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December 2009 Updates


Does Abba mean "Daddy"?


 

12.30.09 (Tevet 13, 5770)  It has long been supposed that the ancient Aramaic word "abba" was a term of intimacy that a young child might have used to address his father, similar to "daddy" or "papa" in English. It should be noted, however, that abba (אַבָּא) is clearly cognate with the Hebrew word av (אָב), meaning "Father," though the -א ending on the Aramaic word makes it a definite noun -- similar to adding the Hey prefix (-ה) to a Hebrew word (i.e., ha'av: הָאָב). In the New Testament, abba (αββα) is always connected with "the Father" (ὁ πατήρ) to form "Abba, the Father" (i.e., αββα ὁ πατήρ). It is thought that the word "Abba" might have been unknowable to Greek-speaking Jews and therefore ὁ πατήρ ("the Father") was added to clarify the meaning. In the Babylonian Talmud, abba was combined with the word rav (master) to coin the word rabba, a term of respect for revered Torah sage.

In the famous "Disciple's Prayer," Yeshua instructed his followers to call God "our Heavenly Father" (אָבִינוּ שֶׁבַּשָּׁמַיִם), though He clearly stressed that we understand the sanctity of the Name of the LORD (יִתְקַדֵּשׁ שְׁמֶךָ). In other words, when we call God our Father, we must remember who we are addressing (i.e., the LORD) and show proper reverence and awe for His glory and honor. This is expressed in the principle: דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד / da lifnei mi attah omed: "Know before whom you stand." As it is written: רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה יִרְאַת יהוה / "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10), and כִּי־יהוה עֶלְיוֹן נוֹרָא מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ / "For the LORD Most High is awesome, great king over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2).

We need to be careful here. Calling the LORD "daddy-God" or "papa-God" verges on presumptuousness by diminishing His glory as the Master of the Universe. And while it is true that the LORD is our gracious and loving Savior, He is also Judge of all the earth. Christians are to "put away childish things" (1 Cor. 13:11) and understand that God is our Judge: "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5:10). "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).


Important Postscript: Please do not interpret what I've written above to suggest that we shouldn't call God "Abba."  That wasn't my point at all.  "Abba, the Father" (αββα ὁ πατήρ) is a valid way to address the LORD and indeed evidences our "spiritual adoption" as His children (Rom. 8:15). It's just that the word "Abba" really means "Father," not "Daddy" as is sometimes said. We are of course to regard God as our Heavenly Father: "Like a father who pities his children, so the LORD pities them that fear Him (Psalm 103:13). Indeed, the Psalms encourage us to pour out our hearts to our Father who loves us, and we are commanded to regard ourselves as God's dear children (Eph. 5:1). I was simply trying to encourage us to not forget the glory and greatness of God (and therefore to remember the dignity we have as God's redeemed children). But please - if what I wrote doesn't help you, then forget about it! 




New Hebrew Meditation:
Near the Brokenhearted

Chagall - Creation (detail)
 

12.29.09 (Tevet 12, 5770)  I wrote another brief Hebrew meditation (Near to the Brokenhearted) based on the verse: קָרוֹב יהוה לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב וְאֶת־דַּכְּאֵי־רוּחַ יוֹשִׁיעַ / karov Adonai l'nishberei lev, v'et dakkei-ruach yoshia: "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim.




Happy New Year - for Ugo?

New Year for Ugo
 

[ Should followers of the Messiah celebrate the civil New Year? Of course we should abstain from the revelry of the world and its carnivals, but should we otherwise regard January 1st as a divinely appointed time to reflect over our lives and make resolutions to change?  What is the significance of this date and why was it selected to represent a "new year"? What does the month of "January" mean? Indeed, what relationship, if any, is there between the world's calendar systems and the calendar system outlined in the Scriptures? ]

12.28.09 (Tevet 11, 5770)  Often we don't realize what is not being said because of what is being said. In other words, hidden or unspoken assumptions are always at work in communication, though we rarely take the time to seriously examine these assumptions for ourselves. Advertisers, politicians, and others who wish to control your thinking implicitly understand this and therefore regularly employ various techniques to distract you from examining their assumptions.  They understand that the louder (or more frequently or more threateningly) something is said, the less likely you will question its truth status or engage in reasonable thinking of your own.... In other words, "truth" for such pragmatists is little more than persuasion. Get the crowd to believe you and you've got the "truth."

Take, for example, the idea that we should all rush about purchasing Christmas presents to give on December 25th, or that we are now about to begin a "New Year." All around the world people are getting ready to celebrate a transitional day that marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next.  In most countries of the world, New Year's Day is usually celebrated on January 1st, though this date comes from the arbitrary decree of the consuls of ancient (and pagan) Rome -- not from anything taught in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Some Christian churches plan their own New Year's celebrations, offering a service to make resolutions and to offer up special prayers. (Because it falls eight days after December 25th, some Roman-influenced churches observe this date as the "Feast of Christ's Circumcision.")  Many mainline churches plan "midnight" communion services so that the sacraments could be taken just before the start of the "new year." Now while all this might be encouraging and helpful in some ways, it needs to be stressed that the civil New Year that the world celebrates is not a Biblical holiday at all, and in fact is opposed to the Biblical Calendar that was revealed in the Torah and Scriptures.

The study of the various calendar systems used in the world is highly convoluted and intricate. Consider, for example, the ancient calendars of the Egyptians, the Summerians (i.e., Babylonians), and the Aztecs. Or consider the Druid legends and Stone Henge.... Indeed, there are numerous calendar systems that have been developed throughout human history -- some based on the appearance of the moon (lunar calendars), some based on the sun (solar calendars), and still others based on various astrological signs and omens (the Aztecs followed the movements of the planet Venus, and the Romans counted backwards from fixed points of the moon's cycle and considered months of 29 days to be unlucky).

Egyptian Calendar
 

The Torah designates the month of Nisan (Scripturally called aviv, or "Spring") as the first month of the year (Exod. 12:2). Originally, then, the Hebrew calendar was lunar and observational. When the new moon was sighted, a new month begun.  Since the Torah also identified Sukkot as "the end of the (harvest) year" (Exod. 23:16), the sages of the Mishnah later identified the Fall month of Tishri (i.e., the "seventh month") as the start of a new year.... During the Babylonian exile (6th century BC), Babylonian names for the months (i.e., Tammuz) were adopted. This might harken back to the earlier Summerian Calendar of Abraham's day...

By the time the Mishnah was compiled (200 AD), the sages had identified four new-year dates for every lunar-solar year (the modern Jewish calendar was apparently ratified by Hillel the Elder in the 3rd century AD):

  1. Nisan 1 - (Rosh Chodashim) This is the start of the year from the point of view of the Scriptures.  Nisan 1 marks the start of the month of the Exodus from Egypt and the beginning of Jewish national history. Nisan 1 is also the first for counting the Festivals of the Hebrew Calendar and for counting the reign of kings.
  2. Elul 1 - This is the start of the year from the point of view of tithing of cattle for Temple sacrifices. Since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the rabbis decreed that this date should mark the time of Selichot, or preparation for repentance before Rosh Hashanah.
  3. Tishri 1 - After the destruction of the Second Temple, the rabbis decreed that Tishri 1 would mark the start of the year from the point of view of Jewish civic life.  Tishri 1 therefore is called Rosh Hashanah ("head of the year") that begins a ten-day "trial" of humanity that climaxes on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
  4. Shevat 15 - (Tu B'Shevat) This is the start of the year from the point of view of tithing of fruit trees. Today Tu B'Shevat represents a national Arbor Day in Israel, with tree planting ceremonies in Israel.
     

In practical terms, however, there are two "New Years" in Jewish tradition. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (Nisan 1) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (the other two "new years" are not regularly observed, except by the ultra-orthodox).  The first New Year is Biblical and is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2). This is the month of the redemption of the Jewish people -- and it is also the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah for our sins.  Oddly enough for most Christians, "New Years Day" should be really celebrated in the Spring....

All of this is in striking contrast, however, with the most widely used calendar in the world today -- the "Gregorian Calendar" -- named after Pope Gregory XIII who reigned over the Catholic Church in the 1500's.

