March 2009 Updates
Is the birth today???
03.31.09 (Nisan 6, 5769) Olga is planning to have an "induction" later this morning. Please keep our new baby and my wife in your prayers! Thank you, chaverim. Of course I will be at the hospital throughout the birth and hope to post more information here after the baby is born! Also, please offer up a prayer for my mother, Jocelyn, who was recently hospitalized. She is quite ill... Thank you.
Unleavened Bread and Humilty
03.30.09 (Nisan 5, 5769) The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who trust in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Baruch HaShem: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). Likewise, the Scriptures also reveal that the offering of the Firstfruits -- "the Waving of the Omer" -- is a picture of the resurrection of the Messiah -- as well as our own future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Rom. 8:23; James 1:18). These associations are gloriously stated in the New Testament and alluded to in the Jewish Scriptures. That said, what about the role of matzah and the "Feast of Unleavened Bread"? How are we to understand this as a fulfillment of Yeshua's ministry?
In Jewish tradition, of course, the eating of unleavened bread commemorates the original Exodus from Egypt. Since there wasn't enough time for the dough to rise when the Jews fled, the LORD memorialized the event with the commandment to eat only unleavened bread for seven days: "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (לֶחֶם ענִי), for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste -- that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt" (Deut. 16:3).
To fulfill this commandment, we prepare for Passover by removing all traces of chametz (leaven) from our homes. Leaven (i.e., yeast) produces fermentation, especially in bread dough, and is the result of natural processes of decay. We therefore vacuum the house, wipe down cupboards, and physically remove all bread stuffs from our dwelling places. This is in obedience to the commandment to "remove all leaven from our dwellings" (Exod. 12:5, 13:7, Deut. 16:4). On the night before Passover, we perform a ceremony called "bedikat chametz," and symbolically remove the last vestiges of bread crumbs from our homes.
So what's the problem with leaven? Again, it is a symbol of death and decay. The "rise of dough" is only possible by means of the natural processes of decay. In other words, were it not for the curse of death (i.e., the Fall of Adam and Eve), there could be no leavened bread. The sages identify leaven with the yetzer hara, the evil impulse within us. When we purge the leaven from our homes, we are sanctifying ourselves by removing corrupting influences from our lives.
But what is the connection with Yeshua? First, unleavened bread is a picture of His holiness, purity and sinlessness. His life and sacrifice was "unleavened" -- without the taint of the curse of death, and therefore he was considered "a lamb without spot or blemish" for the ultimate Passover sacrifice (1 Pet. 1:19). Moreover, after He was buried, Yeshua did not suffer the natural process of corruption (i.e., decomposition of the body). His body did not "return to dust" -- the very curse given to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:19; Psalm 16:10). As the Second Adam (Adam haSheni), His death "killed the power of death" by putting away sin through the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26).
Some have suggested that Paul's comment that followers of Messiah should "purge out the old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:7-8) means that we are to live in purity and separation from the corrupting influence of sin in our lives. Since we are made "unleavened" (pure) by the sacrifice of Yeshua, our lives should reflect holiness and devotion to the LORD. We must strive to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" in order to be unhindered in our walk with God.
While this is certainly one application, I think it's also important to recall that unleavened bread is called the "bread of affliction" (i.e., lechem oni, literally, "bread of humiliation" or "bread of humility"). Does this mean that we are supposed to flagellate ourselves in repentance? No, partaking of this bread means humbly identifying with the suffering and afflictions that Yeshua performed on our behalf... As the prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah:
"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5).
We do not become sanctified, in other words, by afflicting ourselves, but rather by sincerely trusting in the afflictions that Yeshua endured on our behalf. Just as we are saved by God's grace through faith, so are we sanctified. Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives just as miraculous as regeneration itself (1 Cor. 6:11). We do not earn merit before the LORD through performing "good deeds" (Titus 3:5-6), but rather by humbling ourselves and trusting in the Messiah for righteousness (John 6:28-29). Unleavened bread, then, signifies our identification with the Lord in his humility and afflictions, but it does not mean attempting to effect our own sanctity by means of self-styled affliction. We are sanctified by God's grace, not by outward shows of religiosity.
Let me make a few additional comments about unleavened bread. Unlike leavened bread that relies on an "outside" agency (i.e., yeast), unleavened bread is simple and pure: just add flour and water, mix and bake. Second, in ancient times, the leavening process usually involved adding a pinch of soured dough to the mix, but unleavened bread has no "history" that is brought into its creation. It's therefore a "new lump," not using material from the past.... It is free, in other words, from the effects of the curse of previous decay. Leavening therefore represents our connection with our past lives. Another way to say this is that unleavened bread represents an abrupt break with the past brought about through a lack of previous labor or human design.
After all, it was God's work that delivered the ancient Israelites, just as it was God's work that saved us from our sins. Eating unleavened bread -- the bread of affliction -- is therefore a memorial to our own powerlessness to effect righteousness. It is eaten in haste - not the result of human ingenuity or planning. It is a commemoration that salvation is of the LORD - rather than a work of our own.
The idea that we can merit our own righteousness before God -- that we are self-sufficient and do not need a Savior -- is something Yeshua regarded as a form of "spiritual leaven." It is only when the ego is deflated (i.e., "unleavened") that we are able to discern the truth of our inward condition.
Likewise Yeshua warned us about the "leaven" (i.e., doctrine - διδαχή) of the Pharisees, the Sadducees -- and even of the politicians of his day (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15). In Luke's Gospel, this leaven is defined as hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις): "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)." But what is hypocrisy? The word might come from the Greek prefix ὑπὸ (under) combined with the verb κρίνω (to judge), and hence refers to the inability to come to a decision and exercise genuine conviction. It is a state of being "double minded," duplicitous, and insincere... Later the word connoted playing a part, "putting on a show," feigning righteousness, acting with insincerity, reusing "canned answers" or repeating the party line. Hypocrisy is therefore a form of self-deception. It is institutionalized prejudice dressed up as religion; it is counterfeit thinking that cheats the truth; it is ethnocentric nonsense that despises others who are different, etc. The "leaven of the Pharisees" is like old sourdough added to the community -- it "puffs up" and is based on human pride. The way of Yeshua was radical -- far too radical for the religious establishment of His day. In His time, as in our own, the call to walk in sincerity and truth, to see beyond common distinctions by loving others, to regard the status of women, children, and the oppressed, to abide in the love and grace of God -- amounts to eating the "bread of affliction," especially in a world filled with self-righteous and proud religionists. Partaking of this "unleavened bread" is indeed a "bread of affliction."
Leaven is not always thought of as evil, however. Yeshua used the image of a woman adding leaven to a lump to signify the (invisible) spread of the Kingdom of God in the earth (Luke 13:20-21). Here leaven functions as an inward agent of change that is revealed when someone turns to the Lord in teshuvah (repentance). Likewise the presence of leaven actually signifies the culmination of the Spring festivals. Shavuot is the only festival when leavened bread was to be brought and waved before the LORD at the altar (Lev. 23:15-20) -- even though offering leaven was forbidden in Torah (Lev. 2:11). There is a "rise" in the Spirit as opposed to the "rise" of the flesh, chaverim; there is old wine; there is new wine...
Chag Sameach, chaverim!
Passover and Easter...
[ The following entry provides a very brief overview of the pagan roots of the word "Easter" and contrasts it with the Scriptural term Passover. My purpose here is not to discredit the celebration of the resurrection of Yeshua (God forbid), but rather encourage the study of our Jewish roots regarding these matters. Technically speaking, "Easter Sunday" should be associated with the waving of the omer ceremony (Firstfruits) -- the resurrection -- rather than with the Passover Seder itself (which is connected with the "Last Supper" or Christian Communion)... Let us "keep the feast" as the LORD intended, chaverim! ]
03.30.09 (Nisan 5, 5769) Recently I wrote a bit about the possible connection between the crucifixion of Yeshua and the Vernal Equinox. I suggested that perhaps the ancient Jewish ceremony called Birkat HaChamah ("Blessing the Sun") was performed just before the time of the crucifixion. Regardless of this possibility, however, it must be vigorously stressed that this is not meant to suggest there is a connection between the resurrection of Yeshua and various pagan fertility rites (God forbid!). No indeed, despite the fact that the King James Version of the Bible egregiously used the pagan word "Easter" for the Greek word for "Passover" (τὸ Πάσχα, see Acts 12:4), the crucifixion of Yeshua occurred as the perfect fulfillment of the Jewish holiday of Pesach (Passover).
Although the etymology is perhaps uncertain, it seems likely that the word "Easter" derives from Eostre (or Ostara), a pagan Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn and of the spring (the direction of the sunrise, "east," is named in honor of her, as is the word "estrogen"). Similar goddesses were known by other names in ancient cultures, including Aphrodite (Cyprus), Asherah (Canaan), Astarte (Greece), Ishtar (Assyria), and so on. In the Hebrew Bible (Judges 3:7), it is written that "the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD: They forgot the LORD their God and served the Baals and the Asheroth (הַבְּעָלִים וְאֶת־הָאֲשֵׁרוֹת)." "Asherah" (אֲשֵׁרָה) was considered the "earth mother" of Baal, the Babylonian god of the sun. Images of the goddess were called Asherim (or Asherot) and were used in "fertility rite" cults. Ancient festivals in her honor involved the "rites of Spring" when pagans believed the Earth Mother was impregnated by the sun.
So widespread was the practice of Asherah worship that the Roman Catholic Church incorporated it as "Easter" sometime in the 2nd Century AD (see the quote from Eusebius in the Catholic Encyclopedia). This syncretism led to a controversy between the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church regarding whether to celebrate "Easter" on Sundays or on whatever day the Jewish Passover fell. Unfortunately, the Catholic view prevailed and the connection between Passover and the sacrifice of Yeshua on the Cross was eventually lost to mainstream Christian tradition.
Sadly many Christians have lost sight of the Passover/Last Supper connection. Readers of this site understand that it was on Shabbat HaGadol -- four days before the crucifixion -- that Yeshua came to Jerusalem to be "inspected" by the Jewish leadership of the day... This corresponds to the four day waiting period to see if a chosen lamb is defect-free for the Passover sacrifice... Yeshua later used the symbols of the Passover Seder to explain the New Covenant. He clearly associated the broken matzah ("Afikomen") with His broken body, just as he associated the Third Cup ("The Cup of Redemption") with His blood. In other words, the crucifixion of Yeshua was the fulfillment of the Passover typology. None of this happened in a vacuum, and it all predates the various pagan springtime ceremonies. Yeshua used the great tradition of Passover to foretell of His work as the Lamb of God (Seh HaElohim), the giver of the true Exodus from Egypt. The ritual of the "waving the Omer" corresponds to Yeshua's resurrection (signified by the feast of Firstfruits), the Unleavened Bread signifies our identification with Him in his sufferings, and the various post-resurrection appearances of Yeshua culminated in the advent of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) 49 days later during Shavuot ("Pentecost"). It is all knit together, in perfect symmetry and fulfillment of God's prophetic plan....
Addendum: In response to this entry someone wrote me and suggested that the word "Easter" is not pagan in origin, but comes from a German word (ostern), from the old Teutonic form of auferstehung, a word that means "resurrection." This person then added that the difference between Christians and Messianic Jews is that Christians put more emphasis on resurrection (Easter), whereas Messianic Jews put more emphasis on His death (Passover). He then challenged me to compare the amount of information I have written about Passover/Seder with the the information I have written about Firstfruits.
In response, I would like to state at the outset that it is true that Messianic Jews tend to overlook two traditionally Christian times: Christmas and Easter, respectively, though in fairness it must be said there are good reasons why this is so. I won't go into all that now.... If interested you can read more about Christmas on this site. Also, there little substance to the claim made by certain pagans that Christianity "ripped off" the resurrection idea from earlier sources. No indeed, the sacrifice and resurrection of the Messiah was foretold thousands of years before the pagans even conceived of such a thing... But presently I want to address the concern that Messianic Jews focus on the death of Messiah more than on His resurrection.
