAT TORAH - Wed. Oct. 22nd
Simchat Torah ("Joy of Torah") immediately follows the festival of Sukkot (evening service). On Simchat Torah we conclude, and begin anew, the annual Torah-reading cycle. First we read the Torah section of V'zot Haberakhah, and then we read the first chapter of Genesis (the beginning of the next Shabbat's Torah reading).
Phew! That's a LOT of holidays over the next three weeks, chaverim. For ease of reference, I've summarized the various Torah readings for the holidays on the weekly parashah page.
Teshuvah from fear - or love?
10.05.08 The Talmud notes that someone may be motivated to do teshuvah for one of two reasons. Someone may repent out of fear of Divine Punishment (called teshuvah miyirah, תְּשׁוּבָה מְיִרְאָה), or he may repent out of love of God and the desire to become attached to Him (called teshuvah me'ahavah, תְּשׁוּבָה מֵאַהֲבָה). Those who repent out of fear are said to have their intentional sins counted as errors, but those who repent out of love have their sins redeemed and transformed into virtues (Talmud: Yoma 86b).
This is explained as follows. Someone who repents out of fear of God did not have such fear within his heart when the sin was first committed, and therefore the sin is considered a result of ignorance of God's exaltedness and omnipresent glory. When the call for teshuvah is heard, the action is acknowledged as sinful, and fear of God's punishment induces the heart to turn back to God. This sort of person understands teshuvah as a kind of "get of of Hell free" card. By turning back to God, he or she hopes to appease God's anger and escape His righteous judgment. In other words, this form of repentance is essentially self-preserving and is meant to avoid the negative...
The one who repents out of love, on the other hand, acknowledges the seriousness of sin and the bottomless depth of sinfulness within his heart. This person understands the extent of God's mercy and grace that gives him cleansing, and a feeling of passionate love and gratitude arises within him. A sense of closeness to God results, and an intimacy and attachment to the LORD develops. This person's sinful condition, in other words, is transformed into an ongoing passion to love and serve God. The more profound the awareness of his sinfulness, the greater will be his attachment and love for God. Unlike teshuvah miyirah, this form of repentance is essentially self-giving and is meant to gain the positive... For the true baal teshuvah (בעל תשובה), the broken and sinful heart is (ultimately) transformed into a heart of healing and grace.
Yeshua mentions the relationship between love and repentance in Luke chapter 7. Recall the story of the unnamed "sinful woman" who washed his feet with tears and anointed him with costly perfume at the home of Simon the Pharisee. When the "frum from birth" Simon inwardly objected to her unrestrained display of appreciation, Yeshua looked at him and said, "I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven - for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little" (Luke 7:47). This principle, "to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little" (ολιγον αφιεται, ολιγον αγαπα), is behind the idea of teshuvah me'ahavah. We genuinely return to God when we understand our complete brokenness and sinful state and also find faith in His unconditional acceptance of us.... If you are trusting in God's forgiveness through the merit and sacrifice of Yeshua performed on your behalf, you can truly rejoice in the glorious fact that you are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). Your faith has saved you: walk in peace (Luke 7:50). As Bonhoeffer once said, "Accept that you are accepted."
Ultimately, "there is no fear in love" (אֵין פַּחַד בָּאַהֲבָה) because fear centers on judgment and punishment within the Heavenly Courtroom... Perfect love -- ahavah shlemah -- "casts out fear" because of Yeshua and His sacrifice as our Advocate (παρακλητος) of the New Covenant. "The record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands was nailed to the cross" and this consequently "disarmed" the devil's legal prosecution against us (Col. 2:13-14). We are declared "not guilty" by faith -- justified. We have been set free to love and cling to the One who saved us from everlasting exile.
Divine Absence and Teshuvah...
10.03.08 The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face." It is often used when discussing the Book of Esther, where God's Name isn't mentioned even once, yet the hidden Presence is realized in the outcome of the story. In this sense of the term, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's providential care for us is at work at all times, whether we perceive it or not.
This week's parashah (Vayeilech) begins on the last day of Moses' life. The LORD said to him, "Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. This people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them" (Deut. 31:16). The parashah continues: "Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.... And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods" (Deut. 31:17-18).
Unlike the happy thought that hester panim refers to God's hidden providence for good, in this case hester panim refers to the terrifying prospect of the withdrawal of the Divine Presence itself. God "hides His face" from us because our own desire for evil blinds us to the truth of His Presence. Hester panim therefore is not only "absence of Divine Presence," but "presence of Divine Absence." In other words, sin and selfishness causes the Divine Presence to remove from us, but that is precisely because we remove ourselves from Him. "I will hide... because you have turned..." The distance is therefore reciprocal: Selfishness turns God away from us and turns us away from God.