The Gregorian Calendar, considered to be a revision to the Julian Calendar (which was itself a revision of the pagan Roman/Greek calendars) retains most of the names of the days of the week and months of the year from pagan Rome (and therefore, ancient Greece). The ancient Greeks named the days of the week after the sun, the moon and the five known planets (Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, and Saturn) which themselves were associated with the gods Ares, Hermes, Zeus, Aphrodite, and Cronus, respectively:

  • Sunday. Latin: dies solis - "Sun Day." Sunday celebrates the sun god, Ra, Helios, Apollo, Ogmios, Mithrias, or the sun goddess, Phoebe.  In the year 321 AD, the Roman Emperor Constantine ruled that the first day of the week, 'the venerable day of the sun', should be a day of rest.  The name was later changed to dies Dominica, "Lord's Day" in ecclesiastical tradition.
  • Monday. Latin: lunae dies - "Moon Day." Monday was named in honor of the Assyrian goddess, Selene, Luna and Mani.  In old English, mon(an)daeg meant "day of the moon."
  • Tuesday. Latin: dies Martis - "Day of Mars."  In Greek mythology Ares was the god of war (renamed "Mars" by the Romans). In English, "Tuesday" comes from Tiu (Twia), the English/Germanic god of war and the sky (identified with the Nordic god called Tyr).
  • Wednesday. Latin: dies Mercurii - "Day of Mercury." In Greek mythology Hermes was the god of trade and commerce (renamed "Mercury" by the Romans). In English, the name "Wednesday" derives from the Scandinavian god Odin, the chief god of Norse mythology. Woden is the chief Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic god, the leader of the Wild Hunt.
  • Thursday. Latin: dies Iovis - "Day of Jupiter." In Greek mythology Zeus was the god of the sky (renamed "Jupiter" by the Romans). The English word "Thursday" comes from the Middle English Thorsday, refering to "Thor" (the Nordic counterpart to Jupiter).
  • Friday. Latin: dies Veneris - "Day of Venus." In Greek mythology Aphrodite was the goddess of love/fertility (renamed "Venus" by the Romans). The name "Friday" comes from Freya (Fria), the name of the Norse god Odin's wife and Teutonic goddess of love, beauty, and fertility.
  • Saturday. Latin: dies Saturni - "Day of Saturn." In Greek mythology Cronus was the god of the harvest (renamed "Saturn" by the Romans) who ruled until dethroned by his son Zeus.
     

Likewise the names of the months ("moons") have pagan-Roman connections. The month of "January," for instance, is named on behalf of Janus, the two-faced Roman "god of doorways" who had one face looking forward and one backward ("Janus faced"). March is named after Mars, the god of war; April for the fertility goddess Aphrodite, July is named on behalf of Julius Caesar, August for Augustus Caesar, and so on.... Of course, the Gregorian Calendar of the Roman church tradition assimilated the pagan pantheon into its own liturgical calendar, as the Latin names of the days and months reveal.
 


כּה אָמַר יְהוָה אֶל־דֶּרֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם אַל־תִּלְמָדוּ...
כִּי־חֻקּוֹת הָעַמִּים הֶבֶל הוּא


Thus says the LORD: "Learn not the way of the nations...
for the customs of the peoples are vanity (Jer. 10:2-3)

 

It frankly baffles me that certain Christian theologians and preachers can be so meticulous about certain doctrines (such as justification by faith alone, the definition of the "church," the "inerrancy" of Scripture, the exact formula for baptism, etc.) and yet be seemingly oblivious to the fact that the modern, institutionalized Church inherits much of its substance and practice from pagan Rome... True, the Jews themselves adopted pagan names of the months from ancient Babylonia, but the Torah (as opposed to Jewish tradition) calls months (and days) by their ordinal number (the "first" month, the "second" month, etc.), and explicitly mentions that the New Year begins in Spring (aviv). So, while I'd like to wish you all a "Happy New Year," I'd like to wait until Nisan 1! Meanwhile, I hope and pray that you draw close to our Lord Yeshua, regardless of the time or day!  Shalom Chaverim...
 

Μὴ ἀγαπᾶτε τὸν κόσμον μηδὲ τὰ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ. ἐάν τις ἀγαπᾷ τὸν κόσμον,
οὐκ ἔστιν ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ πατρὸς ἐν αὐτῷ - 1 Jn 2:15
 


Addendum:
I am not suggesting that we should reject the secular calendar in preference to the Biblical calendar, at least for everyday, practical matters in this world. Conventionally we all use the words "Monday," "Tuesday," "January," "February," and so on without regard for the pagan associations of these names, and since we live in a secular culture, we are constrained to use the same terms as the culture around us, especially regarding times, dates, etc.  Nevertheless I think it's worthwhile contrasting the Biblical view of the calendar with that of the pagan world around us, especially since this reveals the disparity between the "Greek" and "Hebrew" mindsets so clearly. Our Jewish Lord and Messiah told us that we were "in but not of" the world, after all (John 17:5).

Moreover I am concerned that the predominantly Gentile Church has unthinkingly adopted many assumptions of the pagan world and has thereby become gravely out of touch with the divine calendar and the prophetic purpose of the festivals of the LORD.  Perhaps this is a result of the almost intractable problem of "Covenant Theology" or its ideological twin, "Dispensationalism," two interpretative methods that are used by various church theologians as they read the Scriptures. Churches that teach "Covenant Theology" advocate a form of "Replacement Theology," claiming that Israel should really be identified with the Gentile "church." On the other hand, churches that teach "Dispensationalism" consider the "Old Testament" to be worthy of instruction but really applicable only to the Jewish people (the Pauline epistles and perhaps the Gospel of John, on the other hand, are intended for the predominantly Gentile church). I believe that both approaches misread the Scriptures.  How can a so-called Christian claim that the "King of the Jews" lives in his heart when he hates the Jewish people? (For more on this subject, see this article).




Parashat Vayechi - ויחי


 

12.27.09 (Tevet 10, 5770)  This week's Torah portion, called Vayechi ("and he lived"), is the final portion of sefer Bereshit (the Book of Genesis).  The name of this portion is significant, especially since many of us just celebrated the birth of Yeshua as the Savior of the world. Indeed, since some scholars regard the 10th of Tevet as the day of Yeshua's birth, it's appropriate enough to recall that He was born to die -- in order that He might live again as our eternal intercessor (מַפְגִּיעַ) before the Father...

Parashat Vayechi includes Birkhat Ya'akov - the prophetic "blessing of Jacob" over the tribes of Israel. When the time came for Jacob to die, he did not call the designated firstborn of the family (that would have been Reuben, who forfeited his status because of the incident with Bilhah), but rather Joseph, the firstborn of his beloved wife Rachel. Jacob asked Joseph to swear that his body be carried out of Egypt to be buried in the resting place of Abraham and Isaac (i.e., the Promised Land). As Joseph promised, Jacob "bowed his head" -- an indication that Joseph's dream that his brothers and even his father would bow down to him was fulfilled. (The eschatological promise is that Yeshua [mashiach ben Yosef] will carry the children of Jcacob from their exile to the promised land before the end of the age.)

Later, when Jacob convened all his sons together to bless them before his death, he prophesied that "the scepter (שֵׁבֶט) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh (שִׁילוֹ) comes; and to him shall be the obedience (יקְהָה) of the people" (Gen. 49:10).  According to the early rabbis and Talmudic authorities, the "ruler's staff from between his (Judah's) feet" refers to the Messiah (Targum Onkelos, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and Targum Yerusahlmi) and the word "Shiloh" comes from she-lo, meaning "that is his." In other words, kingly authority would be vested in the tribe of Judah until the Messiah appears, at which time he would reign as the supreme leader of the people.  Others have said that since shiloh has the final Hey with a mappiq as a prepositional function of "to" or "towards," it actually means toward Shiloh, the very first capital of Israel in the Promised Land.  In either case, however, the idea has to do with the authority invested in Judah as divine regent until the Messiah appears.

Historically speaking, if we understand the "regency of Judah" to be invested in the Great Sanhedrin (after the last independent King of Judah [Tzedekiah] was deposed), the scepter (shevet) would have departed from Judah in AD 6-7 after the Romans installed a Roman procurator as the authority in Judea (thus replacing the Sanhedrin). However, the prophecy of Jacob did not fail, since the Mashiach had indeed come and was in their midst as Yeshua mi-netzeret (Jesus of Nazareth) at that time. In other words -- Yeshua is indeed the King of the Jews, though at present He is not physically reigning on David's throne (this will occur at His Second Coming when he returns to Jerusalem at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age) to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth).

Note: Jacob's prophecy that "the scepter will not depart from Judah... until Shiloh comes" includes all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet except for the letter Zayin, which is the Hebrew word for weapons, suggesting that when the Messiah comes, it will not be by means of arms or weapons, but rather by the ruach ha-kodesh.

If it pleases God, I will write some additional commentary on this important Torah portion later this week. However, please keep me in your prayers, friends. I am suffering from an internal infection that has weakened me greatly. Thank you and shalom. 




The Fast of Tevet and the Birth of Yeshua


 

12.27.09 (Tevet 10, 5770)  Asarah B'Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet) is a fast day (observed from sunrise to sunset) that marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon (in 587 BC) and the beginning of the battle that ultimately would destroy the Temple and send the Jews into the 70-year Babylonian Exile. This year Asarah B'Tevet occurs on Sunday, December 27th, 2009.

In Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion recalls the story of the idolatry of the golden calf (Exod. 32:11-34:10).

Messianic Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote that the 1st century AD document called Megillat Ta'anit (i.e., "the scroll of fasts") refers to the 10th of Tevet as the day of Yeshua's birth (i.e., sometime during late December in our Gregorian calendars).  Note that Jewish history regards the month of Tevet to be one of national tragedy, marking the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (in 587 BC). After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the early sages might have associated the birth of Yeshua as yet another reason for mourning the loss of the Temple on this date. (For more about the controversial date of the birth of Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?")




Draw Near to God (part 2)...



