July 2009 Updates
07.29.09 (Av 8, 5769) It looks like my computer has been hit with a trojan virus of some kind that is slowing down my system over here... I am attempting to repair/restore things on this side, though there might be some data loss, etc. Please keep this ministry in your prayers, chaverim... Thank you.
Sinat Chinam and Tishah B'Av
[ Note that Tishah B'Av begins Wednesday, July 29th at sundown and runs 25 hours - through Thursday, July 30th after sundown.]
07.27.09 (Av 6, 5769) Tishah B'Av remembers the destruction of the two Holy Temples of Judaism. According to the Talmud (Yoma 9b), the first Temple was destroyed (586 BC) because of the sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed, but the Second Temple was destroyed (70 AD) because of what the sages call "baseless hatred." The sages say that baseless hatred (called sinat chinam) is considered even a more serious offence than the earlier sins that led to the destruction of the First Temple. After all, it took 70 years to rebuild the First Temple, but Jews are still waiting to rebuild the Second Temple, even after more than 1,900 years:
Why was the first Sanctuary destroyed? Because of three [evil] things which prevailed there: idolatry, immorality, bloodshed. But why was the second Sanctuary destroyed, seeing that in its time they were occupying themselves with Torah, [observance of] precepts, and the practice of charity? Because therein prevailed hatred without cause. That teaches you that groundless hatred is considered as of even gravity with the three sins of idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed together. (Talmud: Yoma 9b)
Though sinat chinam (שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם) is often translated as "baseless hatred," it literally means "hatred of [their] grace (חֵן, chen)." In essence, then, sinat chinam is the rejection of God's grace. But since Yeshua the Mashiach is the embodiment of all of God's grace (John 1:17, etc.), sinat chinam represents a rejection of Him... Is it any wonder, then, that the Mashiach foretold the destruction of the Second Temple based on Israel's rejection of Him (Matt. 24:2)?
Recall the context, chaverim. During His "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:1-11), Yeshua was greeted by the cries of Jewish Passover pilgrims: "Hosanna!" This word is actually the phrase "hoshiah na" (הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא), meaning "please save" or "save now." The Jewish pilgrims were singing Psalm 118:25-26 and applying it to the greater Son of David, Yeshua, who had come:
Matthew notes that hoshiah na was addressed to Yeshua Himself, "to the [greater] son of David" (לְבֶן־דָּוִד), thereby indicating that the Messianic Hope was presented to Israel (Matt. 21:9). For a flickering moment the proper praise was given to Yeshua as Mashiach ben David, though of course He had come to them as Mashiach ben Yosef, their Suffering Servant, the One of whom the prophet Isaiah clearly foretold.
Immediately after his "triumphal entry," Yeshua went directly to the Temple and drove out all who sold there, overturning the tables of the "money changers" and the seats of those who sold pigeons (Matt. 21:12). After this the blind and the lame were able to enter the Temple -- and Yeshua healed them.
Despite performing miraculous works of healing in the Temple that day -- including opening the eyes of the blind and causing the disabled to walk -- the kohanim (chief priests) and soferim (scribes) were "indignant" at His actions and therefore sought to put Him to death (Mark 11:18).
In the evening Yeshua left the Temple for Bethany, the home town of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, where He stayed the night. The following morning He walked back to Jerusalem, and being hungry, saw a fig tree along the way. When He saw that the fig tree was without any fruit, Yeshua pronounced these words: "May no fruit ever come from you again!" And the fig tree withered at once (Matt. 21:18-19).
He then returned to the Temple where he was once again accosted by the religious establishment who questioned his authority. Yeshua turned the tables on his accusers by giving them a dilemma to solve: the baptism of John: was it from God or from man? Unwilling to answer him, Yeshua then prophesied the parable of the two sons (Matt. 21:28-32), indicating that despite their supposed status as the "good sons" of Israel, even tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of God before them. He went on to say that "the kingdom of God will be taken away from them and given to a people producing its fruits" (Matt. 21:43).
The Pharisees and the Sadducees then attempted to "entangle him in his talk" and sent their disciples to him to pose tricky questions. Yeshua, however, exposed their "baseless hatred" -- their sinat chinam - and confounded them all (see Matt. 22). Beginning in Matthew 23, Yeshua then began his denuciation of the "scribes and the Pharisees," pointing out their hypocrisy and their unclean motives. חֲנֵפִים אַךְ־אוֹי לָכֶם סוֹפְרִים וּפְרוּשִׁים (akh-oy lachem soferim u'perushim, chanafim): "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! (Matt. 23:13-ff).
After Yeshua ended his denunciation, he lamented for Jerusalem:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord' (בּרוּךְ הבּא בּשׁם יהוה). - Matt. 23:37-39
After this, Yeshua left the Temple for good and never looked back. In Matthew 24 Yeshua's disciples made a last-ditch appeal for Jewish tradition and ceremony by pointing out the glory of the Second Temple. "Look at these beautiful buildings of the Temple, Lord..." It was then that Yeshua pronounced judgment on the Temple and the Levitical system, predicted the Roman destruction of the Temple, and so on (Matt. 24:1-2). This was apparently unfathomable to the disciples, who apparently still considered Yeshua to be a "reformer" of Temple Judaism, perhaps the one who would restore it so that the Kingdom of God would be finally manifest upon the earth. Yeshua went on to explain the signs of the End of the Age (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) that would precede the promised Days of Messiah (יְמֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ), otherwise known as the Messianic Kingdom. He foretold that one day praise would rightly be given to Him as Israel's True King, but only after the travail of the coming Great Tribulation upon the earth. Only after the Jewish people cry out to Him as their LORD (Matt. 23:39) would the Kingdom of God be established in Zion.
Please note that there were actually TWO separate cleansings of the Temple recorded in the New Testament. The earlier cleansing is described in John 2:13-22 and the later one is described in (both) Mark 11:15-19 and Matthew 21:1-16. In Mark's account of the second cleansing, Yeshua actually stopped the "carrying of the ritual vessels" -- meaning He LITERALLY stopped the Temple sacrifices of Israel. Mark 11:16 states: "And he would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the Temple":
And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine. And when even was come, he went out of the city.
Yeshua certainly knew the Temple and its beauty. He razed it because Israel forsook His greater sacrifice. The Jewish sages had it half right. It was indeed because of sinat chinam that the Second Temple was destroyed, but this was most clearly revealed in the rejection of Yeshua as Israel's King and Savior....
Our mourning for the Temple is really mourning for presence of our beloved Savior, Yeshua, who will return soon raise up the "fallen sukkah of David" (אָקִים אֶת־סֻכַּת דָּוִיד הַנּפֶלֶת) and establish Zion's reign upon the earth (Amos 9:11-15, 2 Sam. 7:8-16). May He come quickly, and in our days...
Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן
07.26.09 (Av 5, 5769) The Torah portion for this Shabbat (Vaetchanan) includes some of the most fundamental texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, Moses' prediction of the galut (exile) of national Israel and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the End of Days) is provided in this portion.
The word Vaetchanan (ואתחנן) does not appear elsewhere in the Tanakh, though it is derived from the verb chanan (חָנַן), meaning to find favor or grace (i.e., chen, חֵן). The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) -- which suggests (according to some of the sages) that Moses offered tachanunim (supplications) no less than 515 times to be allowed into the Promised Land (note that the word "tachanun" comes from the same Hebrew root as Vaetchanan). Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun."
Why did Moses, the great leader of Israel, need to plead and supplicate the LORD so earnestly? Moses' sin that led to his exile was that he "struck the rock twice" (Chukat). This mistake might not seem like such a big deal until we remember that everything that happened to the Exodus generation was highly prophetic and held portentous meaning for the future of Israel. The sages call this prophetic principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children."
The rock that was struck was a picture of the Mashiach who would be stricken for His people (Isa. 53:4 and 1 Cor. 10:4). Moses' second striking suggested that Yeshua would need to be stricken a second time in order to provide the needs of the people. No! The Rock that was once smitten for the people was now to be spoken to as the Spiritual Rock (1 Cor. 10:4). The entire Exodus was a parable: "As below, so above" (and conversely). Moses conveyed the wrong message, suggesting that the first striking had been insufficient and that something more was needed. The price he paid for this disobedience was severe: Exile from the Promised Land. And so it is to this day: those who attempt to add to the work of the LORD by affecting works of their own righteousness will likewise find themselves in a state of exile from grace....