Didn't the Apostle Paul write, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2)? Didn't he also say, "But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Gal. 6:14)? Wasn't it his practice to preach "Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor. 1:23)? And didn't Yeshua Himself say, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16:24)?
The resurrection is of course a glorious truth and vindicates Yeshua's sacrifice (demonstrates its acceptance before the Father, etc.), but without the sacrifice itself, the resurrection would be meaningless... Yeshua went to the cross -- and that was real suffering as God's promised Sacrifice. Nothing is greater. There is no greater love than this, that a man would lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). The crucifixion is the foundation of the hope we have in the resurrection, and therefore it is properly the focus of our preaching.
Beware of those who attempt to
Exploit your love for Israel...
03.29.09 (Nisan 4, 5769) Occasionally I see solicitations from Jewish organizations trying to persuade Christians to give them money based on Genesis 12:3: "I will bless them that bless thee." The idea seems to be that if a Christian gives this organization some money, then they will merit God's favor. God will "bless" them in a commensurate manner, "like for like," so it is surely in their self interest to give to this group. Or so their logic goes...
Before I ask some hard questions about this appeal, I think it is worthwhile to ask what is meant by "blessing" the Jewish people, or Israel, in particular. Surely we can (and should) stand with Israel as a people and help them if they are in need. Many Israelis live below the poverty level. There are wonderful humanitarian programs, food shelves, and other organizations in Israel that are worthy of our support. For those who are able to help, it is surely commendable to do so, though it needs to be stressed that nearly all of these organizations are not Messianic and do not attempt to address the spiritual needs of the Jewish people - at least insofar as faith in Yeshua is concerned....
While it's a worthy thing to give tzedakah (charity) to Israel for the sake of helping the poor, or perhaps to support Israel's economy by visiting as a tourist, we need to be careful not to be fooled by some people -- such as Rabbi Eckstein and his "International Fellowship of Christians and Jews" (IFCJ) among others -- who attempt to exploit a Christian's sense of indebtedness to the Jewish people. What does Israeli fundraising in the name of "interfaith dialog" have to do with the preaching of the Gospel, after all? On the IFCJ site, for example, Christians are invited to take an Alaskan cruise and "engage in daily Bible study with Rabbi Eckstein that will help them better understand the Jewish roots of the Christian faith." Please -- what does a Yeshua-denying Rabbi have to say to you about your faith in the risen Messiah? After all, Eckstein said, "Once your belly is full of the Talmud, you can work with other faiths" ("Turning To The Gentiles," The Jerusalem Post, 1988 [ref]). Don't be fooled by the pretense of knowledge, chaverim: the Holy Spirit is your own inner testimony (1 John 2:27).
So now on to the deeper question of what it means to "bless" Israel. Are we to understand this concept in physical terms or in spiritual terms? Before you quickly say "both," let me ask you which of the two is more important. If you had to choose, in other words, whether to give money to a food shelf or to a Messianic outreach in Israel, which would you pick? How did Yeshua choose to "bless" the Jewish people? Did he not share the message of His salvation and issue the call for teshuvah (repentance)? In his mind, was this not the most important matter? True, he multiplied fish and bread for people, but he did so as a means of pointing to himself as the means of lasting sustenance. True, he healed the sick, but there were many in his midst who did not receive healing because they had no faith in Him. True, he was a peacemaker, but he also overthrew the moneychanger's tables....
Look, if you really want to help Israel, I encourage you stand with Messianic fellowships located there and to support them. For instance, consider supporting the work of Yaakov Damkani (Trumpet of Salvation) or other ministries that want to demonstrate the love of Yeshua by sharing the greatest gift of all -- the message of God's salvation. After all, such groups are on the front lines and they need our support... But please think twice before you send that donation to the Jewish group attempting to exploit your Christian sentiments. As you know, Avraham Avinu was first a Gentile before he became a Jew, so the appeal that you will be blessed if you indiscriminately send money to a Rabbinical organization is founded on faulty logic. Indeed, Yeshua Himself made the case that Abraham rejoiced to see His day, just as Moses wrote about Him (John 5:46, 8:56). "Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him," said Yeshua (John 5:23). It does no lasting spiritual service to the Jewish people to be duped because of mawkish Christian sentiment. Use your discernment and test the spirits!
Following Yeshua is not mawkish sentimentality. It's not a "let's-all-be-nice" lifestyle... Nor is it the advocacy of the "social gospel" that is promoted by many Evangelicals and liberal Christians these days. No, it is being a witness of the truth -- and fearlessly sharing the message of Messiah with others for their eternal good. As a matter of truth, it transcends mere kindness (though it certainly includes it as a fruit) and is ultimately focused on the mission of Yeshua to "go into all the world and make disciples (talmidim) of the nations." Watering down the gospel message by rendering it as philanthropy, etc., can ultimately become a betrayal of the Messiah Himself. If we don't ever get around to sharing the reason for the hope that's within us, it's likely we are acting as cowards rather than as real agents for the Kingdom of God upon the earth... Believe it or not, sharing the truth of the gospel message and teaching others is the most loving thing that you can ever do in this life...
Most of us willingly pay doctors large sums of money for physical healing, but when it comes to spiritual healing, we find ourselves looking out of an "evil eye".... How infinitely ironic! We'll gladly pay thousands and thousands of dollars in the hope to heal the physical body but we find ourselves "stingy" regarding the eternal healing of the soul! But in the end, when our lives are over and there is no further hope in the realm of the carnal, what's going to matter most? Therefore while helping Israel on a physical level is indeed a good thing (e.g., by giving humanitarian aid, etc.), it's vital to help Israel on a spiritual level -- and that means supporting those organizations that honor the message and mission of Yeshua the Jewish Messiah. After all, He is the King of the Jews who came for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As the late Dr. Zola Levitt once said, nothing is more anti-Semitic than refusing to share the gospel message with the beloved Jewish people...
"Your Spirit is your Love"
03.29.09 (Nisan 4, 5769) Please indulge me some fatherly "naches," chaverim.... Yesterday after praying with my family, I asked my four-year-old son Josiah if he understood what "spirit" meant... He looked at me very earnestly and said, "Of course, daddy. Your spirit is your love." Amazing insight. My little "talmid chacham" understood the connection between loving and the presence of spirit... "Out of the mouths of babes God truly ordains strength!"
Note: We are still waiting for the new baby, but yesterday my mother was admitted to the hospital. She is very ill, and I would very much appreciate your prayers... She lives in the Chicago area, so it's impossible for us to visit her at this time... Her name is Jocelyn.
Vernal Equinox and the Crucifixion?
03.29.09 (Nisan 4, 5769) Today someone asked about the so-called Birkat HaChamah (ברכת החמה) -- the "blessing of the Sun" that has been associated with the vernal equinox in some Jewish traditions. According to the Talmud the Sun makes a 28 year cycle to "return" to the position that it was in when the Universe was first created (which they believe was on a Tuesday evening, based on the 4th Day account of creation in Genesis), and (perhaps due to ancient Babylonian influence), the sages wanted to commemorate this.
But didn't the Jewish sages regard Rosh HaShanah as the day that commemorates creation? Yes (though technically it commemorates the creation of Adam on the Sixth Day). However, the six month difference is due to a Talmudic debate as to whether one counts from God's conceiving of the Creation (Tishri) or His actual act of Creation (Nisan). This gets into the entire solar-versus-lunar issue regarding the Jewish calendar, and the subject quickly gets complicated. It is generally easier to regard the "blessing of the Sun" as a Jewish custom practiced by some Jews, rather than an established "law" in Judaism... At any rate, this year the Birkat HaChamah blessing is recited on Wednesday morning, April 8th, at sunrise.
Generally the "blessing of the Sun" custom is commemorated with a sunrise service that includes the recitation of Psalm 90:17, Genesis 1:14-19, Jeremiah 31:34-39, and selections from the Hallel (praise Psalms). The culmination of all this is the blessed itself: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵיֽנוּ מֶלֶֽךְ הָעוֹלָם עוֹשֶׂה מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית, (baruch attah Adonai Elohenu Melekh ha-Olam, oseh ma'seh v'reshit): "Blessed are you, LORD our God, King of the universe, who creates the work of creation." You can hear the audio of this blessing here.
It is intriguing to speculate that the blessing of the Sun might have occurred just before Yeshua was crucified. If He was crucified on Wednesday (as some people believe), then this might have been the very day the ancient blessing was recited. Even if it was a Thursday crucifixion, the association is there: the Sun is sanctified and blessed before the time that Yeshua went to the Cross as the sacrifice for our sins! And recall how the sun was hidden from view -- darkness fell upon the earth -- at the time of the crucifixion itself. "And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the Temple was rent in the midst" (Luke 23:45). It was during these hours that the Son of Righteousness became sin for us! (2 Cor. 5:21)
Regardless of the possible connection with the crucifixion, I think it's fine to thank the LORD for the work of creation, especially if it commemorates a unique astronomical event or other natural wonder (e.g., the vernal equinox). If there is a crucifixion connection, of course, we have all the more reason to thank the LORD for the new creation given to us in the sacrifice of Yeshua as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!
Self-Examination and Passover
03.29.09 (Nisan 4, 5769) Shalom Chaverim... Though we are indeed "eager to keep the feast" of Passover this year (1 Cor. 5:7-8), we are saddened that many Christian friends are beginning to think of "Easter" (a name that derives from the pagan fertility goddess Ishtar) instead of the Passover Seder that Yeshua used to commemorate our deliverance... Like many of you, this creates a sense of "disconnect" for us, and we yearn for the day when we are all united in the truth of Yeshua our Mashiach. Maran Atah!
Notice that this passage (1 Cor. 5:7-8) also commands us to perform our own bedikat chametz - or search for leaven in our lives... We are called to become a "new lump," that is, a new substance that is untainted by the sour and rotting influences of our past lives. Since the Mashiach has been sacrificed as our Passover Lamb, we are new creations, made "unleavened" by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we are told to "put away" the old nature - the yetzer ha'ra (evil inclination) - and purge the old influences that inwardly canker and make us sick. In other words, since we are now "new dough" made free from the corrupting power of sin by the grace of God, we should be on guard not to allow the secretive influences of "leaven" back into our lives. (A little leaven leavens the whole lump.) We are made holy and clean by the sacrifice of the true Lamb of God Himself and our lives should reflect that truth... May God help us all walk without hypocrisy in our lives. Amen.
Shabbat HaGadol - שבת הגדול
03.29.09 (Nisan 4, 5769) This coming Shabbat, which precedes Passover, is called the "Great Sabbath" (Shabbat HaGadol) to commemorate the time when the Exodus generation set aside the Pascal lamb for the original Passover. According to the Talmud, the Exodus from Egypt occurred on Thursday, Nisan 15th, thus making the 10th of that month a Shabbat. It was on this great Shabbat that the LORD commanded the families of Israel to obtain a lamb for sacrifice and to bring it to their homes. This was to be Korban Pesach - the Passover lamb - to be sacrificed on Nisan 14th.
This Shabbat is called gadol ("great") either because God miraculously allowed the Israelites to take lambs from among the Egyptians (despite the humiliation of their deity Amun), or because of the civil war that broke out among the Egyptians (which further enabled Israel to escape from Egypt). For more information, click here.
During Temple times, it was customary to obtain the Korban Pesach (Passover Lamb) four days before Passover so that worshippers could make sure that their lambs had no defects that would prevent them from being offered as sacrifices. It was on this day that the Mashiach Yeshua triumphantly entered Jerusalem (the "house" of Israel) before the Passover. Examined for four days before His sacrifice (execution) for the sins of the world, He was found to be the true Lamb of God (seh ha-Elohim) without spot or blemish.