 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayigash). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

12.24.09 (Tevet 7, 5770)  I mentioned yesterday that the verb vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near" (from the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "to approach, draw near, to join"). The word nagash is used to describe how Abraham "drew near" to intercede with the Angel of the LORD (Gen. 18:23), how the inhabitants of Sodom "drew near" to break down the door of Lot's house (Gen. 19:2), how Jacob "drew close" to kiss his father Isaac (Gen. 27:27), how Judah "drew near" to his disguised brother Joseph to intercede on behalf of his family (Gen. 44:18), and so on.  The Jewish sages who first translated the Torah into Greek consistently used the verb engidzo (i.e., ἐγγίζω) for the verb nagash. Like the Hebrew word, the Greek word has a range of meanings, though it generally means to come close enough to touch someone or something.

Now all this might seem a bit tedious until you realize that the verb engidzo was "carried over" into the Greek New Testament.  The verb is used to describe how the Kingdom of Heaven is "at hand" (Matt. 3:2, 4:17), how the disciples "drew near" the city of Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1), how Judas "drew near" to kiss Yeshua (Luke 22:47), how the chief captain of a Roman legion "drew near" and arrested Paul (Acts 21:33), how the "better hope" of Yeshua "draws us near" to God (Heb. 7:19), and how you are invited to "draw near" to God so that He will "draw near" to you" (James 4:8).

Regarding this last example, please note that when we draw near to God, He has promised to draw near to us....  God is not distant from us. We don't need to "shout" or repeat our words for Him to hear us. No, He is close enough "to touch." When Judah "drew near" to Joseph, he came close enough to touch him.... The Scriptures would never command us to "draw near" to God if He were far away, remote, or otherwise inaccessible to us. On the contrary, God's Presence and glory fills the earth (Isa. 6:3). The way we can draw near to God is through prayer, praise and trust in His word.

From the perspective of faith, is there anything more important or significant than God's promise to draw near to us if we draw near to Him? At any given moment of your day, God is present and available to touch your life. As King David said, שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט׃ / shiviti Adonai l'negdi tamid, ki mimini bal emot: "I am ever mindful of the LORD's presence; because He is at my right hand; I shall never be shaken" (Psalm 16:8). The LORD's hand was on David because he always drew near to Him...

God invites you to come to Him for relationship... Since God is a Person, He wants to know you as a person. He is not interested in formulaic prayers, religious rituals, or your membership at a particular religious organization. God wants to know your inmost thoughts and heart.  Drawing near to God is God's way of drawing near to you... In other words, as you draw near to God, He will draw near and touch you.  May you draw close to Him now...

Love and blessings and peace and goodness and grace and kindness are given to you in Yeshua, chaverim, during this season -- and always!




Personal Update: I am currently taking "Cipro" for a serious infection and I'm really wiped out. Please pray for my healing. Our "Cobra" health insurance runs out at the end of January and then we're without any at all. My children have been healthy, baruch HaShem, and so has my wife Olga, but we are concerned that this infection (or whatever it is) will be something that might require ongoing care, etc.  Thank you for praying - and we wish you all a Merry Christmas!




Draw Near to God...



 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayigash). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

12.23.09 (Tevet 6, 5770)  The verb vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," from the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "to approach, draw near, to join."  Our Torah portion relates how Judah, the de facto "first born" of Israel, "drew near" to his disguised brother Joseph to intercede on behalf of his family.... 

It is interesting to note that the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (the "Septuagint," or LXX), translated the verb nagash using the word ἐγγίζω (engidzo), a verb that means to come so close as to be able to touch (in Modern Greek, this verb exclusively means to [physically] touch). Engidzo occurs in various places in the Greek New Testament as well, and is used, for example, to describe how Judas "drew near" to kiss Yeshua (Luke 22:47). James the Righteous used this verb in his admonition: ἐγγίσατε τῷ θεῷ καὶ ἐγγιεῖ ὑμῖν, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). Understood in this light, we are encouraged to come so close to God that we are able to "touch" Him -- and to be touched by Him as well.

But we must draw near to God b'kol levavkha - "with all our heart" - not merely with religious ideas or doctrinally correct words: "Because this people draw near (נִגַּשׁ) with their mouth and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men, therefore, behold, I will again do wonderful things with this people, with wonder upon wonder; and the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the discernment of their discerning men shall be hidden" (Isa. 29:13-14, cp. Matt. 15:8-9, 1 Cor. 1:9). We must draw near to God in Spirit and in Truth: "For the Torah made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, and that is how we draw near (ἐγγίζομεν) to God (Heb. 7:19). The Torah - by itself - is ineffectual to bring us into close contact with the LORD, since it reveals God's holiness and righteousness but provides no lasting solution to the problem of sin in the human heart. Indeed, we now have access to the Throne of Grace because the loving sacrifice of Yeshua is able to draw us near to God (John 12:32). The dividing veil (parochet) has been rent asunder.... We no longer go through the "offices of Levi" (i.e., Judaism and its rituals) to approach the LORD (Heb. 13:10).

Dear friend, do you feel distant from God? Do you find yourself wanting to experience His presence and to be touched by Him? Then you are invited to "draw near" to Him now.  If you delay or otherwise refuse to draw near, then how can God draw near to you? The LORD honors you as a person created in His likeness (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים); He does not force you into relationship with Him...  No, God respects your choice whether to draw near or not. That's why the Scripture reads, "You draw near to God and [then] He will draw near to you."  If God doesn't draw near to you, it is because you have chosen not draw near to Him. God is love and He cannot be untrue to His loving nature....

Drawing near to God is God's way of drawing near to you... In other words, as you draw near to God, He will draw near and touch you.  As Yeshua said, "Come to me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). But you must take the first step to receive God's acceptance and love. Open the door of your heart and let Yeshua come in to meet with you now (Rev. 3:20).

A closing note...  The verb engidzo is frequently used to describe the imminent return of the LORD: Πάντων δὲ τὸ τέλος ἤγγικεν / "The end of all things draws near" (1 Pet. 4:7). May God help us redeem the time by drawing near to Him with all our hearts, chaverim.  May we all draw so close to God that we are able to "touch" Him -- and therefore to be touched by Him as well. 

Happy Holidays to you and your families!




He was born to die...


 


  kavod lelohim bameromim, v'shalom alei-adamot b'kerev anshei retzono

"Glory to God in the highest and peace among those with whom he is pleased" (Lk 2:14)

12.20.09 (Tevet 3, 5770)  If Yeshua was born in the fall during the festival of Sukkot (i.e., "Tabernacles"), then his miraculous conception (i.e., incarnation) would have occurred nine months earlier, sometime around Chanukah.  Put the other way, if Yeshua were conceived in late Kislev (Nov/Dec), he would have been born 40 weeks later during Sukkot.  For more information about this subject, please see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?"  (Note: Some people try to "blend" Christmas and Chanukah into "Christnukkah" or "Messiahmas," but strictly speaking the birth of the Messiah and the Zionist holiday of Chanukah are two different things.)

Regardless of your particular custom surrounding the birth of Yeshua, the crucial point is that He was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). The story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the Cross at Moriah. That's the miracle of the Gospel story itself: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). His birth (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18).

 

Yeshua came to earth and emptied himself (κένωσις) of His regal glory and power in order to be our High Priest of the New Covenant. The life he lived in complete surrender to the Father was meant to demonstrate that He alone is the efficacious Healer and High Priest (Mediator) of us all: "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8). "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1-4).

Though Christmas is customarily the time that many people observe the birth of the Messiah and Savior, it is surely appropriate to celebrate Yeshua's glory as our risen King and Lord every day of our lives....  Therefore I sincerely wish each and every one of you a wonderful Christmas Season.  May we all take time to reflect upon the profound gift of the One who was so great that He emptied Himself (κένωσις) of all His regal glory and power to be clothed in human flesh in order to die as our sin offering before the Father. יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."

Note: For a brief Hebrew meditation on Isaiah 9:6 ("Unto us a child is born"), see "Promised Child and Son."




Parashat Vayigash - ויגש


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayigash). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

12.20.09 (Tevet 3, 5770)  This week's Torah reading includes the story of Judah's poignant intercession that resulted in Joseph's dramatic revelation to his brothers: אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי / ani Yosef, ha'od avi chai ("I am Joseph; is my father alive?"). Notice that this is a rather strange question since the brothers had earlier reported the condition of Jacob to Joseph (Gen. 43:28). When Joseph saw that his brothers were afraid of him, he said, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / g'shu na elai - "Please come near to me." "Your eyes see..." Joseph revealed himself to his brothers using Hebrew speech as a token of his identity.

When Jacob learned that Joseph was indeed alive, vatechi ruach ya'akov avihem - "the spirit of their father Jacob was revived."  Though for 22 years Jacob was bereaved, his beloved son was only a few days journey away from him.... According to Jewish tradition, Joseph never told Jacob about his betrayal by his brothers, not even when Jacob was on his deathbed.  His love forbade him to engage in lashon hara or to bring further pain to his father...

The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of the acharit hayamim (end of days) when the Jewish people will come to understand that Jesus (Yeshua) is indeed the One seated at the right hand of the majesty on high as Israel's Deliverer. Yeshua will then speak comforting words to His long-lost brothers and restore their place of blessing upon the earth.