Midrash on the succession of Yehoshua (Joshua)
According to midrash, when the time arrived for Yehoshua to be anointed king, God told Moses it was time for him to die. "If that is what it depends upon," Moses replied, "I would rather be a student of Yehoshua and he be my teacher." Said God: "If you so desire, well and good." Moses then "covered himself" and went to Yehoshua's tent where Yehoshua was teaching Torah. When it was discovered that Moses was there, all the people exclaimed to Yehoshua, "What is this? You sit while your teacher Moses stands?" Yehoshua then tore his garments and wept, saying, "My master, what are you doing here?" Then all the people implored Moses to teach them Torah.
Moses replied that he was no longer permitted to teach the people Torah, but the people prevented him from leaving and pressed upon him. Finally, the Heavenly Voice called out: "Learn Torah from Yehoshua." The people then were quieted while Yehoshua taught with Moses sitting at his right side and Elazar at his left.
After Yehoshua's address, the people came to Moses and asked him to explain what Yehoshua had said. Moses, however, replied, "I myself do not know." At that hour, Moses finally prayed: "Master of the Universe, the time has now come that I wish to die."
Some time afterward, Moses was told from Heaven, "One more hour to your death." He began to bless each tribe separately... Then he was told, "One half-hour to your death," and he began asking forgiveness from the leaders of Israel who in turn asked Moses to forgive them. Moses was then told, "One minute to your death." He then said, ברוך שׁמו חי וקים לעולם ועד, "Blessed is His Name, who lives and abides eternally." He then asked Israel to remember him after they came into the Promised Land. Moses was then told, "One half-minute more to your death." He then put his hands upon his heart and said to Israel: "These hands, which received the Torah, will be buried in the earth." And then his soul left him. The LORD Himself buried Moses in Moab, but no one knows the location.
Yehoshua as a Type of Mashiach
Despite the foregoing midrash, what's important here is that Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ) is seen as a "type" or foreshadowing of Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ), the "new anointed son" who would lead Israel into the fullness of God's promises.
Yehoshua was Moses' faithful companion at Sinai (Ex. 24:13) and overseer of the "Tent of Meeting" (אהל מועד), taking every opportunity to be near God's presence (Ex. 33:11). He was a capable commander of the armies of Israel who regularly routed the enemy in battle (Ex. 17:9, etc.). Yehoshua was humble and of impeccable moral character, a true servant of Israel filled with Holy Spirit (Num. 27:18). Before the catastrophe of the Sin of the Spies, Moses renamed him from Hoshea (הוֹשֵׁעַ) to Yehoshua (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ), appending the letter Yod to make his name begin with a divine prefixive (יָהּ־). Yehoshua (i.e., Joshua) and Yeshua (i.e., Jesus) come from the same Hebrew root yasha (ישׁע) meaning "salvation" (in the Greek LXX, Joshua is spelled Ιησους, the same spelling for Jesus in the New Testament). Yehoshua was steadfast in his faith (Num. 32:12) and willing to be "despised and rejected of men" rather than appease the mob...
Both Yehoshua and Yeshua were faithful leaders of Israel (Deut. 1:37-38; Matt. 2:6); both were directly ordained by God; both appointed 12 men (Josh. 4:4; Mark 3:16-19); both led the people of God to the Promised Land and engaged in warfare for the Kingdom of Heaven; both performed various miracles; both allotted the inheritance of the LORD to God's people (Deut. 1:38, 3:28), both circumcised the people (Yehoshua at Gilgal; Yeshua in the Spirit); both married a Gentile bride (Yehoshua married Rahab, Yeshua married the faithful of the nations), both signified salvation by means of the "scarlet cord," and so on. Moses was the "lawgiver" who was unable to give rest (salvation) to Israel; Yehoshua led the way after the great lawgiver died. The people could not enter the land of promise until Moses was dead (see Rom. 7:1-4).
Another midrash says that when Yehoshua was born, no one took note, but when he died, all of Israel took note. Nonetheless, the Israelites did not mourn for him properly. One was busy with his vineyard, the other with his field, yet another with his coal. "The Holy One, Blessed be He, therefore sought to make the whole world quake" (Midrash Shmuel 23:7). This is also an apt description of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, the Suffering Servant, whose birth went unnoticed, but His death and resurrection indeed shook the world!
In Aramaic (the language of the Talmud), the word Nun means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. The first mention of the word is in Exodus 33:11 in reference to Yehoshua, the "son of Nun." Yehoshua, the one who succeeded Moses and was able to enter the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a clear picture of Yeshua our Mashiach, blessed be He...
Shabbat Nachamu - שבת נחמו
07.26.09 (Av 5, 5769) The Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av is called שבת נחמו (Shabbat Nachamu) the "Sabbath of Comfort," based on the Haftarah reading of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both of the Temples that were destroyed. Thematically, this Shabbat marks a time of joy over our anticipated comfort: Despite our present tribulations, in the end the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.
I AM ... Your Neighbor
07.26.09 (Av 5, 5769) This week's Torah portion (Vaetchanan) repeats Aseret Hadibrot (the Ten Commandments) as they were initially given in Parashat Yitro (Ex. 20:2-17). Though there are some slight language differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions, both begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and both end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD. We must learn to disregard the claims of our ego and cling to the idea of chesed. So who is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day...
Spirit and truth, chaverim: בְּרוּחַ וּבֶאֱמֶת. Deuteronomy 4:39 commands us to "know this day and lay it to your heart that the LORD is God alone." The glory of the LORD fills the entire earth (Isa. 6:3). It's never sufficient to merely know about the LORD. Holy knowledge must be taken into the heart so that the will conforms to the truth....
Words and Bees
07.24.09 (Av 3, 5769) Our ability to use language is perhaps what most differentiates us from animals -- and what most closely links us to God Himself. Indeed, words (devarim) and rationality (הִגָּיוֹן) are central to tzelem Elohim, the image of God, even as Yeshua represents this image most perfectly as devar Elohim (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the "Word (λόγος) of God" (Heb. 1:3, John 1:1). Just as the Word of God resounded, "Let there be Light, and there was Light (Gen. 1:3), so our words are the medium of how we experience and understand reality. Words, then, are powerful and can bring forth light and life, though tragically, they can cause darkness and death, too. As it is written in Proverbs: מָוֶת וְחַיִּים בְּיַד־לָשׁוֹן / "Life and death are in the power of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21).
The midrash notes the morphological similarity between the word devarim (דְּבָרִים, words) and devorim (דְּבוֹרִים, bees). The words of Torah can give joy and sweetness to those who heed them (Psalm 19:10), but they are a deadly poison to those who do not. Likewise, our words can either be used to build up, edify, and comfort others, or they can be used to tear down, deliver poison, and cause pain. Most cases of violence - domestic or otherwise - begin with verbal abuse...
Hurting others with our words is regarded as a terrible sin (lashon hara) that is linked with spiritual leprosy (i.e., tza'arat). One who publicly embarrasses another so the person's color changes (i.e., either blushes or turns ashen) is judged as if he spilled blood. This is sometimes called ona'at devarim, i.e., "stealing words" in service to a critical spirit that humilates or debases others. It is a sort of "soul murder" and its practitioners are likened to verbal terrorists. Even our self-talk can be suicidal. Yeshua said that calling someone an "empty-headed fool" (ῥακά) puts you in danger of moral condemnation, but calling someone a "rebel" or "godless person" (μωρός) puts you in danger of eternal damnation itself (Matt. 5:22). This is "like-for-like" justice. Our words of criticism reveal an illegitimate sense of self-righteousness that turns a blind eye toward our own defects of character. Yeshua advises: "Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matt. 5:37).
It is written in Pirke Avot, "Where there is no proper conduct, there is no Torah" (Avot 3:21)-- just as when there is no joy, there can be no genuine nevuah (prophecy). In other words, our actions (and this includes our use of words and the underlying thoughts and attitudes they express) always trump the mere profession of faith upon our lips. Joy, like true love (or a cough), cannot be hidden... "He [Ben Azza] would say: Do not scorn any man, and do not discount anything. For there is no man who has not his hour, and no thing that has not its place." (Pirkei Avot 4:3).
It's been said that "hurt people hurt people." Embracing the truth that you are of infinite worth and dignity is the first step of deliverance from a heart of malice and ill-will. May it please the Lord to give us a "good eye" -- and a heart that affirms words of life, love and grace both for ourselves and for others. "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).