In difficult moments, many people cynically ask, "Where's God?" and yet they have no intention of turning from sin to seek the Divine Presence. They are quick to judge the Divine Absence as an excuse for the return to selfishness. This "hardening of the heart" leads to ever-increasing spiritual darkness and confusion... Finally the line is crossed and they become unable to turn away, unable not to sin (non posse non peccare). They are consigned to a frightful state: "God gave them up to a debased mind (αδοκιμον νουν) to do what ought not to be done" (Rom. 1:28).
People tend to blame God for the Divine Absence yet forget that God "hides His face" from those who elevate selfish desire over all other things... "Whoring after other gods" is nothing more than perverse self-exaltation, stubborn self-worship, and the incessant return to yourself as the object of ultimate concern in life.... This profound despair form is truly the "sickness unto death."
These are not happy thoughts, chaverim. In some tragic cases, the disease "reaches term" and the person actually dies. The "hiding of face" is then forever sealed. Since we have hidden our face from Him, God has hidden His face from us. God forbid that this should be anyone's ultimate spiritual destiny....
Is there a redemptive side to all of this? In some cases God "turns away" from us in order to afflict us and understand our need to return to Him: "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statues" (Psalm 119:71). The sense of "Divine Absence" can be a gift that helps us seek the Divine Presence: "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). The "dark night of the soul" can be a means of leading us to godly sorrow that leads to life (2 Cor. 7:10).
In keeping with the Days of Awe and the call to do teshuvah shelmah (a complete repentance), then, let me quote from the prophet Isaiah:
"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:6-7).
Let us "wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and hope in him" (Isa. 8:17). Wishing you teshuvah shlemah b'ahavat Yeshua - "A complete turning in the love of Jesus."
Shabbat Shalom, chaverim.
Rosh Hashanah 5769 Pictures
10.02.08 Here are a few pictures from Rosh Hashanah. We enjoyed seders on both nights. Our family sincerely wishes you "Shana Tova b'Mashiach Yeshua" - a good year in our Mashiach Yeshua!
Write for you this song...
10.02.08 This week's Torah (Vayeilech) includes the commandment given to Moses to "write for you this song" (כִּתְבוּ לָכֶם אֶת־הַשִּׁירָה הַזּאת) (Deut. 31:19). On the surface level (pshat) this refers to writing the words of a prophetic song (called Shirat Ha'azinu), but the Talmud says this refers to the Torah Scroll itself (Bavli, Sanhedrin 21b). From this comes the "613th Mitzvah" -- i.e., the law that every Jew is to write his or her own Sefer Torah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 270:1). Tradition says that "one who writes his own Sefer Torah is considered as if he personally received it from Sinai."
In practical terms, Torah Scrolls are written by a professionally trained Jewish calligrapher (called a Sofer STA"M). Training as a certified sofer takes years of preparation and intimate knowledge of the laws of soferut (i.e., scribal arts). A kosher Torah Scroll contains 304,805 letters, beginning with the letter Bet (in Bereshit), and ending with the letter Lamed (in Yisrael). Each letter must be meticulously written without any defect....
Jewish law accommodates to the impracticality of each person writing their own kosher scroll by declaring the mitzvah "fulfilled" when someone pays for a letter, a word, a parashah, or even for an entire Sefer Torah to be written on their behalf (often the chief contributor is given the honor of adding the final Lamed during a dedication ceremony called a siyyum). Another tradition maintains that "writing a Torah scroll" means writing it (Torah) upon your heart (Prov. 7:2-3) by engaging in study (Menachot 30a). By extension, this means supporting the labor of Torah teachers, for it is the continuity of Torah for posterity - Talmud Torah - that is the underlying intent of this commandment. "Writing this Song" then means knowing it so intimately that you can "sing" it to others, and thereby promote the knowledge and truth of Torah in the world around you.
10.01.08 Have you ever said the word "amen" to something without really meaning it? The sages note that those who respond "amen" with insincerity are like those who spurn God. This is based on reasoning from the verse: "I honor those who honor Me, but those who spurn Me shall be dishonored" (1 Sam. 2:30).