The entire story of Joseph is rich in prophetic insight regarding Yeshua.  Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's recirpocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). (There is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story.)  Yeshua is depicted in both Judah's intercession (as the greater Son of Judah who interceded on behalf of the sins of Israel) and in Joseph's revelation as the exalted Savior who draws the Jewish people back to Himself. When Joseph disclosed himself and asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people. Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.

Note: If God is willing, I will add some additional commentary regarding this Torah portion later this week. Meanwhile, I ask you for prayer since I am experiencing some problems with my health.  Shalom for now, chaverim.




Chanukah Day 8


 

12.19.09 (Tevet 3, 5770)  We celebrated the final day of Chanukah (and Shabbat) at my in-laws home Friday evening. Here are a few pictures of the candle lighting (click for a larger view of the table):

Chanukah 5770 day 8
 




Josiah lights the Chanukah Candles
 

End Times Ministry...

12.17.09
(Kislev 30, 5770)  I am convinced that we are nearing the threshold of the prophesied "End of Days," chaverim.  If you can tolerate reading the world's "news," you understand that cataclysmic, global change is being quite literally forced upon us.  Social engineering, political propaganda, disinformation campaigns, psychological warfare, economic deconstruction, junk science, etc., are routinely used by those in power (the "princes of this age") to further their hidden agendas.  We see this perhaps most clearly in the realm of economics and politics today. Many "educated" people today are functionally powerless to resist the deception foisted upon them, however, since they've been inculcated by public indoctrination centers (i.e., public schools) to implicitly accept a "dialectical" approach to truth (see the Devil's Logic). Critical thinking, basic logical inference, testing and questioning truth claims, and so on, are generally not taught in today's schools (much less are they promoted in the mass media). Indeed, most of today's "leading intellectuals" believe that truth -- including moral truth -- is malleable and changing. The binary view of a truth claim (true/false) has been replaced with a trinary formula and "fuzzy logic." What matters today is the pragmatic concern of "what works," and therefore we have become a culture that is enchanted by technology (i.e., power) more than by righteousness and honor.

This approach to truth is found in the halls of Christendom as well... Those of us who understand the vital importance of the Jewish roots of the Christian faith are routinely dismayed to learn that the gatekeepers of "Christianity" are unwilling to engage in serious dialog about Christian tradition and theology in light of the Jewishness of Jesus and his followers. Tragically it seems that many of today's church leaders are more interested in preserving the status quo than earnestly seeking the truth. They forget the words of the Master who said, "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth (ἀλήθεια). Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). At heart such church leaders are technological pragmatists who blindly follow a recipe of ministry that "works" -- even if it's based on traditions that have more in common with pagan Greek theology than the teachings of the Jewish Messiah. Because of this, many of us have sadly chosen to "opt out" of the traditional church world altogether.... (For more on this, see "Is Christianity Anti-Jewish?")

On the other hand, many so-called "Messianic" organizations are entirely confused about the relationship between Torah and Covenant. They forget that the new covenant really is new. They forget that "when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). Many of these "Torah-Observant" groups confound Christians into believing that they need to "observe the law" and contradict the message of the Scriptures with the opinions and assumed authority of the "rabbis" and traditions of Judaism. (For more on this, see the Role of Torah articles.)

Ultimately we are living in the midst of a great spiritual war -- the war for truth. This has been the battle from the beginning.  The very first recorded words of Satan (נָחָשׁ) questioned God's truth: "Did God really say...?" (Gen. 3:1). Ultimately there will be two types of people: those who love the truth and those who love the lie. Metaphorically, either you will prove to be a child of light or a child of darkness.... Followers of Yeshua are told to  "walk as children of light" / ὡς τέκνα φωτὸς περιπατεῖτε (Eph. 5:8).

This ministry is different than many others because it is somewhat "lonely." We're not at home among mainline Christian churches nor among Torah-observant Messianic groups. We attempt to walk a "fine line" by balancing positions and embracing paradox when necessary. And we are comfortable with questioning, engaging in earnest dialog, considering non-linear ways of understanding the Hebrew Scriptures, and plainly confessing that we simply don't know everything. Nonetheless, we maintain that the Gospel message simply cannot be understood out of context -- that is, apart from its Jewish origin -- and therefore the study and appreciation of the Jewish Scriptures is foundational for understanding the truth of the message of Yeshua (Luke 24:27). Therefore we study the Torah and take its message seriously.  Moreover, we accept Yeshua as none other than YHVH "come in the flesh" and affirm that the salvation of God comes entirely from His love and grace -- not by our own merits or righteousness (Titus 3:5-6). As such, we attempt to provide solid Biblical truth and wisdom as a real alternative to the apostasy and confusion promoted by innumerable other groups disseminating their religious doctrines today.

So please keep us in your prayers.  This ministry is perhaps the smallest of all ministries in the world, with a staff of just one person (though my patient and loving wife deserves great praise for her support of my labors here). If you believe the message and purpose of this ministry is important, please prayerfully consider supporting this work.  Thank you and shalom.

Chanukah 5770 day 7
 

Personal Update: I have been suffering from some health concerns, chaverim, and I sincerely ask for your prayers for my healing....  Thank you for everything. I love you and wish you great happiness and joy in our beloved Lord Yeshua!




Joseph and his brothers


 

[ The following provides some further discussion regarding this week's Torah reading (Miketz). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

12.16.09 (Kislev 29, 5770)  The Torah plainly states that Jacob loved Joseph (יוֹסֵף) more than all his other sons, since he was the son of his old age, and was the firstborn son (bechor) of his beloved wife Rachel (Gen. 37:3). Indeed, Jacob and Joseph shared a lot in common: Both had infertile mothers who had difficulty in childbirth (Rebekah and Rachel); both of their mothers bore two sons (Rebekah: Esau/Jacob; Rachel: Joseph/Benjamin); both were hated by their brothers, and perhaps most significantly, both had lost their mothers (Joseph was present when his mother died, whereas Jacob never saw his mother again after he fled from his brother Esau).  Perhaps this explains why Jacob favored his son and gave him the ketonet passim (כְּתנֶת פַּסִּים), a full-sleeved robe or ornamental tunic that set him apart from his other sons, and perhaps this also explains Joseph's juvenile boasting about his "dreams of preeminence" over his brothers.... The story of Joseph is, among other things, a story about his dreams.  As a young man, his dreams centered on himself, which led to his betrayal and fall; after being humbled in prison, he focused on the dreams of others, which led to his exaltation...

There is a lot of mystery surrounding the story of Joseph. Like his father who fled from the hatred of his brother, Joseph became a victim of his brothers' malice. After being betrayed and sold into slavery as a teenager, Joseph later seemed to abandon his family identity. He had no "Bethel" experience along the way, however. Indeed, upon his release from prison he was thoroughly "Egyptianized."  He wore Egyptian clothes, spoke fluent Egyptian, married an Egyptian wife, assumed an Egyptian name, and named his firstborn son "Manasseh" (מְנַשֶּׁה), a word that comes from the verb nasah (נָשָׁה), meaning "to forget."  It's clear that Joseph wanted to forget his past life.  After all, despite his ascendancy in Egypt -- when he had the means to reconnect with his long-lost family (including his father and brother who were deceived into thinking he was dead) -- he did nothing to contact them. (For more on this topic, see "The Heart's Truth.")

The truth (ἀ+λήθεια, see below) cannot be forever forgotten, however. When his brothers finally reappeared in his life seeking help, it had been 22 long years since they had last seen him.  Joseph was now forced to deal with his past life. But he played the part of a "stranger" and withheld his true identity... As part of his charade, Joseph bound and imprisoned Simeon (who, according to tradition was the brother who originally threw Joseph into the pit). It was then that the brothers remembered what they had done to Joseph when they betrayed him as a child.  Here the Torah adds a detail not originally given in the story of Joseph's betrayal, namely, that the brothers had ignored Joseph's desperate cries for help (Gen. 42:21-24). Perhaps the shock of seeing their helpless brother Simeon bound before them reminded the brothers of the terrible pain they had once caused Joseph... 

Joseph, of course, demanded that his brother Benjamin be brought from Canaan in order to validate the brothers' story. Benjamin, the last link to Jacob's deceased wife Rachel, had apparently taken Joseph's place as Jacob's favorite son, and Jacob was unwilling to part from him. The famine, however, forced the issue and Judah swore to his father to take personal and eternal responsibility for the welfare of his beloved son...  Jacob relented in a state of fearful resignation.

Although the sages argue about the exact chronology, it is clear that Benjamin was not a child when Joseph was thrown into the pit at age 17. When he finally saw his brother again, Joseph was so overcome with emotion that he left the room to weep.  A midrash tells of the conversation between Joseph and Benjamin that brought tears to Joseph's eyes.  Joseph asked Benjamin, "Have you a full brother, one who has the same mother as you?" "I had a brother," answered Benjamin, "but I do not know where he is." "Do you have sons?" asked Joseph. "I have ten." "What are there names?" "I named them all after my brother and the troubles that befell him. One is called Bela because my brother was nivlah - swallowed up - and disappeared. Another is called Bechor because he was the bechor (firstborn) of his mother. A third is called Achi because he was achi, my brother, and a fourth is called Chuppim because he did not see my chuppah (i.e., wedding day)." So Benjamin explained the names of his ten sons and Joseph was full of love for his brother and sadness for the time they had not shared together.