Note: There is a Tishah B'Av connection with all of this, chaverim. The sages say that it was on account of "baseless hatred" (i.e., sinat chinam, שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם), that the Temple was destroyed and the Diaspora was decreed (Talmud: Yoma 9b). But note that sinat chinam literally means "hatred of [their] grace (חֵן, chen)." In essence, then, sinat chinam is the rejection of God's grace. This means envy or even jealously of the goodness we see in others, that is, ona'at devarim, the "stealing of words" in service to a critical spirit... In this case, however, the criticism was directed against Yeshua Himself, the embodiment of God's grace, and therefore sinat chinam represented a rejection of Him... Is it any wonder, then, that Yeshua foretold the destruction of the Second Temple based on Israel's rejection of Him (Matt. 24:2)?
Rosh Chodesh Av
07.21.09 (Tammuz 28, 5769) Tonight at sundown begins Rosh Chodesh Av, the start of the month of Av (אָב), called the "fifth month" of the Biblical calendar. Since the sages regard everything that happened during the Exodus generation as prophetic (i.e., מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children"), the death of Aaron the first High Priest on Rosh Chodesh Av (Num. 33:38) was regarded as an ominous sign that the coming month would be a month of tragedy in Jewish history. And indeed, Tishah B'Av catalogs many tragic events that have befallen the Jewish people during this time -- including the destruction of both of the Temples on the fateful day of the Ninth of Av. It is customary, therefore, during the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow (from Av 1 until the Av 9) to enter into an extended state of mourning for the Jewish people...
Tomorrow (i.e., Av 1 5769) also marks the occurrence of the 21st century's longest solar eclipse: a six-minute solar event that will be experienced by multitudes in Asia.
This eclipse is considered significant because it marks the second of three total solar eclipses that all fall exactly on Av 1 for three consecutive years. The first eclipse occurred on August 1, 2008; the second occurs tomorrow (i.e, July 22, 2009); and the third is scheduled for July 11, 2010. Time is short, chaverim.
New Hebrew Meditation - Hashivenu
07.21.09 (Tammuz 28, 5769) Since we're in the middle of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow," I thought it would be timely to write a brief Hebrew Meditation (Hashivenu) related to the arrival of Tishah B'Av next week. "Return us to You, O L-rd, and we will return; Renew our days as of old!" (Lam. 5:21). I hope you find it helpful, chaverim...
The Need of the Soul...
[ The following entry explores some basic differences between the Christian and Jewish views of the soul -- and of the soul's need for salvation.... ]
07.20.09 (Tammuz 28, 5769) Regarding the distinction between appearance and reality, the Baal Shem Tov (the founder of modern Chasidism) is said to have told the following parable:
Once there was a king who yearned for his subjects to be close to him. Being a wise ruler, however, the king knew that if the process of getting close to him was too easy, people wouldn't think it was important. They would be convinced that something as awesome as being close to the king must be challenging and very difficult. So this is what the king did. Since he was a magician, he built around himself a magnificent castle with towers, gates, moats, and walls. But it was all an illusion.
Then the king issued a royal proclamation inviting everyone to come and be close to him. But when the people arrived and saw the fortress with all its battlements and walls, one by one they began to give up.... Surely such a task was beyond human attainment. But then a child of the king came forward. She was daunted by not dismayed. Cautiously, deliberately, she went up to the wall and extended her hand to touch it, but as soon as she did, the wall disappeared. And so it went with all the walls and towers and gates. Illusions, every one!
In this way, she was able to walk right up to her father who we imagine was simply sitting on a chair in the middle of an open field. They embraced, and he said, "What took you so long?"
As I've written about elsewhere, Jewish theology does not accept the Christian doctrine of "original sin" and therefore rejects the idea that each soul born into this world is an inheritor of Adam's natural state of exile.... The "fall of man" (i.e., Adam and Eve's disobedience) was just an accident of history that did not produce a cataclysmic or "ontological change" within them. After their exile from Eden, Adam and Eve's environment changed - but not their essence. They still retained the image of God, though their exile meant a loss of God-consciousness... The "problem of exile" for the Jewish soul is therefore one of ignorance or "forgetfulness" regarding its true identity. The soul is created b'tzelem Elohim (in the divine image), and the way "to return to the King" is therefore to realize that all the supposed barriers (including guilt, shame, pride, sin, etc.) are ultimately nothing but illusions.... The "divine spark" within us is essentially holy and pure -- though it may hidden from view because the finite ego accepts illusions about its true identity. In the end, "salvation" (i.e., the return to Eden) is simply "recollecting" the truth that you're already part of the divine nature that permeates all things.... The idea that the soul is in need of "salvation" outside of itself is therefore part of the ego's illusions: No, the soul is asleep and needs but to awaken to reality.
It should be clear that this viewpoint is inconsistent with the New Testament's idea that the soul is "dead in trepasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1) and therefore so profoundly alienated from God that it literally needs an entirely new nature.... The natural state of soul -- the so-called "Adamic nature" -- is inherently separated from God and cannot overcome its state of exile apart from direct divine intervention (Rom 5:12-21; 1 Cor. 15:22). The soul born into this world is a little bit like "Humpty Dumpty," as it were. If you've ever broken an egg, you know that it will take more than "all the king's horses and all the kings men" to put it back together again... Unlike the traditional Jewish view that the soul is "encrusted" with layers of illusion that conceals the divine image, the Scriptures are clear that the human soul is shattered and in need of a divinely given reconstruction.
The Scriptures teach that all souls have sinned (Psalm 14:2-3; 51:5; Eccl. 9:3; Jer. 17:9, etc.), and the penalty for such is clear: "the soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20). Death here means both spiritual death (i.e., being separated or cut off from the Source of Life) and physical death (sheol)... God's sole means for obtaining forgiveness is by the shedding of blood upon the altar (Lev. 17:11). This is the "korban principle" -- life for life -- that functioned as the underlying principle of the Torah's sacrificial system. Indeed, over 40% of the Torah's commandments -- 246 of the 613 -- concern details of this system. In fulfillment of divine Promise, however, and as foretold and prefigured by the Hebrew prophets, Yeshua the Mashiach came and offered Himself as our sacrifice upon the holy altar of Moriah -- the "Temple made without hands." Through his sacrifice on our behalf, God's mercy and justice can "kiss" and therefore God's "problem" of accepting a fallen soul while maintaining His holiness is resolved (Psalm 85:10). Yeshua is the true Mediator of divine atonement -- just as He alone is the way and the truth and the life. No one "comes to the Father except through Him" (John 14:6). Yeshua alone is the One who says "Kumi" to awaken the dead from their sleep (Mark 5:41; John 6:40).
So while it is certainly true that all human beings are made b'tzelem Elohim -- in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) -- that image, essentially composed of spirit (Gen. 2:7, John 4:24) -- was radically marred and distorted by the Fall of Adam and Eve, and their physical descendants are therefore said to be inheritors of a fallen nature (Rom. 5:12). This is because the essence of spirit is relationship itself, and should the relationship be broken, so is the underlying image... A "second touch" from God is therefore needed, a second "breath" from the Divine -- beyond the initial touch and breath that gave rise to physical life -- and that comes from the Spirit (lit. "breath") of God.
Adam and Eve sinned by eating from the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil," but the Messiah is called the Tree of Life (עֵץ הַחַיִּים), whose death upon that "tree" sets us free from the cursed state of our natural forebears (Gal. 3:13). The good news is that the corrupted image can "recreated" through the grace of God found in the Messiah and His sacrifice (Eph. 4:24, 2 Cor. 5:17, 2 Pet. 1:4). After the resurrection "[Yeshua] breathed on them and said, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'" (John 20:22). Ultimately paradise lost will be paradise restored in the world to come (Rev. 22).
According to the New Testament writings, the unregenerated soul is blocked or impaired from seeing the truth because the "god of this world" has a "blinding" influence over the soul. "If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of the Messiah, who is the image of God (ὅς ἐστιν εἰκὼν τοῦ θεοῦ)" (2 Cor. 4:3-4). As Yeshua said, "The one who has seen Me has seen the Father" (John 14:9), and "those who do not me do not honor the Father who sent me" (John 5:23).