The word "amen" (אָמֵן) comes from the root aman (אמן), which means to "support" or "uphold." The Hebrew word for faith (emunah, אֱמוּנָה) likewise comes from this root. Saying "amen" is therefore an affirmation that seals our testimony to a declaration. It functions as a term of witness, an expression of assurance or conviction (ελεγχος, Heb. 11:1). In Jewish legal discussion, it denotes the establishment of testimony and is considered legally binding. In that sense, saying "amen" is not unlike taking an oath, swearing to the truth of what has been said... The first four books of Psalms ends with the word "Amen" (Ps. 41:13; 72:19; 89:52, and 106:48).
The word "Amen" is considered an acronym for the Hebrew phrase, El Melech Ne'eman, "God is a Faithful King":
The Mashiach called Himself "the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness" (הָאָמֵן עֵד הָאֱמֶת וְהַצֶּדֶק, Rev. 3:14). He truly is our Faithful King....
Some of the sages also note that since the numerical value for the Name of God (Adonai Havayah) is the same as the value for Amen, whenever we say "Amen" we are calling upon the LORD God to function as our witness:
When we express our good will and blessing to others, it is appropriate to add the word "Amen" at the end, asking for the LORD to witness to our heart's desire that good is bestowed upon others. We should be careful, however, when using this word, since we are commanded not to take the LORD's Name in vain (Exod. 20:7, Deut. 5:11), and we shall give account for every careless word we utter (Matt. 12:36). May the LORD help us to speak the truth in love....
The Parakletos and the Days of Awe
10.01.08 We are in the midst of the "Days of Awe" (יָמִים נוֹרָאִים), anticipating the most solemn time of Yom Kippur (often translated as the "Day of Atonement"). This year Yom Kippur begins Wednesday, October 8th, an hour before sundown.
Teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) is the main theme during this time leading up to Yom Kippur. We are called to examine our hearts and account for our souls (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ). Every moment we are given is a precious and irrepeatable opportunity. How have we used our time? Take a moment to think about what you've done, what you're doing, and where you're going.... Then go to the LORD in prayer, asking for His grace and love to help you turn to Him in the truth. God alone is the Source and Power of genuine teshuvah, for "from Him and to Him are all things" (Col. 1:16). Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).
Yeshua told us that the Holy Spirit, whom He called the Parakletos (παρακλητος, "the one called alongside" as advocate or advisor) is given to those who are trusting in Him. The work of the Holy Spirit is to "reprove the world of sin, to reveal righteousness, and to testify of judgment" (John 16:8): all themes of the High Holidays and Days of Awe. The Holy Spirit will come alongside you to intercede and advocate on your behalf in the Heavenly Courtroom.... The Spirit functions as ha-melitz (הַמֵּלִיץ), interpreting your groaning for deliverance and help before the Throne of Grace.
The Fast of Gedaliah
Many Jews prepare for Yom Kippur by observing the Fast of Gedaliah (צום גדליה), the day after (the second day of) Rosh Hashanah. This year the fast occurs Thursday, October 2nd. B'ezrat HaShem I will be adding a lot of information about Yom Kippur over the next few days.... Please keep me in your prayers.
10.01.08 The Shabbat that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah (שבת שובה), the "Sabbath of Return." Shabbat Shuvah is the very first Sabbath of the New Year, calling Israel to turn to the LORD for life....
The Torah reading for Shabbat Shuvah is Vayeilech ("and he went"). With just 30 verses, this is the shortest parashah of the Torah (on non-leap years, it is combined with parashat Nitzavim).
The sages ask, where did Moses go? After all, the word Vayeilech means "and he went." So where was he going? A midrash says that he went to each tent of Israel individually, personally encouraging each family to do teshuvah -- to love the LORD with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. "And he went and spoke these words to all of Israel (Deut. 31:1). Walking with God means encouraging others to embrace the truth by turning to the LORD.
This Shabbat is called "shuvah" because it presents the call to Israel to return to the LORD during the Ten Days of Repentance. Traditionally a sermon (drash) is given to inspire people to examine their deeds and turn to the LORD. The selected Haftarah begins with the words "Return, O Israel, for you have stumbled in your sin." (Hosea 14:2).
Yom Kippur is Soon!
10.01.08 Shanah Tovah, Chaverim! Now that the New Year has begun, we are looking toward Yom Kippur (יום כפור), the "Day of Atonement." This year Yom Kippur begins Wednesday, October 8th an hour before sundown.
Many Jews prepare for Yom Kippur by observing the Fast of Gedaliah (צום גדליה), the day after Rosh Hashanah. This year the sunrise to sunset fast occurs on Thursday, October 7th. B'ezrat HaShem I will be adding a lot of information about Yom Kippur over the next few days.... Please keep me in your prayers.