Another midrash tells the story about how Joseph seated his brothers from youngest to oldest (Gen. 43:33). He wanted to have Benjamin sit next to him but was unsure how to arrange the seating. Picking up his goblet and pretending that it had magic powers, Joseph called out the brothers names: "Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah," and so on from oldest to youngest. When he came to Benjamin, he said, "He has no mother and neither do I. He had a brother who was separated from him at birth, and so did I -- let him sit next to me!"  The fivefold portion given to Benjamin was meant to test the brothers to see how they would react to a brother being shown preferential treatment.

When Joseph later framed Benjamin for stealing the "divination goblet," he was masterfully recreating a situation similar to the one in which he was sold by his brothers. Had they changed? Would his brothers abandon Benjamin as they had abandoned him in his hour of need?  In order for there to be genuine reconciliation, Joseph needed to see if his brothers had really undergone teshuvah. When Judah stepped forward to take the place of his brother, he willingly accepted the guilt of them all. When Judah said, "What can we say, my lord; God has found out our sin" (Gen. 44:16), he was not confessing to the theft of the divination cup, but rather to the brothers' crime of throwing Joseph into the pit and selling him as a slave....

The word "Miketz" means "at the end of" and points to prophetic future (i.e., the "end of days" or acharit ha-yamim). Just as Joseph was a "dreamer" who was betrayed by his brothers but was promoted to a place of glory by the hidden hand of God, so Yeshua was betrayed by his people yet was exalted over all the nations (מֶלֶךְ הַגּוֹיִם). And just as Joseph later disguised himself as a "stranger" and an "Egyptian" to his brothers but was finally revealed to be their savior, so will the Jewish people come to see that Yeshua is the true Savior of Israel. Then will come true the hope of Rav Sha'ul (the Apostle Paul) who wrote, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer who shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob" (Rom. 11:30).

May that hour come speedily, and in our days....

Chanukah 5770 day 5
 




Chanukah Day 4


 

12.15.09 (Kislev 28, 5770)  We celebrated the fourth day of Chanukah quietly at our home this evening. Here are a few pictures of the candle lighting:

Chanukah 5770 day 4
 

We wish you great inner peace and joy during this special time of year, chaverim... May the LORD God of Israel fill you with the Light of His glorious Son!




Parashat Miketz - מקץ


 

[ Note: Chanukah runs from Friday, Dec. 11th through Saturday, Dec. 19th this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday. For more information, see the Weekly Torah Reading page. ]

12.14.09 (Kislev 27, 5770)  The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat (which occurs on the last day of Chanukah) is parashat Miketz.  As this portion opens, Jacob's favored son Joseph had been languishing in prison for 12 years, but the appointed time had finally arrived for him to fulfill the dreams given to him as a young man. In this connection, I list some of the ways that Joseph is a "type" or foreshadowing of the coming Yeshua as the Suffering Servant (i.e., Mashiach ben Yosef). The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of acharit ha-yamim (the "End of Days") when Israel, in Great Tribulation, will come to Yeshua as Israel's deliverer. Presently, the veil is still over the eyes of the Jewish people and they collectively regard Yeshua as an "Egyptian" of sorts. For more information, please see the summary page for Miketz.

Note: If it pleases God I will add some additional commentary to parashat Miketz later this week. Meanwhile Happy Chanukah and blessings to you, chaverim.




Rosh Chodesh Tevet - ראש חדש טבת


 

12.14.09 (Kislev 27, 5770)  Thursday December 17th (and Friday the 18th) is Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the new moon of the 10th month of the Jewish calendar (counting from the first month of Nisan). This was the fateful month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 39:1; Ezek. 24:1-2). The name of the tenth month is called Tevet in the Scriptures (see Esther 2:16). Rosh Chodesh Tevet is sometimes observed as one day and sometimes as two, because the preceding month (Kislev) is sometimes "full" (consisting of 30 days) and sometimes deficient (consisting of only 29 days). With a two-day Rosh Chodesh, the first day is the 30th day of the preceding month (i.e., Kislev 30th), and its second day is the first day of the following month.

The Septuagint Translation.  The 8th of Tevet is traditionally recognized as the date when the oldest translation of the Torah, the ancient Greek Targum (translation) called the "Septuagint" (or LXX, or "translation of the Seventy"), was finished.  According to the early sages, "King Ptolemy II [3rd century BC] once gathered 72 elders, placed them in 72 separate chambers, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one's room and said: 'Write for me the Torah of Moses, your teacher, into Greek.' God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did" (Tractate Megillah 9). Note, however, that the circumstances and motives surrounding this translation were suspect from the beginning. After all, what would motivate a Greek king of Egypt to test Jewish scholars in this way? And while Jewish tradition concedes that it was miraculous that the sages all translated the Torah using the same Greek constructions, they generally decry the "freezing" of the text into a particular interpretation, since the Torah is considered essentially untranslatable (i.e., there are many layers of meaning that are only revealed through the original Hebrew texts).

Critical scholarship shows that there are textual variants between the Koine Greek text of the Septuagint and the Masoretic text (i.e., the received text of modern Judaism). The Dead Sea Scrolls tend to confirm the Hebrew that underlies the Greek text over the present Masoretic text, though it must be stressed that the majority of these variations are quite minor (e.g. grammatical changes, spelling differences).  After the 2nd century AD, however, most of the Jewish world regarded the Septuagint as an untrustworthy translation and associated it with Hellenistic influences and corruption. Unfortunately, the Christian world endorsed the Septuagint as "authoritative" and perpetuated its literal use instead of studying the Hebrew text and Jewish methods of exegesis. We wonder if much of the heresy of "replacement theology" does not trace back to this decision of the early church's leaders to abandon the Hebrew text for the Greek...


 

The Fast of Tevet.  Asarah B'Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet) is a sunrise-to-sunset fast day that recalls the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon (in 587 BC) and the beginning of the battle that ultimately would destroy the Temple and send the Jews into the 70-year Babylonian Exile.  In modern Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion recalls the story of the idolatry of the golden calf (Exod. 32:11-34:10).




Chanukah Day 3


 

12.14.09 (Kislev 27, 5770)  We celebrated the third day of Chanukah at our house this evening. Here are a few pictures of the occasion, chaverim:
 
Chanukah 5770 day 3
 

᾽Αγωνίζου τὸν καλὸν ἀγῶνα τῆς πίστεως / "Fight the good fight of faith." Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Tim. 6:12).




Chanukah Day 2


 

12.13.09 (Kislev 26, 5770)  We celebrated the second day of Chanukah over at my in-laws home this evening. Here are a few pictures of the occasion, chaverim:
 
Chanukah 5770 day 2
 

We are living in darkened days, chaverim...  In such a time as this, we must remain true to our convictions and seek to strengthen our faith.  The powers of darkness shall never prevail over the truth and love of God.  As King David wrote:
 

אִם־תַּחֲנֶה עָלַי מַחֲנֶה לא־יִירָא לִבִּי
אִם־תָּקוּם עָלַי מִלְחָמָה בְּזאת אֲנִי בוֹטֵחַ
 
im tachaneh alai machaneh lo yira libi,
im takum alai milchamah, b'zot ani vote'ach

 

Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. (Psalm 27:3)

(Study Card Download)
 

This is a major theme of Chanukah - retelling the victory of faith in the LORD God of Israel despite ubiquitous godlessness and worldly oppression.... Nonetheless, what are we to do with those who hate us? Are we supposed to love them, too? A sage once remarked, "After 120 years, I would rather be rebuked for loving someone without cause than for hating someone with cause." His words agree with those of our Lord Yeshua who told us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). Extending agape (ἀγάπη) -- unconditional love -- is not optional for a follower of the Messiah, even if we are confronted with an army that is encamped against us...




Chanukah Day 1


 

12.12.09 (Kislev 25, 5770)  We celebrated the first day of Chanukah (and Shabbat) at our home with my in-laws. It was a precious time reciting the blessings, lighting the candles, eating latkes, listening to music, praying, and spending some time together. This was also Judah's first Chanukah!  We wish you could have been there... From our family to yours: Happy Holidays, chaverim!
 

Chanukah 5770 day 1
 

Left-to-right (top): 1. Josiah gets ready; 2. Josiah at the window; 3. Peter lights the candles;
4. John with Judah; 5. Vadim lights the candles
(bottom): 1. Josiah lights the 1st candle; 2. the table filled with menorahs; 3. Blessings pages;
4. another table shot; 5. Josiah counting gelt

 




Happy Chanukah!