Trust in the risen Messiah and the gift of divine sight provides an inner radiance that comes from God Himself. "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). There is a veil over the eyes of the unbeliever, "but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed." The Spirit of God gives us true freedom to reflect His grace and love in our lives so that "we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (μεταμορφόω, 'metamorphosed') into the same image (εἰκών) from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:17-18). Follows of Yeshua are to be "lights of the world" who "let their light shine" through deeds that emulate the Master (Matt. 5:14-16). But note that the light comes from the image of the Messiah -- not from a hidden spark of inner divinity...
Because we experience God "before the throne of Grace" (Heb. 4:16) we can shine the light of His gracious Presence to others... The agency of our change -- and therefore of our ability to genuinely reflect the image of God -- comes from the Holy Spirit, not through human wisdom or knowledge. And since Yeshua is the "image of the invisible God" and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3), the image of God within us is ultimately transformed into the image of the Messiah Himself. Believers are "predestined to be conformed (συμμόρφους - lit. 'formed with') the image of his Son" (Rom. 8:29). Those who deny that Yeshua is the Messiah simply cannot apprehend the image of God. Moreover, seeing the image of God in Yeshua does not deify us, but rather transforms (μεταμορφόω) us into the same image, ever increasing from one stage of glory to a higher stage of glory. In short, the focus is not on ourselves as miniature images of God, but rather on "the Messiah in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
The Baal Shem Tov's parable is enchanting, though it cannot rightly be applied to those who reject the divine redemption given through the blood of the true Lamb of God, Yeshua. For those who trust in the Messiah, however, the parable can indeed hold value. Yeshua has indeed made the way to the Father, and we are now freely given access to God's very presence (Rom. 5:2; Heb. 4:16). Nonetheless, when we forget what He has done for us -- and when we forget our value in His eyes -- we are liable to fall into the trap of thinking we must "earn" His love, and this promotes illusions of separation for us. Human reason (and religion) object to the "scandal of grace" -- i.e., that we are unconditionally accepted through the love and mercy of God shown in Yeshua (hence even Chassidism holds that ritual acts are the means of distilling God's love to us). Nonetheless, we must "accept that we are accepted" and abandon the temptation that we can add anything to the perfect work of Yeshua performed on our behalf....
"Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Yeshua answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:27-29)
Trusting in God's love as demonstrated in Yeshua is to "do the works of God." This is not merely giving assent to intellectual truths or engaging in various religious rituals. No, real trust means relying upon God's Teacher who will disabuse your illusions.... It is a complete letting go, or surrender to God's authority in the work of salvation. But note that even faith itself a gift (Eph. 2:8-9) -- and therefore "mountains are cast into the sea" through the power and will of God alone. There is no boasting in the Kingdom of God. לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה / "Salvation belongs to the LORD" (Psalm 3:8).
Parashat Devarim - פרשת דברים
07.20.09 (Tammuz 28, 5769) The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is Devarim ("words"), the first portion of the final book of the Torah. The Hebrew name of the book comes from the Hebrew phrase אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים (eleh ha-devarim, "these are the words...") found in the first verse. In our English Bibles, Devarim is known as Deuteronomy, a Greek word (δευτερονομιον) that means "repetition of the Torah" (from the Hebrew phrase מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh ha-Torah in Deut. 17:18).
Parashat Devarim is read every year during the Three Weeks of Sorrow on the Shabbat immediately before Tishah B'Av (this Sabbath is called Shabbat Chazon ("the Sabbath of Vision") because the Haftarah reading gives the vision of the coming destruction of the Temple; it is common during this time to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst). At the beginning of the Torah portion, Moses gives words of musar (rebuke or correction) regarding the Sin of the Spies. It was this sin of unbelief, you may recall, that led to the LORD's decree that the generation that left Egypt would not enter into the Promised Land. The New Testament calls this defining moment the "provocation" or "rebellion" (παραπικρασμος, Heb. 3:15-4:1). According to the Talmud, the LORD decreed that this date (the 9th of Av) would be one of perpetual mourning, foretelling the time when the people would grieve over the Temple that was destroyed in their midst.
In the midrash Pesikta Rabbati (פסיקתא רבתי) it is noted that Moses began his last book with the phrase eleh ha-devarim ("these are the words") because the Torah is compared to a bee (דְּבוֹרָה) whose honey is sweet but whose sting is poisonous (the word devarim (דְּבָרִים) looks like the word for bees (דְבוֹרִים)). The words of Torah give joy and sweetness to those who heed it (Psalm 19:10), but is a deadly poison to those who do not. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb. 10:31), and as Yeshua warned his followers, "from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him" (Luke 19:26).
Some of the sages suggest that we should only offer musar (correction) to others when we are close to our own day of death, just as Moses waited to the end of his life to offer rebuke to the children of Israel. We do this in order to avoid the dreadful sin of lashon hara (evil speech). This is why the Book of Devarim begins, "These are the words that Moses spoke," suggesting a distinction between his words and the words of the LORD. If we offer rebuke to others prematurely, we run the risk of making people feel shameful and discouraged, rather than encouraged to perform teshuvah and return to the LORD. Constructive criticism given at the end of one's life, however, does not induce shame and will retain itself in the loving memory of the one rebuked.
More later, if it pleases God, chaverim...
Faith and Fear
[ I have been incredibly weary and in pain the last few days, chaverim -- even downcast. Please offer up a prayer for me... Thank you. - john ]
07.16.09 (Tammuz 24, 5769) "And now abideth faith, hope, love: these three" (1 Cor. 13:13). The opposite of faith is fear; of hope, despair; and of love, indifference. Fear is the "default mode" of the soul that dwells in darkness. This is because the "fallen" soul regards the empirical world and its flux as ultimately real -- and therefore "sees in order to believe." The life of faith, on the other hand, looks beyond the realm of appearances to behold an abiding glory -- and therefore "believes in order to see." How we choose to see is ultimately a spiritual decision for which we are each responsible....
In the political world there are more seemingly good reasons to be afraid today - even in America - than in any time since the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Every day the media indoctrinates people about the threats of various plagues (e.g., the swine flu), of economic disasters, of terrorist plots, and so on. In short, living within a "culture of fear" (with its ongoing propaganda campaigns from both the right and left wing perspectives) is to traffic in images and sound bites, inducing a sense of dread and anxiety (as someone once said, "FEAR" is "False Education Appearing Real"). Just as a lie-detector can physiologically sense when people are telling lies, so our souls can sense when we are believing them... There is no neutral ground here, no "transcendent" place of the soul where we can rise above the realm of truth claims: We will either be set free by the truth or else we will live in fear. As Yeshua said, the "Truth shall set you free."
Of course this isn't easy, and the temptation to yield to fear seems omnipresent. The test of our faith is of more value to the L-rd than our material or emotional comfort, however, and therefore we will all experience tribulation of various kinds. This is the way we obtain heart (i.e., courage). A few months ago I wrote a Hebrew meditation ("Fear Thou Not") that reminded us that the most frequently occurring commandment in Scripture is simply al tirah (אַל־תִּירָא), "don't be afraid." If living without fear were easy, it would be of little spiritual worth, but since it requires all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, it is therefore considered precious. It requires, in short, an infinite (and divinely given) passion. And it part of God's plan for us to be "in but not of" the world system, to be alienated, to be misunderstood, to be persecuted... We are called to "take up the cross" and die daily. Following Yeshua means sacrificing ourselves along the way.
Ultimately fear distills to the fear of death, or rather, of "the one who has the power of death, namely the devil" (Heb. 2:14-15). If we come to peace with our own finitude, our own mortality, and our eventual end in the Messiah, death has no more power over us. Perhaps this is part of the reason why Christian faith is so hated in communist countries or in other places of absolutist secular ideologies. If you are delivered from the greatest threat that man can menace over you, you are free to be a voice crying in the wilderness. The life of truth is something the humanist and atheist can never comprehend.
Fear is the antithesis of faith, though living without fear is certainly not easy. After all, how do we naturally choose to be unafraid of what we in fact fear? Is this power within our conscious control? Only by a miracle are we set free from fear... Indeed, true faith working within the heart is one of the greatest miracles of God. May it please God to impart to each us real courage that comes from Heaven itself... Chazak, chaverim. Be strong and be strengthened in Yeshua our King.