Parashat Tzav - צו
03.29.09 (Nisan 4, 5769) The Torah portion for this week (i.e., for Shabbat HaGadol) is parashat Tzav. Of particular interest in this Torah portion is the eil ha-milu'im (the Ram of Ordination) whose blood was sprinkled upon Aaron as the Kohen Gadol of the newly established Mishkan (Tabernacle).
The blood of the eil ha-milu'im was put on the right ear, right thumb, and big toe of the Aaron and his sons (a clear picture of Yeshua and His sacrifice as the coming greater High Priest) and the rest of the blood was dashed upon the sides of the mizbe'ach (altar). After its slaughter, Moses also took the innards of the eil hamilu'im and some unleavened bread and put them in the hands of the priests to perform tenufah (a wave offering) before burning them upon the altar (a picture of the resurrection). Finally, Moses mixed some of the blood of the eil hamilu'im and anointing oil and sprinkled it on the priest's garments to sanctify them.
As believers in Yeshua, we too have been anointed with the blood from the Ram of Ordination -- Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol of the better covenant! And we too have been anointed with the sacred shemen (oil) that symbolizes the presence and aroma of the LORD in our lives. As followers of Yeshua we are therefore truly "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). May the LORD be pleased to help you serve Him in the truth.
There is no Passover
Without the Lamb...
03.29.09 (Nisan 4, 5769) Technically speaking, Passover (Pesach) is a one day holiday that recalls the deliverance of the LORD (by means of the blood of lamb) that is immediately followed by the seven day Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot). Modern Judaism, however, combines both of these into an eight day holiday that begins on the 14th of Nisan and ends after sundown on the 22nd of Nisan. This year (5769) Pesach starts Wednesday, April 8th at sundown and ends Thursday, April 16th at sundown (in Israel Passover lasts for seven days, not eight). The first and last two days of Passover are Sabbaths when no work (melakhah) is permitted. The intermediate days (days 3-6) are called Chol HaMo'ed and only essential work is permitted. In the Diaspora, the Passover Seder takes place on the first two nights of the festival, though in Israel there is only one Seder, on Nisan 14.
The Passover Lamb, called korban Pesach (קרבן פסח), is the central focus of this holiday. Without the lamb, there literally is no Passover... After the destruction of the Temple, however, Rabbinical Judaism developed the Seder as a ceremonial replacement for the Torah's commandment to eat the sacrificed lamb (actually, lamb is one of the foods traditionally not eaten during a modern Seder, though the ze'roa, or roasted shank bone, is included as a reminder of its importance). The Rabbis developed fifteen distinct steps in the traditional Seder (which you can learn about here).
Passover is the only festival that the LORD made special provision so that if someone missed the occasion (on account of illness, ritual impurity, or some other valid reason), he or she could make it up 30 days later on Iyyar 14 (May 8th, 2009) (Num. 9:9-12). This is called Pesach Sheni. God wants His children to observe this festival, chaverim...
In addition to getting the house ready for Passover (by removing all traces of chametz), it is customary to give money to the poor to help them enjoy this sacred time. Funds set aside are sometimes called Ma'ot Chittim, "coins for wheat" (מַעוֹת חִטִּים) and are given as tzedakah for the less fortunate.
For more information about Passover, please see the Passover Pages, starting here.
[ The following explores some themes found in this week's Torah reading (Vayikra). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
03.27.09 (Nisan 2, 5769) The Book of Leviticus (ויקרא) is to the Torah what the Book of Hebrews is to the New Testament. Leviticus is both the physical and spiritual center of the Five Books of Moses and comprises its ritual expression. The sages count 246 of the 613 commandments of the Torah in this book (over 40%), and many of the Talmud's discussions regarding ritual purity and holiness are based on it.
The story of the Exodus reveals that the nation of Israel was "born" by means of the blood of the Passover lamb. But the Passover was a means to the revelation given at Sinai, and the revelation at Sinai found its ritual expression in a system that required the constant shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals (i.e., the Tabernacle). "For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar (of the Mishkan); it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life" (Lev. 17:11).
Sometimes it seems as if there are two different sacrificial themes given in the Torah (and the New Testament, as well). First we have Passover -- and the redemption given through the blood of the Pascal lamb -- and then we have Yom Kippur, with atonement given through the blood of the goat. Passover represents the blood of redemption (i.e., freedom from slavery, deliverance, salvation, etc.) and Yom Kippur represents the blood of atonement (i.e., freedom from guilt, cleansing from sin, etc.).
Note that the original Passover sacrifice (korban Pesach) was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering, since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the Mishkan/Temple sacrificial rites. In the same way, Yeshua's sacrifice was directed from Heaven itself by means of the prophetic office of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) - a higher order of priesthood (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7). Yeshua both offered Himself up as the "Lamb of God" that causes the wrath of God to (eternally) pass over those who personally trust in Him, and He also offered himself as the "Goat of God" whose blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies to cleanse us from sin and give us (everlasting) atonement. (Other metaphors are also given in Scripture, of course. For example, Yeshua offered Himself as the Snake lifted up (John 3:14-15; cp. Num. 21:4-9), as a Red Cow (parah adumah), and so on).
For Yom Kippur, of course, two goats were required: one goat was for blood sacrifice in the Holy of Holies (the Goat of the LORD) and the other was used as a "scapegoat" for the sins of the community (the goat of Azazel / the devil). The Gospels seem to emphasize the connection between Yeshua as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" with Passover/Exodus more than the connection between Yeshua as the "Goat of the LORD" whose blood was sprinkled upon the Mercy Seat with Yom Kippur - though the author of the Book of Hebrews explicitly makes this connection (Heb. 9:11-12; 24-ff).
Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" pictures personal redemption from slavery to Satan and freedom from the wrath of God. This is the greater Passover/Exodus connection. By means of Yeshua's shed blood and broken body, the wrath of God passes over us and we are set free to serve God.... Yeshua as the "Goat of God" pictures both personal cleansing (i.e., "propitiation" or "expiation" for our sins: the Greek word (ἱλαστήριον) is used in the LXX for the kapporet (Mercy Seat) in the Holy of Holies which was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur) as well as national teshuvah and cleansing for ethnic Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation period. At that time Yeshua will function as Israel's true High Priest whose sacrifice is applied for Israel's Atonement. This is the Yom Kippur connection.
Since the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70, Judaism has struggled to make sense of the Book of Leviticus' significance. After all, the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud redefined Jewish worship to bypass the Torah's commandments for blood atonement rituals by substituting Torah study, daily prayer, and acts of loving kindness in its place. Thus the Pirke Avot says, "The world stands on three things: Torah, service, and acts of loving kindness (1:2)," and Yochanan ben Zakkai (a primary contributor to the Mishnah who established Judaism without the Temple) appealed to Hosea 6:6 to substitute prayer for sacrifice.
Later, the medieval scholar Moses Maimonides (the "Rambam") suggested that animal sacrifices were a temporary dispensation given by the LORD to counter the idolatrous impulses of ancient Israel. The theory goes that in ancient times, people worshipped animals and made sacrifices to idols, so the LORD came up with the idea of the Tabernacle to "constrain" such impulses. Animals could only be sacrificed (though not worshipped) at the designated place (i.e., the Tabernacle) under the supervision of the LORD's priests, though ultimately this practice would be phased out as Israel became more "enlightened."
The Jewish commentator Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508) supported Maimonides' claim and wrote: "It's analogous to the case of a prince who turned villainous and acquired the habit of eating disgusting food. Said the king: Let him eat the disgusting food at my table and he'll come to break the habit. Likewise, the Israelites were steeped in idol worship, including sacrifices. Said God: Let them bring those sacrifices to me at the Tent of Meeting, and from this they'll come to break the habit."
Of course Modern Judaism followed the lead of Yochanan ben Zakkai and the later medievalists by saying that avodah (Temple service) has been replaced by prayer.... "Atonement" has become a system consisting of performing "good deeds" of Torah study, prayer, fasting and acts of lovingkindness (gemilut chasidim). However, given that 246 of the 613 commandments of the Torah concern details of the sacrificial system, this conclusion seems warranted only if we assume that Oral Torah (and Jewish tradition) can directly contradict (i.e., "preempt") the written commandments given by Moses himself...
The Oral Law and Jewish tradition is not without its own witness, however. In the Talmud it is recorded that "during the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['for the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine; and the doors of the Hekhal would open by themselves" (Yoma 39b). Forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple would be around 30 AD -- the time of the sacrificial death of Yeshua for the sins of Israel and the world. The requirement for blood atonement forever stands, just as every word of the Torah is true...
Do you have a Jewish Heart?
[ The following entry is intended to point out the obvious truth that those who claim to worship "Jesus Christ" (i.e., Yeshua the Messiah of Israel) will necessarily have a heart for the Jewish people - and hopefully a desire to learn of the roots of their faith ... ]
03.26.09 (Nisan 1, 5769) In logic we sometimes talk about "sufficient" and "necessary" conditions. A condition is considered necessary if it must occur in order for something to be true. For example, the presence of oxygen is a necessary condition for human life. Without oxygen humans could not live, and therefore the presence of oxygen is a necessary conditon for human life.
A sufficient condition, on the other hand, doesn't have to exist for something to occur, but if it does, the event must occur. For example, the absence of oxygen is a sufficient condition for human death. Of course human death could occur for other reasons, but the loss of oxygen is a sufficient condition for it to occur.
Most of the time we can't identify the complete set of conditions that would suffice for an event or circumstance, though we often can determine what's necessary. For example, though oxygen is necessary for human life, it is not by itself sufficient, since humans also need water, food, brainwave activity, and a number of other conditions in order to live. In other words, while it's necessary for human life to have oxygen, it's not sufficient. To state this more formally, if X is true (human life), then Y must be true (oxygen must be present). The presence of Y (oxygen) is therefore necessary for human life (Y) - though (again) oxygen (Y) is not by itself sufficient to gaurantee human life (X).
Applied to the realm the spirit, I want to make the case that if there is genuine life (X), then there must the presence of a Jewish heart (Y) operating in the life of the believer. In other words, the presence of a Jewish heart is necessary for true life in the spirit. If you you are a "Christian" (i.e., a follower of the Jewish Messiah), then you must have a Jewish heart; i.e., having a Jewish heart is necessary for being a Christian. You simply can't be a genuine follower of Yeshua without such inward teshuvah.
Note, however, having a Jewish heart (Y) by itself is clearly not sufficient for being a Christian (X), no more than the presence of oxygen is sufficient for human life. There are many people that have a Jewish heart who clearly reject Yeshua as the Messiah. (Go to any Orthodox syngague or attend a seminar at your local Jewish Community Center and you will find many Jews who truly have Jewish hearts but who are not followers of the Messiah Yeshua.) So while it's true that having a Jewish heart is not sufficient for being a Christian, it's a necessary consequence... One implication of this is that it is impossible for someone to be a true Christian and yet be an "anti-Semite" or hater of the Jewish people. This only makes sense, of course, since followers of Yeshua are "circumcised in the Spirit" (Rom. 2:29; Col. 2:11) and grafted into the covenantal promises and blessings originally given to the Jewish people (Rom. 11:17-24). A true Christian, in other words, will be "Jewish" in the spiritual sense (Rom. 2:29). If you are Messiah's, you are a spiritual Jew; and by contraposition: if you are not a spiritual Jew, you are not a Christian.
I write all this because I am often both mystified and perplexed that many people who consider themselves Christians do not embrace their Jewish heritage and identity. (Sadly we recently left a Church we had been regularly attending for years because of the refusal of the leadership to accept this basic truth.) I am even more distressed whenever I hear so-called Christians speak in anti-Semitic terms or who regard "Jews" as "Christ killers," etc. This sort of ignorance and hatred is diametrically opposed to the mission of Yeshua, who was born the King of the Jews and who came for the lost sheep of the House of Israel (Matt. 2:2; 10:5-6; 15:24).