 

12.11.09 (Kislev 24, 5770)  Chanukah begins tonight at sundown.  The Hebrew word chanukah means "dedication" and marks an eight day winter celebration (from Kislev 25 - Tevet 3) that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple after a small group of Jewish believers defeated the forces of assimilation at work in their world. As such, Chanukah represents the victory of faith over the ways of speculative reason, and demonstrates the power of the miracle in the face of mere humanism.  And since Yeshua is the true light (ha'or ha'amiti) that lightens us all (John 1:9), Chanukah is ultimately a celebration of the victory of God in Yeshua our Messiah....

Once again let me wish you a very happy and joy-filled Chanukah and Christmas season!  Our family loves Chanukah... It's such a festive time, and I always sense the LORD's Presence in the room as we recite the blessings, light the candles, sing some songs, pray, and EAT latkes!  It's a joyous season, and its message is more important today than ever before...

 

Please see the links below to download some quick and easy Chanukah blessing cards... Chanukah Sameach, chaverim: Let your light shine!




Yeshua - the Light that cannot be hidden


 

[ This entry continues some thoughts about Chanukah, which begins tomorrow evening. ]

12.11.09 (Kislev 24, 5770)  In the Gospel of John it is recorded that Yeshua said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (i.e., ᾽Εγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή). The Greek word translated "truth" in this verse is aletheia (ἀλήθεια), a compound word formed from an alpha prefix (α-) meaning "not," and lethei (λήθη), meaning "forgetfulness." (In Greek mythology, the "waters of Lethe" induced a state of oblivion or forgetfulness.)  Truth is therefore a kind of "remembering" something forgotten, or a recollecting of what is essentially real.  Etymologically, the word aletheia suggests that truth is also "unforgettable" (i.e., not lethei), that is, it has its own inherent and irresistible "witness" to reality. People may lie to themselves, but ultimately the truth has the final word...

Greek scholars note that the word lethei itself is derived from the verb lanthano (λανθάνω), which means "to be hidden," so the general idea is that a-letheia (i.e., truth) is non-concealment, non-hiddenness, or (put positively) revelation or disclosure. Thus the word of Yeshua - His message, logos (λόγος), revelation, and presence - is both "unforgettable" and irrepressible. Yeshua is the Unforgettable One that has been manifest as the express Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). Yeshua is the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) and the one who gives us the "light of life" (John 8:12).  Though God's message can be supressed by evil and darkened thinking, the truth is regarded as self-evident and full of intuitive validation (see Rom. 1:18-21).

The Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) comes from a verb (aman) that means to "support" or "make firm."  There are a number of derived nouns that connote the sense of reliability or assurance (e.g., pillars of support). The noun emunah (i.e, אֱמוּנָה, "faithfulness" or "trustworthiness") comes from this root, as does the word for the "faithful ones" (אֱמוּנִים) who are "established" in God's way (Psalm 12:1). A play on words regarding truth occurs in the prophet Isaiah: אִם לא תַאֲמִינוּ כִּי לא תֵאָמֵנוּ / im lo ta'aminu, ki lo tei'amenu: "If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all" (Isa. 7:9; see Faith Establishes the Sign). Without trust in the LORD, there is no stability... Truth is something trustworthy, reliable, firm, or sure.  In colloquial English, for example, this idea is conveyed when we say, "He's a true friend...", indicating that the loyalty and love of the person is certain. The familiar word "amen" likewise comes from this root. Speaking the truth (dibbur emet) is considered foundational to moral life: "Speak the truth (דַּבְּרוּ אֱמֶת) to one another; render true and perfect justice in your gates" (Zech. 8:16). Yeshua repeatedly said, "Amen, Amen I say to you...." throughout his teaching ministry to stress the reliability and certainty of God's truth (Matt. 5:18, 26, etc.). Indeed, Yeshua is called "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14).

The relationship between the Hebrew and the Greek ideas seems to be that the revelation of God - the aletheia - is reliable and strong. The source for all truth in the world is found in the Person and character of the LORD God of Israel... The self-disclosure of the LORD is both unforgettable - both in the factual and moral sense - as well as entirely trustworthy.  Aletheia implies that truth is something that should never be forgotten. Hence we are regularly commanded and encouraged not to "forget" the LORD (Deut. 8:11, Psalm 103:2, etc.), to "remember" his covenants, to "keep" his ways, and so on.

During this Chanukah Season -- and always -- may the LORD God of Israel help us walk in the unforgettable and irrepressible radiance of His glory. May God help us shine with good works that glorify God's Name (Matt. 5:16). "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6).




The Beauty of God's Truth


 

[ This entry continues some thoughts about Chanukah, which begins tomorrow evening. ]

12.10.09 (Kislev 23, 5770)  It's been said that the Greek mindset regards what is beautiful as what is good, whereas the Hebraic mindset regards what is good as what is beautiful.  The difference is one of orientation.  Doing our duty before God, in other words, is what is truly beautiful, not merely appreciating the appearance of symmetry, order, and so on.  This explains why moral discipline (i.e., musar, מוּסָר) is so prominent in Hebrew wisdom literature. True beauty cannot exist apart from moral truth.

The word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), "education," shares the same root as the word "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, dedication). Unlike the Greek view that regards education as a pragmatic process of improving one's personal power or happiness, the Jewish idea implies dedication/direction to God and His concrete purposes on the earth. Disciples of Yeshua are likewise called talmidim (תַּלְמִידִים) -- a word that comes from lamad (לָמַד) meaning "to learn" (the Hebrew word for teacher is melamad (מְלַמֵּד) from the same root). In the New Testament, the word "disciple" is μαθητής, a learner or a pupil of a διδάσκαλος, or a teacher. True education is therefore foundational to being a disciple of the Mashiach.

(Note that the Hebrew word "rabbi" comes from the word rav (רַב), which means "great." The word rabbi (רִבִּי) is formed by adding the 1st person singular ending, i.e., "my great one," or "my reverend."  In Yiddish the word is rebbe. Yeshua told us not to call anyone other than Him "rabbi" or "father" since we are all brothers and sisters and He alone is our Master (Matt. 23:8)).

Following Yeshua, then, first of all means submitting to His authority and learning from Him as your Teacher (Matt. 23:8). Only after spending time with Him are you commissioned to go "to all the nations and teach..." (Matt. 28:19). This is accomplished not only by explaining (propositional) doctrine but by kiddush HaShem -- sanctifying the LORD in our lives. We are called to be a "living letter" sent to the world to be "read" (2 Cor. 3:2-3).

During Chanukah we recall the courage and faith of Judah the "Maccabee" and his brothers.  The name "Maccabee" is said to be an acronym [מ כּ בּ י] for Moses' affirmation of faith: מִי־כָמכָה בָּאֵלִם יהוה / "Who is like you, LORD, among the mighty?" (Exod. 15:11). Since God alone is the Supreme Ruler of the universe, we do not need to live in fear of man. As King David wrote: יהוה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא / "The LORD is my Light and my Salvation - of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).  Yeshua the Messiah is our true Light (ha'or ha'amiti) and our Salvation (yeshu'ah). He has said, "My peace I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 14:27, 16:33).
 

בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָנוּ תְּשׁוּעָה נִצַּחַת בְּיַד
יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אֲדנֵינוּ
 
barukh hu ha-Elohim asher natan-lanu teshuah nitzachat b'yad
Yeshua ha-Mashiach Adoneinu


Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through
our Lord Yeshua the Messiah! (1 Cor. 15:57)

(Study Card Download)


Some of the Jewish sages said that "the seal of God is truth," since the final letters of the three words that conclude the account of creation: בָּרָא אֱלהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת / bara Elohim la'asot: "God created to do" (Gen. 2:3) -- spell the word for truth (i.e., emet, אֱמֶת):


 

In other words, God created reality "to do" (לַעֲשׂוֹת), which has come to be interpreted by these sages as meaning that it is our responsibility, as God's creatures, to participate in the "doing" of His work. Truth is about doing, not being; it is centered upon the realm of duty and obligation and is grounded in the mandate to "name" the creation.

Note that the "Seal of God" is not just a matter of sincerity. It is rather a matter of being true in the sense that you are living it, you are "being with it," you are part of it. Truth is a passion that informs all of the decisions you make in your life. You therefore embody the truth and follow it in all your endeavors. In this sense Yeshua the Messiah is the Truth, since in Him there was no mismatch between who He is and what He says. He is utterly trustworthy. His actions and speech are one and are entirely reliable. Yeshua is the "Seal of God," the one who authoritatively names of all creation, and His followers likewise should evidence this in their lives.

During this Chanukah Season -- and always -- may the LORD God of Israel help us shine the radiance of Yeshua in our daily lives (Matt. 5:16).




Chanukah and Spiritual Warfare


 

[ Note: Chanukah begins Friday, Dec. 11th and runs through Saturday, Dec. 19th this year. ]

12.09.09 (Kislev 22, 5770)  Chanukah is essentially a story about remaining committed to the truth in a godless, and therefore insane, world.  After all, since ultimate reality is the "handiwork" (i.e., conscious design) of a single, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, morally perfect, purposive, personal, and spiritual Agency that has been revealed in the Jewish Scriptures, those who deny this Reality are living in a state of delusion (that is, a protracted "hallucination" that indicates radical departure from what is real). In a sense, the history of humanity - especially as it has been expressed philosophically and politically -- has been nothing less than the conscious collusion to redefine reality as something that it isn't. "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the dignitaries (רוֹזְנִים) take counsel together against (lit. "over") the LORD and His Mashiach" (Psalm 2:1-3). Spiritual warfare is therefore the fight for sanity and truth in a world that prefers madness and self-deception.