Hebrew Letter Coloring Pages
07.16.09 (Tammuz 24, 5769) I have started making some Hebrew letter "coloring pages" for you (or your kids) to enjoy. These pages use ST"M (סת"ם) Hebrew lettering, a style of writing (calligraphy) regarded as officially kosher by professional Jewish soferim (scribes). ST"M writing is the only acceptable form of calligraphy used for Jewish ritual objects. A certified scribe is called a sofer STaM. There are hundreds of rules regarding the proper way to write STaM script, though there are some variations in presentation based on different scribal traditions. Click the image below to view some of these pages:
Menachem Av -
Finding the Father's Comfort
07.15.09 (Tammuz 23, 5769) In synagogue services the Haftarot (readings from the Nevi'im, or prophets) are usually connected with the Torah reading for each week, but beginning with the Three Weeks of Sorrow until after the Fall High Holidays, these readings change. First are three haftarot of punishment (leading up to Tishah B'Av), then seven of comfort (for the seven weeks until Rosh Hashanah), and finally one of repentance (on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath before Yom Kippur).
The last two portions of the Book of Numbers (Mattot and Masei) are always read during the "Three Weeks of Sorrow." The sages say these readings were selected at this time to ultimately comfort us as we look forward to the "apportioning of the land" -- i.e., the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises to us. Indeed, the month of Av -- despite the sorrow of the loss of the Temple -- is sometimes called Menachem Av - the "Comfort of the Father" (אָב). One day the lamentations of our present state of exile will come to an end.
Menachem Av may also mean the "comfort of Aleph-Bet" (אב). The Prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the destruction of the Temple, later wrote the scroll of Lamentations to commemorate this tragic time. The form of Lamentations is an acrostic based on the letters of the Hebrew Aleph Bet (like Psalm 25, 34, 37, 119, Prov. 31, etc.). The scroll has five sections (perekim). The verses of the first two chapters and the last two chapters all are written in alphabetical order (א,ב,ג). The middle chapter, however, writes its verses using a triple Aleph Bet ordering, i.e., "Aleph, Aleph, Aleph," "Bet, Bet, Bet," "Gimel, Gimel, Gimel," and so on. As you can see, the very order of the Hebrew Alphabet is part of the revelation of the LORD God of Israel Himself!
The low point of the Three Weeks of Sorrow is expressed during the 25-hour fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Scroll of Lamentations (אֵיכָה) is chanted during the evening service at synagogue. This is usually followed by a series of liturgical lamentations called Kinnot (קִינוֹת) which are also recited alphabetically (Bava Batra 14b). As I've said before, Tishah B'Av is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. This year it begins Wednesday, July 29th at sundown (and runs through Thursday the 30th after sundown).
But it is not a sadness without a comfort... The Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av is called שבת נחמו (Shabbat Nachamu - the "Sabbath of Comfort"), based on the Haftarah reading (Isaiah 40:1-27) that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." The sages state that the word nachamu is repeated to offer consolation for each of the Temples that were destroyed.
Since the Book of Deuteronomy is mishneh Torah - a "retelling of Torah," it can be said that the Torah -- from a narrative point of view -- ends with the reading of these final portions from Numbers, and by extension, with the yearning for Zion. And so it is to this day. We await the return of our Mashiach Yeshua while we live in exile here on earth. And even though the Temple of the LORD is spiritually present in the Person of the resurrected Messiah, it will be made fully manifest in the days to come: first in the Millennial Kingdom (after Yeshua's Second Coming), and later still in olam habah (the world to come) as the eternal community of those redeemed by the Lamb of God (Rev. 21:22-23). So for those of us who hold faith in Yeshua as Messiah, our mourning for the Temple is really mourning for the Presence of our Beloved Savior. May He come quickly, and in our days...
Personal Update: It's been tough going financially for us the last few months. The economy is difficult and book sales are way down.... I have sent out some more resumes the last few months but have no prospects. Please keep my family in your prayers, chaverim. Thank you.
More Hebrew Homeschooling Resources!
07.14.09 (Tammuz 22, 5769) I am steadily adding material to the new homeschool section of Hebrew4Christians. Tonight I created a number of PDF files for you to download (including a simpliefied version of the Shema). Please note, however, that you don't have to be a "homeschooler" to use these materials! If you are just beginning to learn the Hebrew Aleph-Bet, you might want to print these pages and put them in a notebook for further practice and review.
I am also writing more about Kabbalah (i.e., Jewish mysticism) in the new Kabbalah section of the site. This material, however, is proving more difficult to write -- not just because the subject matter is complex, but because there are a number of varieties of Kabbalah, and it's often tedious to write anything definitive without adding a lot of qualifications... At any rate, understanding Kabbalah is important for a number of reasons, but particularly because it is the main form of spirituality among most Jews today. If you go to Israel, for example, nearly everyone there will be familiar with basic kabbalistic approaches to theological questions and Torah interpretations, so learning about this subject can help you share your faith in Yeshua more effectively....
Please note, however, that the section on Kabbalah is presently unfinished. Before sending me a note warning me about the dangers of studying Kabbalah, etc., please allow me some time to complete writing the section. The criticism of Kabbalistic philosophy -- especially from a Christian perspective - is forthcoming, IY"H. Thank you, chaverim.
Three Weeks of Sorrow - בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים
07.13.09 (Tammuz 21, 5769) We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow," a 21 day period of national mourning that runs from the 17th of Tammuz until the Ninth of Av (July 9th-30th). This time is called bein ha-Metzarim (בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים) - "between the straights" (based on Lamentations 1:3). The purpose of this three week period is to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) by recalling specific tragedies that befell the Jewish people, but most especially by recalling the destruction and loss of the Jewish Temple...
There are actually two "phases" within this 21 day period of mourning. From the start of the fast of Tammuz until the end of the lunar month (a period of twelve days) the mourning is not as intense, but during the final nine days - from Av 1 until the Ninth of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) - additional mourning practices are observed. Typically marriages are not held during this period, and many Jews deliberately refrain from ostensibly pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, dancing, taking vacations, and sometimes even shaving. In fact, most Orthodox Jews will refrain from any activity that might require the recitation of the Shehecheyanu blessing. Indeed, among observant Jews, Tishah B'Av is regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year.
Note: This year, the fast Av begins Wednesday, July 29th at sundown and runs 25 hours - through Thursday, July 30th after sundown. For more information, click here.
Parashat Mattot & Masei
07.13.09 (Tammuz 21, 5769) This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: parashat Mattot and Masei, the two last portions of Sefer Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers. Since this isn't a leap year (i.e., this year doesn't have an additional month of Adar inserted into the calendar), we have a total of six weeks with double readings before Rosh Hashanah (in the fall). Mattot-Masei is the 5th of this year's double readings (the last is Nitzavim-Vayeilech for the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah).
If it pleases God, I will add some additional commentary on these two portions of Torah later this week, chaverim.
NEW Hebrew Homeschooling Resources!
07.10.09 (Tammuz 18, 5769) I am beginning to develop some Hebrew homeschool materials for you to download. Presently, I am creating simple pages for young children (preschool to elementary grades) to develop their basic writing skills. Later I hope to include pages on the Hebrew vowels, key concept words (e.g., Shabbat, Tzedakah, Shalom), and so on. If you find this material helpful, please let me know. At this point, I am unsure how much time I will invest in this project, so if you want to see this sort of content continue, drop me a note. Shalom, chaverim.
The Gospel of Pinchas - בְּשׂוֹרַת פינחס
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.06.09 (Tammuz 14, 5769) In my parsha study of Pinchas, I pointed out that the broken Vav that appears in Numbers 25:12 is a textual oddity that alludes to the brokenness of the Messiah for our ultimate deliverance:
Since Vav represents the number of Man, the broken Vav represents a man that is broken. This verse then points to a man has been broken for the sake of a covenant of peace that brought atonement to Israel - a clear picture of Yeshua the Mashiach and His ultimate deliverance for us. Note further that the broken word shalom could also be read as שׁלים, meaning "complete," indicating that the covenant is one of completion, finality, and perfection.
According to the sages, the covenant of peace was a guarantee to Pinchas that he would free from the influence of the malakh ha-mavet (the Angel of Death). Therefore Pinchas was transformed into the prophet Elijah who was taken up and never died. Because Pinchas kept the people true to their circumcision, he merited being present at every Brit Milah, and therefore the "Chair of Elijah" is really the Chair of Pinchas!
There is another textual oddity regarding this matter. The letter Yod in the name Pinchas (Num. 25:11) is undersized. As the smallest of the Hebrew letters, the Yod is considered a picture of humility. The zeal of Pinchas is therefore understood in light of his humilty and devotion. Even though Pinchas had executed judgment on behalf of the LORD, he was given peace.