It is important to think clearly about all this, chaverim, but I am concerned that much of the contemporary Church has been so brainwashed by Gentile prejudice and tradition that it cannot apprehend its indebtedness to the Jewish people. Gentile Christians are "grafted in" to the covenants, blessings, and future of the Jews, not the other way around. The Olive Tree metaphor given in the Book of Romans makes this clear. Tragically, Christians rarely give the Jewish roots of their faith a second thought, or at best consider it a trifle, a curiosity, or even a novelty -- like attending a 30 minute cartoon presentation of "Christ in the Passover" or some such thing. Look -- understanding the Jewishness of Jesus and the Jewish roots of Christianity should not be regarded as adding some "ethnic spice" to otherwise "Goyishe" ways of thinking; on the contrary, such constitutes the essential truth of your identity in the Jewish Messiah. Yeshua will one day return to Jerusalem to establish the Milennial Kingdom to fulfill the promises made to ethnic Israel. And beyond this, in the eternal state to come, the gates of the "Heavenly Jerusalem" will be inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. Jewish identity is not an accident of the spirit, but a necessary part of being part of the family of God.... Take hold, chaverim!
New Hebrew Meditation
Courage in the Presence
03.24.09 (Adar 28, 5769) I wrote a new Hebrew meditation (Courage in the Presence) that's intended to remind us of God's repeated command, al-tirah, "be not afraid." I hope you find it encouraging, chaverim....
Happy New Year! - ראשׁ חֳדָשׁים
03.24.09 (Adar 28, 5769) The beginning of the Biblical Year (called Rosh Chodashim) begins tomorrow after sundown. Look for the first sign of the waxing crescent later this week, chaverim. Spring is in the air! It is time to prepare for Passover which begins in just two weeks!
Parashat Vayikra - ויקרא
03.24.09 (Adar 28, 5769) The Torah portion for this week is Vayikra ("and He called"), the very first section from the book of Leviticus. Vayikra is sometimes called the "Book of Sacrifices" since it deals largely with the various offerings brought to the LORD for sacrificial purposes in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Over 40 percent of all of the Torah's commandments are found in this central book of the Scriptures....
It is an age-old Jewish custom to begin teaching young children the Torah beginning with Vayikra because they, like the sacrifices themselves, are pure. The sage known as the Kli Yakar states that this is one of the reasons why the Aleph (א) in Vayikra (ויקרא) is written very small in the scroll. Let these teachings be the beginning, like the letter Aleph, which is the beginning of the Aleph-Bet. When we humble ourselves as little children, God will reveal His truth to us.
Other sages reasoned that Moses' humility (anavah) was such that he first waited for the LORD to call him into the Mishkan (Tabernacle), despite the fact that God had previously granted him full access to His Presence. The scroll begins with an undersized Aleph as a scribal token of Moses' humility. (The Zohar states that the undersized Aleph signifies that the Tabernacle was not fully complete without the engagement of Israel.) The "spirit of the little Aleph" means that we should always exercise derech eretz -- reverence and politeness -- before the Divine Presence.
The Korban Principle
The purpose of the sacrifices was likewise to imbue a sense of humility. At each stage of the offering, the worshipper would see how the animal was slaughtered, dismembered, its blood sprinkled, and its fat burned on the altar -- all for his sake... This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life." The guilty person would lean his hands upon the head of the animal (semichah) and then say viduy (confession): "I deserve to die instead of this innocent animal, but the LORD mercifully accepts the death of this innocent one in my stead." The worshipper would understand that were it not for chasdei Adonai (חֲסְדֵי יהוה) - the love of the LORD - this should have been his fate. When the LORD saw the shed blood and ascending smoke of the sacrifice, He forgave the sinner based on his faith and teshuvah (repentance). The entire sacrificial system was therefore predicated on God's love that foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice of Yeshua, the Son of God.
Some of the sages note that the word korban (קָרְבָּן) is often translated "sacrifice" or "offering" (the Greek LXX uses the word δῶρον, "gift"), though it derives from a root (קָרַב) that means to "draw close" or "to come near." Offering a sacrifice in the Tabernacle (and later, at the Temple) was therefore a means of coming close to the LORD in repentance and humility...
In ancient Israel there were three "classes" within the structure of Jewish society: the Kohen, the Levite and the Israelite. The Kohen was a physical descendant of Aaron who functioned as a priest of Israel. His primary role was to offer sacrifices on behalf of other Jews (his cousin, the Levite, served as his assistant, helping to maintain the Mishkan, carry vessels, and so on). Only the Kohanim could perform avodah (priestly service) even though originally the firstborn of each family was to function as a priest of Israel. On Yom Kippur, only the High Priest of Israel could offer sacrifice on behalf of all the Jews...
The sacrifice of Yeshua as the Kohen Gadol of the better covenant was given by God the Father on behalf of all those who put their trust in his Son. The Cross of Yeshua represented the kapporet ("mercy seat") of the new covenant -- and it was there He shed his blood for our everlasting reconciliation to God. We can all draw near to God and be close to Him because of the Korban of Yeshua... Moreoever, when the sacrifice was complete (and Yeshua died), the veil of the Temple -- the parochet that separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place -- was rent asunder, thereby granting access to the "throne of grace" (θρόνος τῆς χάριτος) (Heb. 4:16). Because of the High Priestly work of Yeshua, Levitical mediators are no longer necessary (1 Tim. 2:5), and all who trust in the Messiah are called "spiritual kohanim" (1 Pet. 2:5-9). Followers of Yeshua have an altar whereof those who attempt to serve in the older system are unable to eat (Heb. 13:10).
Note that we are part of the priesthood after the order of Malki-Tzedek, the "King of Righteousness." Yeshua is Adonai Tzidkenu - the LORD our Righteousness. We do not account ourselves worthy based on our personal merit, but solely on account of the finished avodah of Yeshua our LORD. Since we have access to the "throne of grace," and the word grace (χαρις) is related to the word joy (χαρα), we are called to offer sacrifices of praise. We are called to be Korban Chai -- Living Sacrifices -- on behalf of the ongoing ministry of our Messiah who urges all people to repent and draw near to the Father through Him....
If God is willing, I will add additional commentary to this week's reading soon. Meanwhile, we are very close to a great simcha in our life -- the birth of our new baby -- and your prayers are appreciated... Shalom.
The future of Hebrew4Christians...
03.20.09 (Adar 24, 5769) Shalom chaverim. As you may already know, Hebrew4Christians is neither affiliated with nor supported by other organizations. We are not part of a church denomination, a school, a Jewish educational service, or any other group, and therefore we receive no financial assistance other than through occasional book sales and the tzedakah of some faithful supporters. Of course operating this way is challenging, but it also frees us to offer content that is unique and not predetermined by denominational biases or other agendas.
Often those who discover the richness of the Jewish heritage of their Christian faith feel alone with their passion... Sometimes they are misunderstood and even ostracized by their Christian friends. Sadly, Messianic believers are often not welcome at either church or synagogue... When we try to share our insights with the church, we are regarded as "legalists;" if we share with Jews we are considered outsiders or "missionaries." We feel out of place in both camps - alone - yet we are assured by the witness of the Holy Spirit that we are walking in the truth. Because of this, I want to once again quote A.W. Tozer regarding the Loneliness of the Christian:
The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world. His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorptions in the love of Christ; and because with his circle of friends there are few who share his inner experiences, he's forced to walk alone. The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord himself suffered in the same way.
The man (or woman) who has passed on into the divine Presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and over-serious, so he is avoided, and the gulf between him and society widens. He searches for the friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces, and finding few or none, he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart. It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God. His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else.
As an independent (i.e., lonely) ministry, Hebrew4Christians addresses vital theological concerns that most traditional churches (and synagogues) ignore while remaining free to engage in self-questioning and honest exploration of the Scriptures. And unlike some other "Messianic" ministries out there, we remain entirely grace-based, meaning that we do not subscribe to legalism or rituals as the expression of our faith in the finished work of Yeshua for our salvation. That in itself is a big part of why I love this ministry: We don't have to feel entirely alone along this path, chaverim!
Lately, however, site traffic to Hebrew4Christians has dropped and its "Google Ranking" has slipped... I am unsure of the reasons for this since I add unique material here almost daily, but if the trend continues, this ministry's future is in jeopardy. Of course, if it is God's will that this site comes to an end, that will be that (after all, what good is this work if God's hand is not in it?), but meanwhile, if you believe in this vision and find the content to be helpful, please do me the honor of offering up a prayer for us. We must "fight the good fight of faith" -- especially in these days of increasing spiritual darkness -- and we can't do this without your help! Asking other sites you visit to add Hebrew4Christians as a link might also help. Thank you!
Kierkegaard on the National Debt
[ The following entry is a bit off-topic regarding the subject of Biblical Hebrew and the study of the Scriptures, but I thought it worth including here anyway. Aren't you glad that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom -- and that the princes of this world enjoy their reign for only a short while before Judgment comes? We are called to live counter culturally -- and that means living outside of the sweep of propaganda, fear mongering, and deception that is regularly practiced in this world... To radically heed the call of Yeshua is to give to those who are hurting and to faithfully serve our Risen LORD -- regardless of the madness of politicians and their pernicious ways... The End of Days draws near. While there is time, let us be found faithfully doing the work of the Kingdom, chaverim.... ]
03.19.09 (Adar 23, 5769) Some of you know that I consider Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) to be one of the greatest modern Christian authors of all time, surpassing the eloquence and brilliance of C.S. Lewis and other notables. His psychological analyses and philosophical insights into the human condition are highly regarded, even among those who refuse his passionate call to follow Christ. Moreover, Kierkegaard was a modern day prophet who foresaw the age of anxiety, the rise of media-based propaganda and interpersonal isolation, the excesses of the technological state, the decay of the institutionalized "Church," the rise of "easy-believism" (i.e., Evangelical Christianity), and the reactive "postmodern absurdism" that marks the spirit of the age today....
Today I read a humorous (i.e., ironic) quote from a fictional character Kierkegaard created regarding the problem of "boredom." As you can see, the quote is also tragically prophetic of the absurd political climate of our time:
What might be done about the national debt?
Now and then we hear that someone is a genius and does not pay his debts; why should a nation not do the same, provided there is agreement? Borrow fifteen million; use it not to pay off our debts but for public entertainment. Let us celebrate the millennium with fun and games. Just as there are boxes everywhere for contributions of money, there should be bowls everywhere filled with money. Everything would be free.... No one would be allowed to own property. An exception should be made only for me. I shall set aside for myself one hundred dollars a day deposited in a London bank, partly because I cannot manage on less, partly because I am the one who provided the idea, and finally because no one knows if I will not be able to think up a new idea when the fifteen million is exhausted....
What would be the result of this great prosperity? All the great would stream to Copenhagen: the greatest artists, actors, and dancers. Copenhagen would become another Athens. What would be the result? All the wealthy would settle in this city. Among others, the emperor of Persia and the King of England would undoubtedly also come here....
In addition, there is yet another circumstance that our politicians seem to ignore completely. Denmark holds the balance of power in Europe. A more propitious position is inconceivable. This I know from my own experience. I once held the balance of power in a family. I could do as I wished. I never suffered, but the others always did.
O may my words penetrate your ears, you who are in high places to counsel and control, you king's men and men of the people, you wise and sensible citizens of all classes! You just watch out! Old Denmark is foundering - it is a matter of life and death; it is foundering on boredom, which is the most fatal of all conditions.... (Kierkegaard: Either/Or: "The Rotation of Crops").