Despite being an anti-Semite, the early Church father Tertullian (160-220 AD) once asked a very good question: "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" He was right for asking the question, though ironically, as a Greek-minded "replacement theologian," he was wrong for categorically libeling the Jewish people (see Adversus Iudaeos, c. 200 AD). Historically speaking, religious Jews have always loved the Torah and resisted the pull toward assimilation... Indeed, what other nation has survived over the millennia as have the Jewish people? Sadly, it is a continuing sin of many of today's "church leaders" to disregard the miraculous existence of Israel - including the modern State of Israel - by refusing to give the LORD God of Israel glory for His faithfulness.... Look, if God isn't faithful to the promises made to ethnic Israel, what makes these people think He won't change His mind regarding the Church?

Historically, Chanukah remembers the Jewish resistance to forced Hellenization (i.e., the spread of pagan Greek culture), though more generally it represents the ongoing struggle against assimilation to the prevailing "world system." (As an aside, the name "Maccabee" is an acronym [מ כּ בּ י] for מִי־כָמכָה בָּאֵלִם יהוה / "Who is like you, LORD, among the mighty," indicating that God alone is the Supreme Ruler of the universe).  In modern day America, for instance, the pressure to assimilate takes the form of "political correctness" and the acceptance of official propaganda that multicultural pluralism/cultural relativism is the truth. For those of us who follow Yeshua, Chanukah is the bold proclamation that the Light of the World has come, despite the fact that "people love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil" (see John 3:19).

Yeshua gives us light, the very "light of life" (אוֹר הַחַיִּים). What does this mean to you who claim to know Him and His message? How does this impact you as His follower in this darkened age?  It is only by the Light of Yeshua that we gain victory over the powers of darkness, since the darkness cannot comprehend the light (John 1:5). When we walk in the Light, we have fellowship, unity, echdut, with one another, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against us (1 John 1:7-9). May the LORD God of Israel, the Father of the Blessed One Yeshua, help us all to behold the glory of His Light by abiding in His love! May He enlighten the "eyes of our understanding" and pour out the spirit of wisdom revelation in the knowledge of the Messiah (Eph. 1:17-19).

Note: For more on this subject, see the Chanukah pages (as well as the entry "The Way of the Righteous," below).

Personal Update: I recently bought a new computer to replace the one I am currently using and I am having a difficult time getting my applications to work on the "new and improved" Windows 7 operating system (I currently use Windows XP Pro). I discovered that Windows 7 has an "XP Pro" compatibility mode, but the system I purchased cannot support this technology, so I am really a bit stuck over here....  I will keep you posted of the progress, chaverim. Also, I am struggling with some health issues and ask for your prayers. Thank you!




Should Christians celebrate Chanukah?


 

12.08.09 (Kislev 21, 5770)  It's somewhat ironic that the only reference to the festival of Chanukah occurs in the New Testament, not in the Tanakh, where we learn that Yeshua observed the "feast of dedication" (John 10:22-24). During a season of remembering miracles (nissim), Jesus pointed out that the works that He did attested to His claim to be the long-awaited Mashiach of the Jewish people (John 10:37-38). His works and character clearly displayed the true Light of who He was, and these works still shine to us today. Jesus was and forever shall be the greatest Jew who ever lived upon the earth.

But should Christians celebrate Chanukah (or Christmas, for that matter)? Well, for those of you who have read my Christmas article, you understand that I believe that Yeshua was actually born during the festival of Sukkot and conceived during the Festival of Lights (Chanukah). For this reason, we can join in Christmas festivities, but we understand the celebration to center on the Miracle of the Incarnation -- when God the Son chose to divest Himself of his regal glory and began his redemptive advent into this world.

Please let me wish you a very happy and joy-filled Chanukah and Christmas season!  Our family loves Chanukah... It's such a festive time, and I always sense the LORD's Presence in the room as we recite the blessings, light the candles, sing some songs, pray, and EAT latkes!  It's a joyous season, and its message is more important today than ever before...

 




New Chanukah Blessing Cards


 

[ Note: Chanukah begins Friday, Dec. 11th and runs through Saturday, Dec. 19th this year. If you have never personally experienced your own Chanukah celebration, let me encourage you to purchase a Chanukah menorah and light the candles along with us this year. Step by step instructions are provided on the Chanukah pages on this site, chaverim. ]

12.07.09 (Kislev 20, 5770)  Tonight I updated the Chanukah Blessings page to include some new "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Chanukah celebrations! I created cards for each of the four key blessings customarily recited during this holiday.

The Four Blessings:

  1. Chanukah Candle Lighting Blessing (hadlakat nerot Chanukah) - Recite this blessing before kindling the candles on your chanukiah (i.e., Chanukah menorah).  The tradition is that on the first night of Chanukah one flame is lit, on the second night two, and so on until the eighth night when eight flames are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle.  Note that the first day of Chanukah happens to be Shabbat this year, so we'll light our Chanukah candles before we light our Sabbath candles.
  2. The Miracle Maker Blessing - (She'asah Nissim) - This blessing recalls the miracles of the Chanukah season (note that the same blessing is recited during Purim). Recite She'asah Nissim every night for the holiday, usually just before or immediately following the kindling of the Chanukah candles.
  3. The Shehecheyanu blessing ("Who has kept us alive") - Recite this blessing for the first night of Chanukah only. The Shehecheyanu has been recited for thousands of years to mark moments of sacred time in Jewish life. It is referred to in the Talmud and other ancient Jewish literature (Berachot 54a, Pesakhim 7b, Sukkah 46a).
  4. The Closing Paragraph (Hanerot Hallelu) - This statement is recited (or sometimes sung) after the candles have been lit. It is intended to remind you of the sanctity of the occasion and to help you remember not to use the Chanukah lights for profane purposes. After it is recited, a seudat Chanukah (a special meal) is eaten, with special songs of praise and prayers.

Of course Hebrew audio clips are provided on the Chanukah blessings page as well. I hope you find the new cards helpful, chaverim! Chanukah Sameach!

 




Parashat Vayeshev - וישב



 

[ Note: Chanukah begins Friday, Dec. 11th and runs through Saturday, Dec. 19th this year. The weekly Torah reading is not suspended for Chanukah (as it is for Passover and Sukkot), though additional Torah readings are read for each of the eight days of the holiday. For more information, see the Chanukah pages. ]

12.06.09 (Kislev 19, 5770)  From the beginning of this week's Torah portion (Vayeshev) until the end of Sefer Bereshit (the Book of Genesis), the focus shifts from Jacob to his twelve sons, but most especially to Jacob's beloved son Joseph (יוֹסֵף). What appears as a sequence of terrible hardships for Joseph finally results in the deliverance of the Jewish people during a time of great tribulation. The story of Joseph's ordeal is therefore the story of Divine Hashgachah (providential supervision) at work -- as well as a foretelling of the Messiah (i.e., Mashiach ben Yosef).

The Torah reading begins, vayeshev Ya'akov, "And Jacob settled" (Gen. 37:1). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) notes that whenever the word vayeshev is mentioned in Torah, it introduces a painful episode.  Immediately after the statement that "Jacob settled in the land of his father's sojourning," we read that Joseph brought an "evil report" about his brothers to his father. This act ultimately led to the selling of Joseph into slavery and further heartache for Israel. The Jewish sage Rashi notes that whenever someone called by God wants to "settle down" and live at ease, God orchestrates events to keep him or her free from complacency. This certainly happened in the case of Jacob, where sibling rivalry and baseless hatred (called sinat chinam, (שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם)) so disrupted the peace of the family that his children were eventually led into exile and slavery.

Some of the sages note that the "Valley of Hebron" (i.e., the place from which Jacob commissioned Joseph to go check on his brothers), should rather be translated as "from the depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן), suggesting that Joseph's assignment was the first step toward fulfilling the prophecy given to Abraham of the descent of Israel into Egypt (Gen. 15:13). The word Hebron comes from a root that means "association" or "union," suggesting that from the depths of the family union would come struggle but eventual deliverance.

Note:  If it pleases God I will add some additional commentary to this Torah portion later this week, chaverim.




Chanukah Torah Readings


 

12.06.09 (Kislev 19, 5770)  The eight day festival of Chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה) begins Friday, Dec. 11th (at sundown) and runs through Saturday, Dec. 19th. In addition to the regular weekly Torah reading (i.e., Vayeshev), an additional Torah portion (Numbers 7:1-8:4) is divided and read over the eight days of the holiday. For more information, see the Chanukah Torah readings listed on the Chanukah pages.