The sages further note that the Hebrew the phrase, "he [Pinchas] made atonement for the people of Israel" (וַיְכַפֵּר עַל־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) does not use the standard לכפּר construct ("to atone" for) but instead uses יְכַפֵּר, and therefore could read: "he atones for Israel till the end of all generations."
The idea of the "Covenant of Peace" (בְּרִית שָׁלוֹם) appears throughout the Scriptures, of course, and is made explicit in the Brit Chadashah (New Testament). Therefore one of the Names of God is "The God of Peace" (אֱלהֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם). God has made peace with mankind through the sacrifice of His Son Yeshua (Rom. 5:1):
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins... And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, he reconciled all things to himself... (Col. 1:13-14, 20)
Yeshua is the true Peacemaker who is called "the Prince of Peace" (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם, Isa. 9:6). He is the bechor (firstborn, πρωτοτοκος) of all creation; the radiance (zohar) of God's glory, and the exact representation ("stamp," "imprint" or "die") of his God's essence and Person (χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως του Θεου - "the character of God's substance" (Heb. 1:3)). All things were created by him and for him, and in him all things subsist (Col 1:16-17). Indeed, in "all things" Yeshua has the preeminence. To all those who submit by faith to the sacrifice of God's Son for their sins, the LORD offers a new covenant of peace, an Eternal Healing of the rift between God and man.
Parashat Pinchas - פינחס
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Pinchas. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.05.09 (Tammuz 13, 5769) Last week's Torah portion concerned the evil King Balak and the wicked prophet Balaam, but this week's portion is about the heroic zeal of Pinchas (Phinehas), the late-born grandson of Aaron the priest, to whom the LORD awarded a brit kehunat olam (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a "covenant of a perpetual priesthood." As you will see, Pinchas is a picture of the Messiah Yeshua, and the covenant of priesthood given to him is a picture of the greater priesthood after the order of Malki-Tzedek.
Traditional Jewish thinking maintains that when Aaron received the promise of the priesthood from the LORD, it applied only to his future children and their descendants. Since his grandson Pinchas had already been born at the time the promise was given, however, Pinchas did not automatically receive this honor, especially since his father Eleazar (the son of Aaron) was married to an "outsider" -- namely, the daughter of Yitro (also called Putiel, Ex. 6:25). This explains Rashi's statement that the other tribes mocked Pinchas. How dare he kill a nassi (prince) of Israel (i.e., Zimri), especially since Pinchas' mother was regarded as an idol worshipper! Pinchas' zeal for the honor of the LORD, however, overruled their tribalism, and he was appointed a priest with special standing before the LORD.
God looks at the heart, chaverim, and is able to make those who have zeal for Him true priests of the LORD! You don't have to be born Jewish to impress the LORD God of Israel, since He's no respecter of persons (Rom. 2:11). Not only can He create spiritual children of Abraham from the stones of the ground (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8), but He can turn someone considered a non-Jew (by the Rabbis, anyway) into a priest of Israel (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Indeed, many descendants of Pinchas later became the most faithful of the High Priests of Israel during the First Temple period.
Note that a midrash (legend) states that when Pinchas entered Zimri's tent to kill him, thousands of men from the tribe of Shimon ran in after him, seeking his life. Pinchas was in such a state of terror that "his soul left him" and the souls of Nadav and Avihu (Aaron's deceased sons) entered his body -- and by this means he became a Kohen.
Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in Vaiyikra) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28): Daily (tamid), Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh (monthly), Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, and Sukkot are all given. Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow (see below).
Tzom Tammuz - צום תמוז
07.05.09 (Tammuz 13, 5769) There are four fast days (tzomot) on the Jewish calendar that are related to the loss of the Jewish Temple. The fast of the "4th month" (Zech. 8:19) is called the "fast of Tammuz," and recalls the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BC. According to tradition (Mishnah, Taanit 28b), Moses was said to have descended Sinai on this date and smashed the first set of Tablets when he saw the Golden Calf (Exod. 32:19). This year the fast of Tammuz occurs on Thursday, July 9th.
Traditionally, the Fast of Tammuz marks the beginning of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow," a 21 day period of national mourning which culminates on Tishah B'Av (i.e., the traditional date on which both Jewish Temples were destroyed). During this time, the weekly prophetic readings are "Haftarahs of Rebuke," and teshuvah (repentance) is a theme of most Jewish services. In addition, no weddings or other joyous events are held during this time, since observant Jews practice a state of mourning.
When the Mashiach Yeshua returns (may it be speedily in our time), the Three Weeks will turn into a time full of "gladness and cheerful feasts" (Jer. 31:12).
Living in Perilous Times...
[ I rarely put "political" items on this site, but I feel compelled to remind you that time is short... Our world is changing fast, and it is imperative that we are praying for one another. God will give us all the wisdom we need if we ask Him in faith. Chazak, chaverim: Be strong in the LORD and in the power of His might. Email me with your prayer requests, and please don't forget to pray for my family, too... Yeshua is coming back soon! ]
"But realize this, that in the last days perilous times will come.
For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers,
disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable,
malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,
treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power;
Avoid such men as these."
2 Timothy 3:1-5
יוֹם אִירָא אֲנִי אֵלֶיךָ אֶבְטָח
Yom iyra ani eleykhah evtach
"When I am afraid, I put my trust in You" (Psalm 56:3)
And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH (Rev. 17:5).
07.05.09 (Tammuz 13, 5769) "The love of money (φιλαργυρία, from love of the agora, or marketplace) is the root of all evil." On my external blog site, I perform the (unsavory) task of itemizing various political news items that suggest we are quickly approaching the prophesied End of Days... Recently I added a video of the famous trend forecaster Gerald Celente predicting "economic Armageddon" and the collapse of America no later than 2012. Celente is an economist who is noted for predicting the 1987 stock market crash, the fall of the Soviet Union, the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the dot.com bubble burst, the subprime mortgage crisis, the financial "Panic of '08," and so on. As a secular analyst, Celente has been featured on CNN, Fox News, and other major news outlets.
It is noteworthy that under both the Bush and Obama administrations we have seen the "Federal Reserve" (a non-governmental, private, and globalist banking institution) "recall" American debt obligations to the tune of literally trillions of dollars. The national debt of the USA is essentially an obligation to transnational, globalist bankers. Except for gold and silver, paper money is essentially a "loan" advanced by the globalist banking cartel. This fact has been cloaked in terms of various "bailout" measures, but this is disinformation meant to disguise the transfer of wealth and power to hidden globalist interests. In response to this apparent crisis -- and in defiance of all fiscal sanity -- the Obama administration appears to be systematically deconstructing the value of US currency, increasing the national debt to dizzying and unsustainable levels. This, of course, makes the USA more beholden to globalist interests and agendas, and the dependency deepens. California, the world's fifth largest economy, is now officially bankrupt. The value of the dollar has plummeted. More and more countries such as China, Russia, and Iran are now openly calling for a New World Currency... This fits right into the globalist agenda. Protests and calls for financial accountability are squelched and even forcibly suppressed. Most of these facts go unreported in the (corporate/globalist) mass media, of course. Tragically, the once great land of America is steadily becoming more of a vassal state of the globalist elite than "the land of the free and the home of the brave."
Franklin D. Roosevelt is reputed to have said that "in politics, nothing happens by accident." Whether he actually said that or not, it's doubtlessly true that when we see various political events take place, we can be assured of their foresight and design (that includes acts of war, of course). Previous administrations have used a lot of disinformation, doublespeak, and propaganda as part of their standard operating procedures, but lately the criminality and deception has been flaunted in the face of American citizens. For example, the main stream media venerates the Obama administration and its profligacy, turning a blind eye to the practiced corruption, and ABC news is now broadcasting -- from within the White House itself -- programmed messages to "sell" the American public the idea of a socialized health care system. Such such "fake news" presentations are not new in the USA.
Some commentators have identified "Mystery Babylon" with a great worldwide financial system that would arise in the End of Days -- a system that somewhat resembled the ancient world of Babylon (i.e., of Nimrod and Nebuchadnezzar) but would be later marked by "mystery" and secrecy. Is it inconceivable to suggest that "America" has become a vassal state that serves this system, and that the true center of power in the USA is found not in "elected" officials, but rather within a "shadow government" that is run by the Federal Reserve, the League of Nations, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and other globalist interests? In the same year the Federal Reserve was founded (1913), the Federal Income Tax also became law (16th Amendment). Eight references are made to Babylon as a center of world commerce in the Book of Revelation, and the citizens of Babylon are described as wealthy businessmen who are "whores."