Sacred Name Mumbo-Jumbo
03.19.09 (Adar 23, 5769) As many of you know, Jews do not utter God's Holy Name (YHVH) out of reverence and awe, preferring to substitute the word "Adonai" to avoid sacrilege. But did you know that some Gentiles who want to know how to pronounce this Name often (perhaps unwittingly) look to the practices of occultists and hermetic philosophers? Scholars have studied the pronunciation of the Name from the writings of Greco-Egyptian magicians, Gnostics, and even some early church fathers, all of whom transliterated the Name (יהוה) using the Greek vowels (ΙΑΟΥΗ)... These magicians apparently used permutations and vowel combinations in an attempt to "conjure" power through use of the Name for the LORD...
It's worth noting that ΙΑΟΥΗ is never used in either the Greek OT (LXX) or the Greek NT, though it would have been simple enough to transliterate the Name YHVH this way. In other words, there is indirect textual evidence that Yeshua and his followers agreed with Jewish tradition and used the circumlocution "Adonai" for YHVH.
In light of this, you might understand that when I received an email yesterday from someone claiming that they have discovered the "real" pronunciation of the Name YHVH, I was a bit skeptical... It seems this person (like others who reject the traditional Jewish calendar as "unbiblical") abhors the traditional practice of substituting the word Adonai for YHVH (erroneously believing this to be a deliberate suppression by the sages) and therefore wants to restore the "true" Name to the world.... I followed the suggested link in the email to a website that claims to finally reveal the long lost secret. According to the site's author, the Sacred Name of the LORD -- YHVH -- is really supposed to pronounced "Yahuwah" (yah-HOO-wah). Now you know! Tah dah!
Hold the phone, Frank... I told the person who wrote me that even if the consonants were to be vocalized this way (which is doubtful for reasons I won't go into here), what difference does it make? There are over 500 Names, Titles, metaphors, similies, etc. of God in Tanakh, not to mention the metaphors, parables, and analogies that Yeshua gave us. Obviously the dogma that we should only pronounce the Name as "YAHUWAH" (or some other variation of the vowels) is absurd at best and arrogant at worst. It also misses the point: God is love; God is light; God is truth.
Remember, the point of "tradition" is to engender a sense of continuity and community... Those who argue for the use of an esoteric pronunciation of the Name of God (or for a more accurate calendar, etc.) are needlessly causing strife and division within the community of faith... There's no need for this sort of mumbo-jumbo, unless, of course, you are a sorcerer at heart... As I've mentioned before, we should not take the Name of the LORD in vain, chaverim -- but this often means something different than what many people think it means... Shalom.
The Role of Tradition...
03.18.09 (Adar 22, 5769) The other evening my wife and I were discussing the role of tradition in our lives as Messianic Jewish believers. Are we to be "legalistic" in our observance of such matters as Shabbat, Torah reading, celebrating the holidays, and so on? Doesn't that impede the free flow of the Spirit? Why should we be tied to the Jewish calendar and ways of reckoning time? Are we obligated to think and act this way?
Asking such questions can lead to more general thinking about the role of human tradition itself. After all, we are historical creatures rooted in a particular culture, endowed with a specific heredity and unique genetic code. We subconsciously inherit norms, customs, ceremonies, decorum, routines, patterns of speech (e.g., accents), right "from our mother's knee." In short, we are all "creatures of habit," and without such psychological ritualizing, it's likely we would go insane... Our very use of language itself -- and therefore the way we describe seeing, hearing, tasting, feeling, etc. -- is based on customary forms of conventional usage. The bottom line seems to be that we are products of our culture from the moment we take our first breath in this world... Tradition -- of some kind or another -- is simply an inescapable and omnipresent fact of our existence.
But what about the words of the Holy Scriptures? Don't they transcend cultural factors? Are they not timelessly true and exempt from culturally conditioned ways of reading them? Hardly. Both Christianity and Judaism (as opposed to some other religions) do not worship a "book" that "floated down" from heaven complete with chapters and verses. Nor do we believe in a "divine dictation" theory that claims the Scriptures are "Xerox" duplicates of the words spoken by an angel or other divine being. No, the Scriptures are regarded as the products of history -- sacred history, of course -- but history nonetheless. Therefore we have the same problems trying to discern the meaning of the Scriptures as we do for any other type of literature: Who was the original author and the intended audience? What were the cultural circumstances? Why was this written? What kind of writing is it? Is it a poem (like a psalm), or perhaps an instructional maxim (like a proverb)? Am I reading an historical account, a description of a religious ritual, or something else? First we must know what we are reading - and to understand its historical context. Ignoring this simple rule leads to all sorts of errors in our reasoning and makes us unwitting victims of our own cultural biases. We will find ourselves "reading into" the Scriptures things that just aren't there, chaverim!
Regarding the literal words of the Scriptures, it's important to remember that the decisions made regarding which scrolls were "canonical" (and therefore to be included in our modern Bibles) came from the decisions made by earlier faith communities -- just as such decisions likewise preserved the sanctity of the sacred texts themselves. For instance, without the Jewish scribal transmission known as the masorah (מָסוֹרָה), it's unlikely we would know how to read and interpret many passages of Scripture today (Christianity also has its own scribal traditions that preserved the transmission of the Greek New Testament). Original Hebrew did not include vowel markings or other punctuation. Neither did the Greek of the New Testament, for that matter. Indeed, we can only understand the message of our faith through the medium of historical continuity, tradition, and ongoing dialog.... This was true even in the days of Yeshua, who endorsed the traditional tri-fold division of the Jewish Scriptures (the Law, Writings, and Prophets - Luke 22:44) and relied on Jewish tradition to teach great truths about his message (e.g., he associated the Passover seder with the "Last Supper" rituals of the New Covenant; he called himself Living Water and the Light of the world during Sukkot, and so on.) Yeshua placed high value on the "jots and tittles" of the texts of Scripture that were part of the spiritual heritage of his day (Matt. 5:18).
But didn't Yeshua condemn the "traditions of men" in His day? Didn't he reject the traditions of the elders of Israel (Mark 7:5-13)? Didn't he rhetorically ask the religionists of his day, "Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matt. 15:2-10)? Yes he did, but it's important to understand the historical context of these sorts of statements. First, he was certainly not condemning "true traditions" that are outlined in the Scriptures themselves. Yeshua's entire ministry was predicated on the "appointed times" of the LORD and their fulfillment in him. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matt. 5:17). No, what Yeshua appeared to take issue with was the dogmatic interpretation of various aspects of ritual law and with the practice of "building of fences" around the original intent of the Scriptures. These man-made "fences" (gezerot) actually created a gilded cage around the Scriptures and effectively relocated the source of authority to the self-styled religious interpreters of the day... This was the crux of the disagreement between Yeshua and the Pharisees. (For more about this, see "The Heart of the Law; the Law of the Gospel".)
We all live by hours of the day, days of the week, seasons of the year, and God has revealed cycles and patterns of community life for Israel. Indeed, the moedim (festivals and appointed times) of the LORD are rooted in history and have prophetic implication for our lives. The "traditions of the elders" which Yeshua condemned had more to do with hidebound interpretations of the Scriptures (later embodied in the "Oral Law") than with the idea of tradition itself. The Greek word for "tradition" (παράδοσις) is a neutral term, simply meaning "handing down" (from παρά (down, from) + δίδωμι (to give)) what was given before. Both Judaism and Christianity hold to an "oral tradition" following the ministries of Moses and Yeshua, respectively. Because of the imminent expectancy of the return of Yeshua after His resurrection, the gospels were not committed to formal writing until the prospect of the death of the eyewitnesses loomed large. Moreover, there were numerous Gospel accounts which were eventually compiled into a standardized retelling of the story (Luke 1:1-4). In Jewish tradition, Moses received the written law at Sinai, but this cannot be understood in a vacuum. For instance, the details about how to construct the furnishings of the Tabernacle are not given, and the written law even endorsed the establishment of "judges" to interpret case law and establish precedent. Likewise the Apostle Paul admonished, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions (παράδοσις) which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Cor. 11:2). Indeed, in a New Testament sense, "tradition" refers to the Apostolic teaching in general, as well as the valid inferences from the Tanakh that are thereby implied (2 Tim. 3:16, Matt. 13:52).
Much of how we engage the relevance of tradition depends on our motives, of course... If we use religion to impress others, we're obviously missing the point of it all. Spiritual pride is an oxymoron of the highest order... (This also works the other way around: those who are iconoclastic regarding tradition may also be guilty of spiritual pride). Or if we are attempting to earn "merit" or find our self worth before the LORD, we are again missing it. God's love for us is unconditional, and there's no "merit" (zechut) we possess beyond that which is freely given to us through the intercessory work of Yeshua as our High Priest (Eph. 2:8-9). As Isaiah says (64:6): "All our (personal) righteousness is as filthy rags" (i.e., k'beged idim - as a menstrual cloth) -- and yet God loves us and finds us infinitely worthy.... There's no need to "ingratiate ourselves" before the LORD by means of performing various religious observances. God's love is forever the foundation. That said - and I hasten to add this in the same breath - if we love the LORD and honor His Word, we will surely strive to become more and more conscious, aware, mindful, etc. of the "whole counsel of God" and His revealed will. And that, of course, involves becoming more aware of the Jewish roots of your faith.
After all, didn't the LORD God of Israel spend nearly 2,000 years before the advent of the Messiah teaching and grooming Israel? And to what end? Or do you suppose that Israel is a "failed social experiment" meant to be an "object lesson" for Christians? (Alas, this is the "cartoon version" of ethnic Israel that is all too common in the Christian church these days.) Is that all we can say about God's covenants and actions performed on behalf of the Jewish people? Is that all we can say about Israel's future? God forbid. No - though righteousness was not attainable by means of observing the covenant at Sinai, that's no fault of God nor of the Torah! The Torah is "holy and just and good" (Rom. 7:12) -- and that goodness / kedushah (holiness) is not diminished by means of the "better covenant" (Heb. 8:6) which God has graciously provided in concession to the weakness of our human "flesh" (Rom. 8:3-4). If I've warned you before about the perils of legalism, now I need to warn you not to confuse the liberty of the new covenant with any form of "replacement theology" that nullifies God's saving acts and promises for the Jewish people. It's a balancing act on this issue, chaverim...
So where am I going with this? Well, in the second of this week's Torah readings (Pekudei) we learn that Moses consecrated the Mishkan (Tabernacle) on Rosh Chodashim, "the first day of the first month of the second year [since the Exodus]" (Exod. 40:17). The Jewish commentator Rashi notes that Moses spent the entire week before this date assembling and then (on the same day) dismantling the Tabernacle, perhaps to instruct the Levites. Some scholars have suggested that Moses' actions were a parable, however. The Tabernacle was not a "home" for God like some shrine for a tribal deity. Metaphorically it represented the Presence of the Shechinah in the midst of the people (Exod. 25:8). "Let them make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell in their midst." It is the LORD as dwelling in the midst of the people that is the true Presence of God, not some man-made structure, no matter how beautiful. The Shechinah dwells within our hearts and is no longer confined to a Temple. We are now personal "mishkans" -- "living stones" of God's greater Temple (1 Pet. 2:5). The Spirit of God dwells within us through faith....
Nonetheless Moses' object lesson remains. Seven times the Tabernacle was set up only to be pulled back down... "Though the righteous fall seven times, they will rise again," said King Solomon (Prov. 24:16). We strive to move ahead in our spiritual lives, even if we experience repeated setbacks. Even if our lives are shattered by failure, we can take hope, chaverim: God will help you rebuild! (None of the king's men can put Humpty-Dumpty back together again -- but the LORD surely can!) A midrash says that Moses was once tested to see if he was able to receive the Torah. For 40 consecutive days he would study Torah only to immediately forget all he learned! Eventually, however, he remembered his studies and God began preparing him for his role in the kingdom. So take heart and "keep pursuing the goal in order to win the prize offered by God's upward calling in the Messiah Yeshua" (Phil. 3:14).