The Way of the Righteous - דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים


 

[ Note: Every day we are bombarded with messages from various sources attempting to persuade us to believe something or other. For the child of God it must be remembered that whatever the world system values, interprets, and regards as "news" is founded in a fallacious understanding of reality, and therefore may be likened to the "counsel of the wicked." ]

12.04.09 (Kislev 17, 5770)   How we think about things matters.... Our thoughts determine how we see, feel, interpret, reason -- and choose. In a sense, our thoughts express who we really are: they are "inner verbalizations" that reveal our characters. And since our thoughts lead to feelings that are inevitably expressed in actions, our actions ultimately express what we believe (at least at any given moment in time).  To change undesirable behavior, we often need to back up and reject erroneous assumptions that underlie and justify our choices. Often the assumptions we believe operate on a "preconscious" level of awareness. We must slow down and ask ourselves what we are really thinking and believing whenever we consider the choices we are making.  But the two are inextricably  linked together: our thoughts determine our actions and our actions express our thoughts...

Psalm One stands as a sort of "preface" to the Book of Psalms by first of all extolling the way of the righteous (i.e., derekh tzaddikim: דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים) in contradistinction to the way of the wicked (i.e., derekh resha'im: דֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים). It is therefore a foundational Psalm that is intended to encourage us to separate ourselves from the ways and customs of the prevailing godless culture (2 Cor. 6:17).

Notice that the very first verse of this very first Psalm declares that the happy person (ashrei ha-ish) neither "walks" (הָלַךְ) in the counsel of the wicked, nor "stands" (עָמָד) in the way of sinners, nor "sits" (יָשָׁב) in the seat of the scornful:

אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר
לא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים
וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לא עָמָד
 וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לא יָשָׁב׃

Ashrei ha-ish asher
lo halakh ba'atzah resha'im,
u'vderkeh chata'im lo amad,
uv'moshav leitzim lo yashav
 

Happy is the man who
does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stand in the way of sinners,
nor sit in the seat of the scorners. (Psalm 1:1)
 

Although King David used parallelism in this verse, note that the verbs "walk," "stand," "sit" mark an unmistakable progression -- or rather a regression away from the upward walk of the righteous to a place of murky despair, cynicism and bitterness.... Looked at from the reverse perspective, the ungodly first heed wicked counsel and then walk in its doctrine and presuppositions. This causes them to slow down and "stand" in a sinful state (i.e., to dwell/abide in a state of ignorance).  The sense of life's urgency is lost to them: there is no place to "go," no development, no "goal" or purpose to life... Finally, the wicked decide to "sit" down, or "dwell" with an abiding scorn.

Note that the righteous - the tzaddikim - do not "walk" in the "counsel of the wicked." In other words, since they live by a different set of axioms, they realize that the thoughts of the wicked are grounded in fallacious assumptions about reality. And since thought ultimately determines action, the repudiation of the assumptions of the wicked inevitably leads to a different lifestyle or "walk" for the righteous.  This is the collision of faith between the righteous and the world system I've written about elsewhere.

Second, since the righteous man is occupied walking according to a different set of principles (i.e., the counsel of the godly), he will not be found "standing" in the way of sinners. Since the "way of sinners" (דֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים) is essentially one of ignorance (i.e., sin [חֵטְא] is essentially "missing the mark"), the righteous soul actively discerns and walks by the truth about reality. Such discernment often means rejecting the status quo and therefore standing apart from the crowd. This is suffering "outside the camp" of the world, the lonely place of faith that leads the righteous to separate themselves from the "groupthink" and self-deception of the crowd.

Third, because the righteous walk differently - away from the crowd - they will not be found "sitting" with the scorners. The word translated "sits" (יָשָׁב) can also be translated as "dwells." The word translated "scorner" is leitz (לֵץ), a cynic who mocks (yalitz) everything in a show of superficial superiority. The leitz is unteachable and arrogantly considers himself as better than others. He is considered an incorrigible fool in Proverbs.  The way of the righteous is one of humility and genuine love for others created b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God). Sanctified speech upbuilds others and expresses good will.

We depart from the way of the righteous whenever we heed of the counsel of the wicked -- whenever we begin making their words our own.... When we listen to various news reports from the mass media, or when we listen to the prevarications of politicians, for example, and uncritically accept their distorted versions of reality, we are "taking counsel of the wicked." The same can be said regarding heeding the messages of the advertisers, of television shows, movies, popular music, and so on.  Often the messages are subliminal and attempt to cajole us to accept alternative versions of reality...  Is it any wonder that television is referred to as "programming"?  Advertisers, politicians, educational psychologists, sociologists, social engineers, etc., all understand that manipulating how people think determines what they will eventually do...  Getting you to  uncritically accept their messages is the first step to entrapping you.

If we are not careful, we might find ourselves believing the twisted versions of reality that are passed off as true in our world. If we find ourselves complaining, murmuring, or despairing over things of this world, we are seeing the evil that we are "scripted" to see, and therefore we become wicked ourselves.  The "counsel of the wicked" is assimilated into our thoughts, our words, and our actions... Who we listen to is of vital importance, chaverim.

The way of the righteous is one of faith, hope, and love.  Hakarat tovah means recognizing or being conscious of the good, i.e., gratitude. Hakarat tovah is one of the middot ha-lev (qualities of heart) that should mark the lives of those who are grace-based and focused. Gratitude is the product of joy (χαρα) obtained from the gift of being conscious of God's grace (χαρις). Faith accepts that all things work together for good - gam zu l'tovah ("this too is for the good") and therefore rejects assumptions that foster bitterness and anger.

The sages note that Psalm 1:1 could have been written as, "Cursed is the man who walks in the way of the wicked, who stands in the way of sinners, and who sits in the seat of the scornful," but King David took a healing approach by stating positively what needs to be corrected in our lives.  Positive criticism focuses on the potential for good we see in others.  Using harsh words of rebuke leads to pain and misunderstanding. Our speech needs to be sanctified -- edifying and building up hope in others. We should always judge others (including ourselves) in the best possible light.  Hakarat tovah means recognizing the good in others and choosing to see with ayin tovah, a good eye.

Focusing on God - elevating our thoughts - returns us from the path of the wicked to the realm of divine happiness. God has told us that we can escape from the pervasive counsel of the wicked by finding delight (חֵפֶץ) in the "law" (i.e., Torah, תּוֹרָה) of the LORD:
 

כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ
וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה׃

ki im b'torat Adonai cheftzo
uv'torato yehgeh yomam va-lailah

but the teaching of the LORD is his delight
and in His teaching he meditates day and night

 

The truly happy person - ashrei ha-ish - finds delight in the Torah of the LORD. Note that the Hebrew word asher (אָשֵׁר) means to go straight, to walk or press on, or to make progress. Pressing on in righteousness leads us to true happiness, a state of blessedness. The "happy man" (אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ) represents the ideal man of God who is not ensnared by the ways of the wickedness that surrounds him. His victory over the world is found in his faith. The way forward is the Torah-perspective.

Note further that the word "delight" is linked with the use of our tongues, which is of course directly connected with the words that verbalize our thoughts... מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים אהֵב יָמִים לִרְאוֹת טוֹב׃ / "Who is the man who is eager for life, who desires days of good?" נְצר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה׃ / "Guard your tongue from evil, your lips from deceitful speech" (Psalm 34:12-13).  Our thoughts/words determine our character, which in turn are expressed in our actions. Listening to the truth, filling our hearts with God's word, setting our affections on heavenly reality, thinking on worthy things -- all are remedies for the clamor and chatter and fallacies so prevalent in our world today. Consciously heeding to the message of God's truth elevates us from the morass of disinformation, propaganda, and deception that is used to control and manipulate the crowd.

Psalm One closes with a great prophecy: כִּי־יוֹדֵעַ יהוה דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תּאבֵד / "For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed" (Psalm 1:6). Who we listen to matters; how we think matters. Many of us have become so conditioned and influenced by the world that we don't even realize we are under its spell! Refuse the counsel of the wicked; do not heed the propaganda and messages of those who attempt to instill fear within you.  There is no fear in God's love, and God's love and glory fills the earth (Isa. 6:3)! Take every thought captive to the obedience of Messiah. Walk in His love (Eph. 5:2); stand in His truth (Eph. 6:14), and dwell in His promises (Eph. 1:20; John 15:4-10). He is our Teacher and we are his students. Work hard to obtain a Torah perspective on life!
 

בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹדוֹ לְעוֹלָם וְיִמָּלֵא כְבוֹדוֹ אֶת־כּל הָאָרֶץ
אָמֵן וְאָמֵן

barukh shem kevodo l'olam ve'yimalei khevodo et-kol ha'aretz.
Amen v'amen.
 

"Blessed is His glorious name forever; His glory fills the whole world.
Amen and Amen" (Psalm 72:19)
 

Shabbat Shalom Chaverim...




New Hebrew Meditation:

The Grace of Torah

Chagall - Creation (detail)
 

12.01.09 (Kislev 14, 5770)  I wrote another brief Hebrew meditation (The Grace of Torah) based on Psalm 25:8: טוֹב־וְיָשָׁר יהוה עַל־כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ / tov v'yashar Adonai, al-ken yoreh chata'im ba-darekh: "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He teaches sinners in the way" (Psalm 25:8). I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim...





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