After the (pre-planned) 2003 invasion of Iraq under GW Bush, the US flag now waves over ancient land of Babylon, the primordial home of the world's first dictator (Nimrod) and the location of migdal Bavel - the "Tower of Babel" (Gen. 10:10; 11:9). This is highly significant from an occult perspective. Babylon's conquest by the globalist elite means that it now holds its "title," and opens the door for another "Nimrod" to ascend (i.e., the Antichrist or "man of sin")... Recall that the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers is considered the location of the Garden of Eden. The reemergence of Babylon suggests the rise of the serpent to reclaim the original paradise of God.
Recently I read that the State Department is actively planning to turn Babylon into a world famous tourist attraction. Ancient Babylon is being rebuilt -- under the auspices of the globalist banking cartel... The US has been commanded to invest untold billions of dollars creating various "ziggurats" in this ancient land, i.e., military bases throughout Iraq's critical infrastructure:
There are mega-sized bases in Balad, Tikrit, and numerous other places in Iraq... The base in Balad, for example, is absolutely enormous -- housing over 40,000 troops and with an airport said to be as busy as Chicago's O'Hare. Since globalist interests now reign over the land of ancient Babylon, it is only sensible to ask about the spiritual connection between Babylon and Zion - and to foresee that the ultimate showdown between the "City of Man" and the "City of God" is beginning to become visible... (Just recently the UN (UNESCO) has expressed interest in preserving ancient Babylon, perhaps by making it (and later, Jerusalem) an "International City" (click here). The UN is headquartered in the US, of course, and may be considered the political face of the coming New World Order.)
Today the US (again, at the behest of the global elite) has over 1,000 foreign military bases and installations worldwide (though the actual number is most likely higher), and now rivals the height of the ancient Roman Empire with its far-flung garrisons and nearly universal hegemony. In addition, the US routinely spends more on weapons each year than the next 10 largest military powers of the world combined. In short, the USA has become the strong arm of globalist interests that are attempting to control the economic life of the world itself...
As Thomas Horn and many others have pointed out, cryptic references to ancient Babylon occur in throughout American history. More recently, GW Bush's speeches that attempted to justify the unjust invasion of Iraq often included veiled references to occultic imagery, including the "Angel of the Whirlwind," a "calling from beyond the stars," "the God's will," and so on. This is "code" to the globalist elite. Mr. Bush is a self-confessed member of the infamous "Skull and Bones" secret society who advocates universalism. His occultic appeals to the Hegelian ideal of "Freedom" are based on occultism, not the Scriptures. And as we all now know, the pretext for the invasion (i.e., the false link between Sadaam Hussein [who regarded himself successor to Nebuchadnezzar] and the attacks on 9/11) was based on deceit and subterfuge, just as were the various propaganda campaigns that claimed Iraq was planning to use WMDs against the USA. Indeed, as Horn suggests, "Shock and Awe" is a deliberate perversion of the Hebrew word Shekhinah, a term (ab)used by occult groups to refer to spiritual manipulation and control.
Horn goes on to say that Mr. Obama's pre-election speech in Berlin -- in front of Berlin's Victory Column -- was later followed by a visit to the Great Altar of Zeus in the Pergamon Museum, the altar that some scholars identify as "Satan's Seat" in Revelation Chapter 2. Adolf Hitler (YM'SH) likewise was fascinated with occult imagery. For example, Hitler appeared to be obsessed with the "Spear of Destiny" -- an ancient weapon thought to have been forged by Phineas (Pinchas) that was later used to pierce the side of Yeshua after He died upon the cross.
To understand some of the long-time occultic connections between the power elite and the United States, take a look at some of the symbolism embossed on the dollar bill, for example. There you will clearly see Masonic symbolism and occultic references. Even the layout and architecture of Washington DC reveals its occult origins, including key lines designed to form occultic symbolism. The Great Seal of the United States openly avows adherence to Novus Ordo Seclorum - a Latin phase that can be translated as "A New Order of the Ages," or even as "a New World Order."
One of the lasting visions of (occultic) Masonry is the "Temple of Solomon" -- and its resurrection in the end of days. The traditional history of the Masons' Guilds states that their trade secrets were first given to the trade by Nimrod -- the world's first dictator who devised the original Tower of Babel. They also claim that "Freemason architects" under the authority of the King of Tyre originally constructed Solomon's Temple. We can be sure they will help develop the coming Tribulation Temple in the near future as well...
It is interesting that all three major "Abrahamic" religions are anxiously awaiting the "Messiah." The Muslims (including the president of Iran/Persia, Ahmadinejad) are expecting "al Mahdi" to appear who will lead the final crusade against the Jewish people; the Orthodox Jews are awaiting their Moshiach and expect him to appear during the coming war with Iran (Magog); and many Christians/Messianic Jews expect to see a false "covenant of peace" to be negotiated by a major political leader - called the "Antichrist" or "man of sin" - who will ultimately betray Israel and set the stage for the final showdown between the forces of God and the forces of the devil.
Meanwhile, it seems clear that either the USA will be so marginalized (perhaps through another self-inflicted terrorist attack or through a financial meltdown) that it will be unable to defend Israel from her enemies (thus leaving Israel in peril during the "Time of Jacob's Trouble"), or else the USA will continue to function as a "henchman" for the global elite in brokering peace in the region (and therefore could be regarded as an extension of "Mystery Babylon," the embodiment of the "revived Roman Empire" (of Esau's progeny)). Certainly the Freemason connections of various world leaders and the growing momentum to establish a "new world order" suggests that the USA - the sovereign power over the literal location of ancient Babylon (i.e., Iraq), might indeed be part of the ultimate conspiracy against the nation of Israel... And certainly the USA (as a vassal to the globalist financial system) fits the profile of Mystery Babylon better than any nation that has since appeared upon the earth...
Of course a lot of this is speculative, based on eschatology and current events. "No one knows the day or hour." Nonetheless, it is important to remember that as Christians we serve the Lord of Glory - the One whose Kingdom is not of this world. We are called "citizens" of heaven, or "Heavenly Jerusalem," and therefore our allegiance is first and foremost to the Lord God of Israel our Savior. We must be "patriots" of Zion, zealous of our King and His glory... As I wrote the other day, "there is no fear in love" -- especially since we know that אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּוֹ / ein od milvado (Deut. 4:35) -- there is no real power apart from God (i.e., He is the only true Power in the universe, despite the menace and threats that mankind routinely practice upon one another).... The LORD God of Israel is in complete control of all things. Indeed, Yeshua is called elyon lemalkhei-aretz (עֶלְיוֹן לְמַלְכֵי־אָרֶץ) - the "Ruler of the princes of the earth" (Rev. 1:5) - and that means they ultimately will answer to Him. Despite the pre-planned deconstruction of the United States and other world economies, we know that the LORD God Almighty reigns, and we need not be subject to the fear of man or his devices. Act counter culturally -- call upon the Name of the LORD and walk in faith, chaverim! May you be filled with "peace from him who is and who was and who is to come" (Rev. 1:4).
Pray for the peace of the world, yes, but get your affairs in order, chaverim. Time is short -- and there are fewer and fewer opportunities to proclaim the message of salvation to others. Support those front-line ministries that are doing the work -- not necessarily the institutionalized expressions of "Christianity." Lord, "teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12).
Yeshua our Red Cow...
[ This week's Torah (Chukat) includes three amazing pictures of the coming of the Messiah of Israel: 1) the mysterious Red Heifer sacrifice, 2) the Striking of the Rock at Meribah, and 3) the image of the Bronze Serpent on a pole. It is certainly one of the most fruitful portions of Torah to share with your Jewish friends... Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.03.09 (Tammuz 11, 5769) The Torah for this Shabbat begins with the description of the unusual ritual law of the parah adumah (red heifer). This ritual is considered "chok" within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it defies rational sense. In fact, the Talmud states that of all the taryag mitzvot (613 commandments), this is the only one that wise King Solomon could not fathom.