Now let's go back to the original question we were asking ourselves the other evening. Should we be tied to the Jewish calendar and ways of reckoning time? Are we obligated to think and act this way? Well, even though we might have to "build and rebuild" our own sense of sacred space within ourselves (our "inner mishkan"), it is not hopeless to begin to do just that.... We can (of course) opt out and simply repeat the mantra "Jesus loves me just the way I am" all day long, but while it's indeed gloriously true that God's love for us is unconditional, remaining satisfied with our condition is actually a sign of sickness. The life of authentic discipleship is a one of "hungering and thirsting after righteousness" (Matt. 5:6), a sort of "divine discontent." The Apostle Paul wrote: "When the appointed time arrived, God sent forth his Son, born from a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5). Being adopted into God's household means understanding how the house "sets its clock," so to speak. It means being attuned to the rhythm and order of the seasons, days, and even hours of the day. Since the end of our salvation is adoption -- our new identities as sons (and daughters) of God -- is it correct to think it a form of slavery to be mindful of such things, chaverim?
There is legalism -- i.e., the idea that we are duty bound to perform certain rituals, behave a certain way, follow a set of rules, etc., and there is the liberty we enjoy as the heirs of God. There is a higher way of understanding the same thing -- namely understanding as an adult rather than as a child. Apprehending your identity as a son (or daughter) of the LORD God of Israel makes you no longer an outsider, a "child," an "outcast," etc., to the covenantal obligations and promises given to the Jewish people. As a co-heir and fellow member through adoption into the household of God, you are a new creation. Being a Jew is a matter of having a new heart, chaverim....
Let me make this up close and personal. Does it matter -- really -- if we bother to make time for Shabbat? Should we go through the trouble of preparing a special dinner, getting the family together, inviting a friend over for table fellowship and discussion about the ways of the LORD? Does it matter if we light Sabbath candles, eat challah, and say the "prescribed" blessings? Isn't this "tradition" that comes from the rabbis who rejected Yeshua, after all? "Let every person be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). There is a "weaker brother" issue here and showing respect for others means avoiding "ma'arit ayin" - the appearance of evil. We are at liberty to identify ourselves with God's overarching plans for Israel by honoring such traditions, and we are also at liberty to abstain from such -- though in either case we seek to sanctify the LORD and give Him honor according to the best lights we have....
God has promised to give us wisdom if we sincerely ask Him (James 1:5-7).
Green Barley for Rocket Scientists...
Almost immediately after posting this entry I received an email from someone asking me about the "correct time" to observe Passover this year. It seems this person rejects the traditional Jewish calendar (i.e., the Hillel II calendar) and believes that the sighting of barley in the state of "aviv" (ripening) along with the sighting of the New Moon in Israel are the only "true" indicators of the Biblical New Year. Passover would then occur just before the full moon of that month.... This observational version of determining the date of the New Year and Passover creates a different calendar (sometimes called the "Aviv Calendar") that is often at variance with traditional Jewish observance....
My response was that this is precisely why tradition is important, since Passover is all about community -- not about some transcendental experience by a small group of initiates who regard themselves as smarter than the rest of us clods... The traditional Jewish calendar puts us all on the "same page" regarding the celebrations of the LORD. These are moedim -- "appointed times" -- for the community -- not appointed times for the "rocket scientists" in our midst. As Yeshua said, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." We are called to dwell together in unity. Man was not created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man...
03.16.09 (Adar 20, 5769) Passover (Pesach) is a holiday that commemorates the liberation of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt by the outstretched arm of the LORD and the blood of the lamb some 3,000 years ago. The story of the Exodus recounts God's faithful love for the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob which so moved Him that He "rose up" and personally delivered their descendants from grave social oppression.
A beautiful Midrash regarding Avraham Avinu (our father Abraham) bears on part of the reason:
Abram looked up at the sky and saw a big star shining. "That star is you lighting up the world," said God. Then Abram saw two stars. "Those are for you and your son," continued God. Then Abram saw three stars: "You, your son, and your grandson." When Abram looked up again, he saw twelve stars. "There will be twelve tribes," explained God. Suddenly the whole sky from one end to the other was covered with stars: "So shall your descendants be, too many to count," promised God.
The sages comment further. God took Abram not only outside, but out of world altogether and into outer space! God transported him high above the stars to view the galaxies and constellations. It was then that God reaffirmed, "So shall your descendants be..."
Since Abram unconditionally believed God's promise, it was "reckoned to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:6) and God answered Abram's faith with a unconditionally given covenant called brit bein ha'besarim - the "Covenant Between the Parts" (בּרית בּין הַבְּסרים) (Gen. 15:5-21). Unlike other ancient covenant ceremonies in which both parties would pass between the pieces of a sacrificed animal as a symbol that they agreed to keep the terms of the contract, in this ceremony God alone moved between the halves of the animals (as a smoking furnace and a flaming torch) while a "deep sleep fell upon Abram." The ceremony, in other words, represented God's unconditional promise given in response to Abram's unconditional faith (God can't be outdone here: if Abraham was unconditionally trusting in God's promise, surely God's promise is all the more unconditionally given.) God alone binds Himself to the terms, though Abram's dreadful vision of the future 400 year exile of his descendants (the Israelites) indicated his participation in the outcome of God's sovereign actions. Regarding the 400 years, it is interesting that the Targum Jerusalem elaborates by seeing all the subsequent exiles of the Jewish people until the coming of the Messiah during the reign of Rome:
And when the sun was going to set, a sleep profound and sweet fell upon Abram. And, behold, Abram saw four kingdoms which should arise to bring his sons into subjection (and) Terror; the Greatness of Darkness Fell upon him: Terror, that is Bavel; Darkness, that is Media; Greatness, that is Greece; Fell, that is Edom, (Rome) that fourth kingdom which is to Fall, and never to rise again for ever and ever.
(JTE, Gen. 15:12)
At any rate, Passover remembers the deliverance of the LORD and the fulfillment of his promise to Abraham and his descendants. And since the events of the Exodus led directly to the giving of the covenant at Sinai, Passover also celebrates the birth of the nation of Israel in history.
The Passover Seder remembers the final plague and the awful night when the faithful were protected by the blood of the lamb - a clear picture of the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah as Seh HaElohim - the "Lamb of God" who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Before his crucifixion, Yeshua referred to the symbolism and imagery of the Passover Seder to foretell of the New Covenant given in his broken body and shed blood. His followers (talmidim- students) are expected to purge out the "the old leaven" and to keep the feast, understanding how He is the embodiment of this sacred holiday (see 1 Cor. 5:7, see also Luke 24:27,44 ).
This year, Passover begins on Wed., April 8th at sundown (i.e., the first Seder on Nisan 15). In the Diaspora, a second Seder is performed on the following evening (i.e., Thurs. April 9th). I have created a guide for performing your own Passover Seder that you can download for free. For an overview of the Passover Seder, click here.
Let's keep the feast, chaverim!
Parashat Vayakhel and Pekudei
03.16.09 (Adar 20, 5769) This week we have a "double portion" of Torah - Vayakhel and Pekudei. Since this isn't a leap year (i.e., this year doesn't have an additional month of Adar inserted into the calendar), we will have a total of six weeks with double readings before Rosh Hashanah (in the fall). In addition, since this Shabbat immediately precedes the first month of the coming New Year, an additional (maftir) reading from Exodus is also read (see entry below). That's a lot of Torah for this week, chaverim!
In Vayakhel Moses "assembled" (from the verb kahal (קָהַל) meaning to "assemble") the people together to charge them with building the mishkan (Tabernacle). Jewish tradition states that this assembly took place the day after Yom Kippur, when Moses came down from Sinai with the second set of Tablets, as an indication that God had granted them atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. The very first item on the list was the importance of observing Shabbat, even more important than the construction of the mishkan itself. This is to be a day of "complete rest to the LORD" - shabbat shabbaton la-Adonai (שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַיהוָה) - with the caveat that "whoever does any work (מְלָאכָה) on it shall be put to death." This includes the restriction not to kindle any fire on Shabbat (which therefore explains why the last mitzvah performed before Shabbat begins is the kindling of the Shabbat candles: the woman of the house first lights the candles (18 minutes before sundown when Shabbat begins) and then says the blessing over the flames, officially commencing the holiness of the day of rest).
An interesting homiletical interpretation of this verse, "You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day" (Exod. 35:3) is that we shouldn't wait until the Sabbath day to "kindle our soul." During the six days of the week we can arouse our spiritual passions so that we don't have to "begin cold" when the Sabbath day arrives. We should have the spiritual fire burning throughout the week so that the flame will peak on the Sabbath.
The Torah clearly says that no "work" is to be done on the Sabbath, but what exactly constitutes work (melakhah) has been an intricate subject of discussion for thousands of years. In Jewish tradition, "work" does not mean physical labor per se. For example, according to most interpretations of Jewish law, it's okay to move a heavy sofa across the room on Shabbat but not flip on a light switch or carry a needle and thread out into the street.
Because the Torah juxtaposes the laws regarding refraining from work on the Sabbath with the laws regarding the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the sages regarded the two as complementary and mutually exclusive. In other words, if we could identify the types of actions required to build the Mishkan (as well as its various furnishings, sacrifices, etc.), then we would know what actions not to perform on Shabbat, especially since the construction of the Mishkan was halted for Sabbath observance. The sages who undertook this study eventually identified 39 categories of work required for the Mishkan, and called them Avot Melakhah, the "fathers" or primary categories, since they are the foundation, the original source for all secondary types of melakhah which are similar and derived from them (Mishnah: Shabbat).
If you look into this, you will quickly discover that the legal discussions about what exactly is and is not "work" gets very involved and convoluted. For example, the restriction not to kindle any fire on Shabbat has led Rabbinic authorities to "build a fence" (gezeirah) around the commandment by not allowing the turning on of electric lights or starting automobiles on Shabbat. Such preventative measures are sometimes justified to avoid "ma'arit ayin" - the appearance of evil.
If God is willing, I will add additional commentary on the Torah portions later this week, chaverim.
Shabbat HaChodesh - שבת החדש
03.15.09 (Adar 19, 5769) On the Shabbat before the month of Passover begins (Rosh Chodashim) an additional Torah reading (maftir) concerning the sanctification of the new moon is read (Exod. 12:1-20). The New Moon of Nisan is the most significant of the "new moons" of the Jewish calendar, since it is the first month of the Biblical Calendar - and therefore represents the Biblical "New Year's Day." This year, Rosh Chodashim begins Wed., March 25th.
Originally Rosh Chodashim was simply called the "First Month" because it is the month of the Exodus and the other months were named in relation to it, similar to the days of the week in the Hebrew calendar (i.e., the first day, the second day...). Later it was called "Chodesh Ha-Aviv," the springtime month, because the Hebrew Calendar is reset in the spring. According to the sages, after the Babylonian Exile and the prophecy of Jeremiah was fulfilled (i.e., "it will no longer be said 'as the LORD lives, who took the people of Israel out of Egypt,' rather it will be said 'as the LORD lives, who raised up and brought the people of Israel from the Northern Land' (16:14-15), the Jews began to call the months by the names commonly used in exile as a reminder of God's faithfulness.
Of all the various Rosh Chodesh celebrations, Rosh Chodesh Nisan is the most significant, since it prepares us for the coming time of Passover and is the starting point for the biblical cycle of yearly festivals (mo'edim) which reveal great prophetic truths about the LORD God of Israel and His beloved Son, Yeshua the Mashiach, blessed be He.
The (second) Torah portion for this week (Pekudei) states that the Tabernacle was set up on the first day of the first month of the Hebrew calendar (i.e., Rosh Chodesh Nisan): בְּיוֹם־הַחדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן בְּאֶחָד לַחדֶשׁ תָּקִים אֶת־מִשְׁכַּן אהֶל מוֹעֵד / "On the first day of the first month, you are to set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting" (Exod. 40:2, see also 40:17). After stating that everything was performed to perfection, according to God's pattern given on Sinai, the Book of Exodus closes with the statement that "the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle" - וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה מָלֵא אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּן. Notice that this statement (Exod. 40:34) does not say that the Tabernacle was full of the glory of the LORD, since that would imply that God's Life and Presence was somehow "contained" within the mishkan - an obvious impossibility - but rather that God's Presence manifested itself there in a special way.
YHVH and the Sign on the Cross?
03.12.09 (Adar 16, 5769) The Hebrew verb for "crucify" is tzalav (צָלַב) which is nearly identical to the word for "cross" (צְלָב). The Greek word for "cross" is σταυρός (stauros). "The cross of Messiah" (ὁ σταυρὸς τοῦ Χριστοῦ) is usually rendered as tzelav ha-Mashiach (צְלַב הַמָּשִׁיח) in some Hebrew translations. Recently someone asked me whether the inscription (or sign) on the Cross of Yeshua formed an acronym for the Sacred Name YHVH. This would be highly unlikely, despite some talk out there. Here are the relevant texts from the New Testament:
- In Matthew 27:37 the statement is: "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Greek: οὗτός ἐστιν ᾽Ιησοῦς ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾽Ιουδαίων
Hebrew: זֶה הוּא יֵשׁוּעַ מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים - acronym = ZHYMH
- In Mark 15:26, the statement is "THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Greek: ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾽Ιουδαίων
Hebrew: מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים - acronym = MH
- In Luke 23:38 the statement is "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Greek: ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾽Ιουδαίων οὗτος
Hebrew: זֶה הוּא מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים - acronym = ZHMH
- In John 19:19 the statement is: "JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS."
Greek: ᾽Ιησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν ᾽Ιουδαίων
Hebrew: יֵשׁוּעַ הַנָּצְרִי מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים - acronymn = YHMH
The only way to get YHVH out of the inscription on the Cross would be to use bad Hebrew grammar -- Yeshua ha-Notzri u'Melekh ha-Yehudim -- but this would mean "Jesus of Nazareth and a king of the Jews" (or its equivalent).
03.12.09 (Adar 16, 5769) After the festival of Purim most Jews begin thinking about Passover, which occurs just 30 days later. In the opening verse of this week's Torah portion (Ki Tisa) there is an intimation of the coming Passover: "each shall give a ransom for his life to the LORD" (Exod. 30:12). The verse reads, נָתְנוּ אִישׁ כּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַיהוָה, which can be understood as, "they shall offer a man willing to be atonement to the LORD," i.e., someone who is ready to sacrifice his life on behalf of the people -- "so that no plague come upon them." The census of the LORD (as represented by the half-shekel collection), intimates that every soul can be accounted to "escape the plague of death" by means of Yeshua, "the man willing to be atonement to the LORD" on behalf of the people.
Shabbat Shalom, Chaverim.
Two Kinds of Fear...
03.12.09 (Adar 16, 5769) King Solomon wrote, "The fear of the LORD (יִרְאַת יְהוָה) adds days [to life], but the years of the wicked will be cut short" (Prov. 10:27). These "added days" of life include the appointed times and seasons (i.e., the moedim) when the veil of "everydayness" is lifted and we can glimpse the sacred. Living in dissonance with God's will yields days that are shortened - by vanity, by dissipation, and by despair. And what good are length of days when they are filled with emptiness and illusion? Fearing God and keeping his commandments is the "end of the matter" (סוֹף דָּבָר) and the "whole duty" of our lives (Eccl. 12:13).
"The anxiety of man (חֶרְדַּת אָדָם) is a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is set safely on high" (Prov. 29:25). The fear that mankind engineers is a trap intended to shorten life, but the fear of the LORD (yirat Adonai) is life-giving and healing. Every day God makes miracles for people of which they are unaware. God didn't create the universe and then remove Himself from its care: Yeshua sustains all things by the Word of His power and in Him all things "subsist" - τὰ πάντα ἐν αὐτῷ συνέστηκεν (Col. 1:17). Living in the light of God's Presence reveals the daily bread that comes from Heaven, but those who refuse the truth find no lasting sustenance for the world to come... We all must believe that God is making miracles for us to live and grow in this age; otherwise we are not living in faith.
Parashat Ki Tisa - כי תשא
03.10.09 (Adar 12, 5769) The Torah reading for this week is Ki Tisa, one of the Torah's longest. It includes the account of the Sin of the Golden Calf (עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה) and Moses' intercession for Israel. After a period of teshuvah for this great transgression, the LORD graciously revealed the thirty-two words that have become known in Jewish tradition as the Shelosh Esrei Middot, the Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy. This was the LORD's own definition of His character and attributes to Moses after the breaking of the covenant. See the Parashah Summary for the Hebrew text and audio of this important revelation from God.
Ki Tisa begins with the statement, "each shall give (וְנָתְנוּ) a ransom for his life to the LORD" (Exod. 30:12). The sages note that the word ve'natnu can be written backward and forward, alluding to the idea that whoever gives tzedekah (i.e., "charity") never feels the loss of having given anything away (Baba Basra). Giving benevolence produces wealth; tzedakah is an investment in your spiritual future! Indeed, tzedakah saves from death - צְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת. The love of God is like that: when we give it away, it becomes our own possession. The converse is also true. If we withhold from others, then eventually God will make it so that we are unable to give what we would have given had we the opportunity (and consequently, we lose our blessing). In this age of economic fear, giving tzedakah is truly countercultural and faith-affirming: but the truth abides: when we give, we receive....
The midrash Yalkut Shimoni adds that God showed many great treasures to Moses. "To whom does this treasure belong?" asked Moses. "To those who give tzedakah," answered God. "And to whom does this one belong?" "To those who support orphans." And thus did God answer him regarding each treasure. Finally, Moses came upon a certain treasure and asked, "To whom does this belong?" "This belongs to one who has no merit of his own. I give him this treasure unearned," replied God. This is referred to in the words, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" (Exod. 33:19). God's love is given freely, even to those who are undeserving. That's the message of the Cross of Yeshua, after all. God's love and grace is poured out to those who are without merit or hope.
Shabbat Parah - שבת פרה
The Shabbat that follows Purim is called Shabbat Parah - the "Sabbath of the Cow" (or parah adumah - the "red heifer"). In addition to the weekly Torah portion (Ki Tisa), the chapter of Parah Adumah, the "Red Cow" is read: "This is the ordinance of the Torah which the Lord has commanded" (Num. 19:1-22).
The Red Heifer offering is considered a paradox to most Jewish thinkers, though it is clearly a picture of the Messiah Yeshua. The paradox is that the one who offers this sacrifice becomes ritually impure, while the sprinkling of the ashes is used to make people clean... The ritual is considered chok within the Jewish tradition, meaning that it makes no rational sense. In fact, the Talmud states that of all the taryag mitzvot (613 commandments), this is the only one that King Solomon could not fathom, since this sacrifice is the most paradoxical of all the sacrifices found in the Torah. The sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah is the fulfillment of the symbolism of the parah adumah. Both were entirely rare and without defect (sin); both were sacrificed outside the camp; both made the one who offered the sacrifice unclean but made the one who was sprinkled by it clean; and finally, both sacrifices cleanse people for priestly service.
H A P P Y P U R I M ! ! !
03.10.09 (Adar 14, 5769) Last night we had a simple home ceremony for Purim and read an abbreviated Megillah. Josiah loved rattling his grogger at the mention of Haman's name, though in some places both Haman's, Esther's, and Mordecai's names all occur together -- calling for a string of "boos and cheers" -- until we felt unsure of ourselves! In that sense we did Purim "adloyada" (without knowing the difference)! We wish you all a very joyous holiday! Purim Sameach chaverim!
Note: To fufill the mitzvah of the season, you can read the Book of Esther here. You can also watch a Purim play here.
Coming Death of Evangelicalism?
03.09.09 (Adar 13, 5769) Happy Purim, chaverim. Today I happened to read a Christian Science Monitor article in which the author prognosticated the imminent "collapse" of so-called "Evangelicalism" in the United States. According to the author, among the reasons for this collapse is that the Bible believing church in the USA has become so identified with "right wing" political issues (i.e., the "culture war") that it will be consigned to perpetual irrelevancy in the years to come. The author then predicts that we are going to see the "end" of evangelicalism within the next ten years or so, and suggests that from this destruction the "true church" will emerge, Phoenix-like, from the ashes....
This would be troubling news if it were spoken by a true prophet. It should be noted, however, that the author is a self-confessed postmodern Christian "emergent" who would be thrilled to see "the church" fail in these latter days. Indeed, the entire "postmodern church" movement in this country is part of the problem of "evangelicalism" itself, parasitically feeding on the failures of the church and shilling itself as "alternative." And what do they offer in its place? Unrestrained subjectivism, epistemological nihilism, incoherent thinking, and spiritual pride. Today's "emergent" church leaders constitute nothing but the self-hating wing of evangelicalism itself.
Of course it doesn't take much of a "prophet" these days to see that the world -- including the "evangelical" world -- is a mess. Even false prophets can make true predictions at times... But as I have written elsewhere, however, the seeds of the evangelical demise were sown long ago in "Christian" Europe, though it has taken longer for the ideology to take root here in the United States. Ironically, the author of the article is a victim of this decadent historical line of thinking, even if he is unaware of his indebtedness.
Still, while it is doubtlessly true that "evangelicalism" in the United States has long entered a period of apostasy (like other mainline church denominations), for all the more reason we must take a stand and do the work of restoring the original message of the Scriptures... Hence the work and passion of the Hebrew4Christians web site... A true "reformation" of the western "church" will never occur until the original message of Scriptures is clearly embraced -- and that particularly means returning to the Jewish roots of Christianity and the study of the Hebraic mindset. There simply is no other alternative, friends.
This is a Purim reminder of sorts, since it was the threat of assimilation that led to a potential holocaust in Persia long ago. The Christian "church" has been marginalized and ghettoized because it has abandoned the pursuit of truth and embraced pragmatic expediency. This leads, as sure as gravity, to dissipation and despair. Christendom must repent from its sin of arrogance and return to the Jewish roots of its faith. Only the truth will set us free, not redoubled attempts to serve up more spiritual pabulum for a postmodern and moribund culture.
Mordecai's Civil Disobedience
03.09.09 (Adar 13, 5769) An interesting question comes up when we consider the role of Mordecai in the Purim story. Was Mordecai inviting trouble by refusing to show respect to Haman? After all, it was his refusal to show the vizier honor that led to the attempted genocide of the Jewish community in Persia. How can we justify his actions given the great risks that were involved?
One midrash (Yalkut Shimoni) states that Mordecai was actually engaged in a religious dispute with the judges of Israel. In Esther 3:3 it is written, "and the king's servants (i.e., the Jewish religious authorities) said to him, 'why do you violate the king's orders?" In other words, the rabbinical judges were questioning why Mordecai was engaging in civil disobedience. After all, Jewish law does not forbid bowing to a king, and even the great patriarch Jacob bowed to Esau seven times (Gen. 33:3), so why should Mordecai refuse to submit to the King's right-hand man? This question became pressing since Mordecai's repeated refusals caused Haman to begin plotting against the Jews. So why create a problem, Mordecai? Just submit to the civil authorities "as unto the Lord."
The midrash Esther Rabbah defends Mordecai by stating that Haman emblazoned the image of an idol on his clothes, and anyone who bowed to him would thereby be bowing to his idol. Since idol worship is explicitly forbidden (even at the expense of one's life), Mordecai righteously refused to comply -- and hence his civil disobedience. Other sages (such as Rashi) say that Haman actually regarded himself a "god" -- not unlike some other egomaniacs of human political history -- and therefore bowing before him amounted to the same sin of avodah zarah (idol worship).