Why was this sacrifice so puzzling to King Solomon and the Jewish sages? Well, the sacrifice of the red cow just doesn't fit the pattern of any of the other sacrifices given in the Torah. It's a paradox, a puzzle, a question... Here are eight reasons why:
- It required a completely red cow - "without blemish, in which there is no defect (mum)." This is the only sacrifice in Torah that specifically required an animal of a particular color (symbolic of sin).
- It was the most unique sacrifice in the Torah. Unlike other animals that could be offered to the LORD, a completely red cow was extremely rare and one of a kind.
- It was the only sacrifice where all the rituals were carried out outside of the camp (and later, outside the Temple precincts). That is, the "blood applications" of this sacrifice occurred in a location apart from the Levitical altar.
- It is the only sacrifice of blood in the Torah of Moses. In other words, the blood of the red cow was not drained out but rather was burned in the fire.
- It was the only sacrifice that ritually contaminated the priest who offered it, but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean.
- The items used to cleanse tzaraat ("leprosy") were burned along with the sacrifice. In other words, the sacrifice would incorporate the means of cleansing from defilement and uncleanness.
- It was the only sacrifice where the ashes were preserved and used (other sacrifices required the ashes be disposed outside of the camp). The ashes of the sacrifice were gathered and mixed with water to create the "water of separation" (mei niddah). Note that the word "separation" (niddah) refers to menstrual impurity and harkens to Zechariah 13:1: "On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and from niddah."
- It was the only sacrifice in Torah that explicitly cleansed from the contact with sin and death. Anyone (or anything) that came into contact with a corpse (the embodiment of sin and death) was required to be purified using the mei niddah.
The Talmud says there were nine red heifers (parot hadumot) offered so far on behalf of the Jewish people, and that a tenth (and final) Red Heifer will be burned by the Mashiach at the time of the rebuilding of the Temple (Mishnah, Parah 3:5). However, these sages clearly did not understand that Yeshua is the fulfillment and substance of this type of sacrifice (Heb. 9:11-28). Like the mysterious Red Cow, Yeshua was completely without sin or defect (2 Cor. 5:21; John 8:46); He was utterly unique (John 1:14,18; Matt. 17:5, etc.); He was sacrificed outside the camp (Heb. 13:13); He became contaminated by offering Himself as sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21); His blood was part of the sacrifice (Eph. 2:13, Heb. 9:14, 1 Pet. 1:19, etc.); His sprinkling makes us clean (1 Pet. 1:2; Heb. 12:24; Rev. 1:5); and the "water of separation" that His sacrifice created is the means by which we are made clean from the impurity of sin and death (Eph. 5:25-6; Heb. 10:22).
The sages of the Talmud had it partly right.... Yeshua's sacrifice as our "Red Heifer" indeed preceded the "rebuilding" of the Temple (John 2:19) - though this Temple is one made "without human hands" by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 26:26-28, 1 Cor. 12:27, Eph. 4:4,11-12, Col. 1:24, etc.). The followers of the Messiah are now part of the Temple of His Body (1 Cor. 3:16, 12:27) and are called "living stones" (1 Pet. 2:5). The sacrifice of the tenth Red Heifer -- Yeshua -- instituted a new priesthood after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10 with 1 Pet. 2:5) that replaces the older Levitical priesthood of Aaron (Heb. 13:10). Beloved, we have been cleansed from our sins by a better sprinkling than that which the tent of Moses could afford (Matt. 26:28, Heb. 9:14, 12:24, Eph. 1:7, 1 Pet. 1:2,18-19, Rom. 5:9; Col. 1:14, 1 John 1:7, etc.).
Yeshua our Living Rock
In addition to the marvel of the parah adumah, this Torah reading concerns the sin of Moses at Meribah (when he struck the Rock instead of speaking to it, as the LORD commanded). But why was this sin so severely dealt with by the LORD?
The Rock was a picture of Him who was stricken for His people (Isa. 53:4 and 1 Cor. 10:4), and Moses' second striking suggested that Mashiach would need to be stricken a second time in order to provide the needs of the people. No! The Rock that was once smitten for the people was now to be spoken to as the Living Rock (1 Cor. 10:4). Moses conveyed the wrong message, suggesting that the first striking had been insufficient and that something more was needed. The price Moses (and Aaron) paid for this disobedience was severe: neither of them was allowed to enter the Promised Land. And it is to this day: those who attempt to add to the work of the LORD by affecting works of their own righteousness will likewise be disbarred from the land of Promise.
Yeshua our Serpent
The last picture of the Messiah given in this amazing Torah portion concerns the image of the Copper Snake (nechash nechoshet). Upon leaving Mount Hor to go around the land of Edom, the people grew impatient and another rebellion brewed. Consequently, the LORD sent "burning serpents" (ha-nechashim ha-seraphim) that bit the people and many Israelites died (the verb saraf means to burn). The people confessed their sin and appealed to Moses for help, who then interceded on their behalf.
The LORD instructed Moses to make a figure of a snake (nechash nechoshet) and mount it on a pole so that "everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live."
Yeshua referred to this episode when He spoke to Nicodemus about the way of salvation. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life" (John 3:14-15). Humanity as a whole has been "bitten by the snake" and needs to be delivered from its venom. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world. Bless His Holy Name.
Don't be afraid, chaverim... Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and Happy Independence Day. May you know the peace of God that "passes all understanding..." - john
Should we study Kabbalah?
07.02.09 (Tammuz 10, 5769) Some of you might be aware that the study of Kabbalah -- Jewish mysticism -- has become nearly "mainstream" these days. Go to any major book store and take a look through the Judaism section. There you're likely to see any number of books, tapes, and DVDs offering to guide you into the "mystical side" of Jewish spirituality. Several Hollywood stars openly express its teachings, and various TV stations run specials on the subject. Indeed, the fastest growing movement in Judaism is Chabad-Lubavitch, which is Kabbalistic in its approach.
Perhaps part of the reason for the explosive popularity of Kabbalah has to do with the stress and anxiety of our age. Indeed, we are living in a perilous time when "men's hearts fail them for fear..." Like the ancient Epicureans who sought tranquility and freedom from fear through philosophical speculation (ataraxia), many people today are looking for a way to cope with their unhappiness, angst, and inner pain.... Kabbalah therefore offers a way to escape from seemingly pointless suffering by claiming that we all can reconnect with "God, the universe, and everything."
Because of its growing influence, I've decided to begin writing some material on this site that concerns the subject of Kabbalah -- both for apologetical purposes and because understanding it may provide added insight into our own faith. Kabbalah might initially seem "strange" to you if you are not in the habit of asking questions about ultimate reality, but don't let that put you off. Using godly discernment, Kabbalah's alternative perspectives can cause you to think hard about your faith and even to refine your understanding of the Messiah. Like other philosophies, Kabbalah asks questions about the nature of God, the origin of the universe, the meaning of life, the goal of history, and so on. In fact, many of Kabbalah's questions and doctrines were part of the dialog of Medieval Christian theology.... In that regard, it is not unlike some more recent Christian theological systems that attempt to explain the origin, purpose, and goal of creation.
For example, some Christian theologians refer to a "secret agreement" made within the Godhead before the creation of the world that God the Father would send His Son to become the suffering Redeemer of an alienated humanity, and that the Holy Spirit would be the agent of restoration in the fallen world... Within the very nature of the Christian Trinitarianism, in other words, there is the idea of creation, of redeeming a "fallen" humanity, and of restoring all things back to final unity when God would ultimately be "all-in-all"... This attempt to provide an overarching narrative to the universe and its purpose is not unlike some of the philosophical theology of Kabbalah.
Nonetheless, we must keep in mind that Kabbalah is usually expressed as a part of Jewish culture, and therefore implies (among other things) that the blood atonement of the Messiah is unnecessary for salvation. Consequently for the Christian, an unqualified Jewish expression of Kabbalah is not an option of faith. All of creation begins and ends with the Person and work of Yeshua our Messiah, who is the First and Last... Of course there have been a few Christian Kabbalists in history, but like other Christian mystics, their ideas have never been well-received within mainstream Christianity.
We always need to use discernment that comes from the Holy Spirit to "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1) -- and that especially pertains to those who purport to teach Kabbalah or the "philosophy of God." Satan is a deceiver who can disguise himself as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:4). God has chosen not to reveal all of His secrets to us in the pages of Scripture, and there is therefore much that will remain a mystery. "The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever" (Deut. 29:29). Meanwhile, if we ask the Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם) - Yeshua our LORD - to give us the wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that we need to truly love and serve God, He will surely answer our prayer.... Shalom.