Still other sages say that Mordecai considered Haman a slave, since he was a descendant of Amalek, and therefore it was unfitting for him to bow down before him. In the midrash Esther Rabbah, a supposed dialog between Haman and Mordecai is recorded in which Haman claims that Mordecai owes him obeisance since Mordecai's ancestor Jacob had bowed down before his ancestor Esau (i.e., Esau was the grandfather of Amalek and ancestor of Haman). Mordecai, according to this Midrash, responded that while that may be true, he was from the tribe of Benjamin, and his ancestor Benjamin was not alive at the time of the Jacob-Esau encounter -- and therefore did not bow to Esau. Even so, some of the sages wonder whether Mordecai's pride warranted putting the Jewish community at risk, especially since Jacob himself had "swallowed his pride" by bowing before Esau for the sake of a greater peace (Gen. 33:3).
Most Jewish commentators consider Mordecai's resistance to assimilation as being the chief factor behind his acts of civil disobedience. The Talmud (Megillah 12a) states that the Jews were growing increasingly content with their lives in exile and no longer yearned to return to the Promised Land of Zion. Mordecai's actions were therefore those of a prophet calling the Jews to remember their true identity.
Get Ready for Purim...
03.07.09 (Adar 11, 5769) The theme of Purim is the survival of the Jewish people despite various attempts by their enemies to destroy them. As such, Purim (like Passover) is a celebration of the deliverance and faithfulness of the LORD God of Israel, notwithstanding the omnipresence of anti-Semitism in the world. The irony of the anti-Semite is that everything he does to destroy the Jewish people ends up destroying him... Haman is the archetype of all those who refuse to acknowledge God's faithful love for Israel.
On the Jewish calendar, both the last month of the year (Adar) and the first month (Nisan) center on the theme of God's salvation and deliverance. In Adar we celebrate Purim, and in Nisan we celebrate Passover... However Purim, unlike Passover, celebrates the "hiddenness" of God's actions. There is no dramatic power encounter; no parting of the Red Sea, no cataclysmic judgments with Purim. This is suggested by the name of the Book of Esther itself, Megillat Ester (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר), since the word megillah ("scroll") is related to the word giluy (גִּלּוּי), "revelation," and the word Ester is related to the word hester (הֶסְתֵר), meaning "hiddenness." God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices.
Purim is considered a "minor" holiday (i.e., it is not one of the three required pilgrimage festivals: Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), though there are some specific things we do to commemorate this special season:
- It is a mitzvah (blessing) to perform additional acts of kindness before the holiday of Purim. These include mishloach manot (מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת), the sending of gifts to friends, and matanot la'evyonim (מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיוֹנִים), giving to gifts the poor. Fasting the daylight hours before Purim (ta'anit Esther) is also considered a blessing.
- It is a mitzvah (blessing) to observe Purim on Adar 14. This is based on Esther 9:19: "Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another."
- It is a mitzvah (blessing) to read the Scroll of Esther twice on Purim. Traditionally, there is an evening Megillah reading (usually followed by a costume play and oneg) and another reading the following morning. On Purim night, it is customary to give machatzit ha-shekel (half a shekel) as charity to the poor before the reading of the megillah. During the reading, it is customary to drown out the sound of Haman's name by shouting or by using "groggers" (רַעֲשָׁנִים) when the reading occurs (Haman's name occurs 54 times in the story). According to the Talmud (Megilah 7b), a person should be so merry that he doesn't know the difference between "cursed is Haman" (arur Haman) and "blessed is Mordecai" (baruch Mordecai) - "ad dela yada bein arur Haman le'varuch Mordecai." In Israel, special carnivals called Adloyada ("until you don't know") occur during Purim.
- It is customary to eat special foods at this time, including "Hamantaschen" (three-cornered pastries) called oznei Haman (אָזְנֵי הָמָן), "Haman's Ears" in Israel.
A special Purim meal (seudat Purim) with the appropriate blessings recited is considered the climax of the holiday.
According to sages, any day that is marked by special deliverance by the LORD can be called a "Purim." In fact, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Tanakh, which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a "day like Purim." Thus the day on which Yeshua sacrificed Himself on the cross is the greatest Purim of all, since through this we are eternally delivered from the hands of our enemies....
The Midrash Esther says that Purim, unlike many of the other holidays, will be celebrated even after the final redemption after the End of Days. This is because the story of Purim -- i.e., God's covenantal faithfulness and defense of His people -- will be magnified in the deliverance that leads to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom upon the earth. Indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah will be regarded as the final fulfillment of Purim!
Haman is clearly a type of Anti-Messiah (satan) who desires to see the Jewish people exterminated once and for all. In the New Testament we know that there is soon coming one who is the embodiment of this "spirit of Haman," and of Hitler, and of all the other anti-Jewish murderers throughout the ages. This one is the "man of sin" or the Messiah of Evil (2 Thess. 2:3), who will broker peace in the Middle East and feign to be friendly to Israel, but who will ultimately betray her and seek to have her utterly destroyed.
Satan's final attempt to provide the ultimate "Final Solution" will be foiled, just as Haman's attempt was foiled. His plan will boomerang upon his own head, just as Haman's plan boomeranged upon him. And he and his children will all hang from the gallows, just as Haman and his children did.
When Yeshua returns at the end of the Great Tribulation, He will destroy the Messiah of Evil by the Word of His Power and physically deliver Israel as her rightful King and Lord. Israel's long-awaited Mashiach ben David will be clearly revealed and understood to be Mashiach ben Yosef Himself. Then, and only then, will Israel experience the true deliverance and salvation of God -- and the rejoicing of that Purim will be like none other! Maranatha, Yeshua Adoneinu!
Shabbat Zakhor - שבת זכור
[ Note: Our new baby is expected in just a few weeks now! Please offer up a prayer for momma and child, chaverim. Thank you! ]
03.06.09 (Adar 10, 5769) This week's Torah (Tetzaveh) begins with instructions for kindling the holy lampstand: "command the people of Israel to bring to you pure beaten olive oil for illumination (לַמָּאוֹר) to offer up (olah) a continual lamp (נֵר תָּמִיד)." Note that the word translated "lampstand" is menorah (מְנוֹרָה), from the word for lamp, ner (נֵר). What's interesting about this verse is that the commandment to "offer up a continual lamp" occurs before the Tabernacle - and the menorah - was even made. God's gracious Light must shine first -- even before we can direct our worship to Him.... The Light of His Presence precedes even the "tent of meeting" itself.
There is a Purim connection here. Perhaps you are familiar with the "Urim and Thummim," the "lights and perfections" that the High Priest sometimes used to discern messages from the LORD? Some scholars believe these were like lots (purim) that were used to get "yes/no" responses from the LORD (e.g., 1 Sam. 14:41, 28:6, Ezr. 2:63; Neh. 7:65). When Haman the Agagite kept "rolling the dice" until he found the "propitious" time to seek the destruction of the Jews (Esther 3:7), God was indeed watching. After Haman "divined" the twelfth month (Adar), he appealed to the King to put his hateful plan into action... He slandered the Jews and sought to incite the King's anger against them as traitors who pledged allegiance to a different King... All this was foreseen by the LORD and under His sovereign control. Little did Haman know that the dice he cast was for the appointed day of his own death... And so it goes for all those who "cast the lot" without understanding the overarching sovereignty of God...
On this Shabbat before Purim, we are commanded to remember (zachor) Amalek: lo tiskach! Do not forget (Deut. 25:19)! Since Haman (and other enemies of God) are regarded as Amalekites, we remember that we are in a spiritual war, and the stakes are the highest known by mortal man. On Purim itself we recite the blessing She'asah nissim - "who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season" (just as we do at Chanukah). God is Light, but those who hate others live in darkness -- a deadly kind of darkness. Purim celebrates the deliverance of the LORD for His people and those who trust in Him are surrounded by His Light.
Just before Purim it is considered a mitzvah (or blessing) to send gifts of food to friends (called mishloach manot) and to give tzedekah (charity) to the poor (called matanot la'evyonim). These customs come from the story of Esther itself (Esther 9:22). Sharing with others is a means of spreading the Light of God in this dark and perverse world (1 John 3:17). We then can enjoy our seudah (festive meal) with greater joy.
These are perilous times, chaverim. The battle we face is with fear: fear of man, fear of this world, fear of disaster, etc. The story of Purim reassures us that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Rom. 8:28). May "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference."
Lord God of Israel, we are looking to you at this hour... Help us to remember the truth that You are in complete control of this world and the "outcome of the dice..." It is difficult to find peace in the midst of this world and its storms, but we are looking to You for help.... We are living in the End of Days: the world is reeling in fear and dread, and yet we are called to shine the light of your love and presence at all times. Please help us to walk in the strength and assurance of Your holy Light -- the Light that suffuses all things. Let the Light of Your countenance shine upon us; pour out your shalom upon us. Help us trust that You will work all things together for good, for the sake of the glory of Your Precious Name. We love you and thank you, LORD - help us to walk in your love. B'shem Yeshua Adoneinu - Amen.
Knowledge "Puffeth Up"
03.05.09 (Adar 9, 5769) Today someone complained that I sometimes used the words "Jesus," "Christ," "Church," "Christianity," etc., on this website. Why, I was asked, do I continue to use these words when I know they come from translations that demonstrate an anti-Jewish bias? Isn't better to reject these terms and use the Hebrew transliterations "Yeshua" (or "Yehoshua"), "Mashiach," "Kehilah," and "Messianics" instead? Indeed, isn't the name "Jesus Christ" the result of a Gentile mindset that ignores the fact that this title refers to Yeshua as the Mashiach (יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the anointed King of Israel? After all, "Jesus" comes from a bad transliteration of the Greek word Yesus (᾽Ιησοῦς), and "Christ" (Χριστός) is certainly not Jesus' last name! For that matter, shouldn't we also reject the words "God" and "LORD" and use instead the Hebrew words "Elohim" and "YHVH" instead?
Yes we should revise our language -- if we are able to do so with a genuine spirit of humility and love... And indeed that's part of the very mission of Hebrew4Christians: to help restore the original message of the Scriptures to Christians who have been misled through various "doctrines of men" and erroneous human traditions. The apprehension of truth matters, though of course truth must be tempered with love and humility lest it becomes a form of arrogant dogmatism and spiritual pride. Paradoxically, the pursuit of truth with the wrong motives leads to untruth, even if the "facts" are apprehended in perfect conformity with reality. Ultimately, then, truth is a moral issue, a matter of the heart more than pure intellect alone.
Should we then attempt to purify our understanding? Should we take the time and energy to study the Scriptures in order to discern truth? To study Hebrew (and Greek)? Of course, for to abandon this project is to surrender to despair and agnosticism. If we are hungry for the truth, we cannot not go forward and look honestly at the issues...
For example, let's consider the word "church." This word does not appear in English translations of the Old Testament (as it does in the New Testament). But why not? Why did the translators of our English Bibles use the words "congregation" or "assembly" for the word ekklesia (ἐκκλησία) for the original Hebrew word kahal (קָהָל) in the Old Testament, but make up an entirely new word (i.e., "church") for this same word in the New Testament? As I've pointed out elsewhere, if the same Greek word (ἐκκλησία) is used in both the Greek OT and the Greek NT, then it should be rendered consistently in the target language. It seems clear that the translators smuggled in a form of "replacement theology" that affected their diction. A new "Israel" called the "Church" was invented -- according to the doctrines of men -- and now is mindlessly accepted as "Christian tradition." Oy vey...
Now let's consider the various pagan traditions within the so-called Church. Doesn't the practice of delivering "three point sermons" come from the ancient Roman art of oratory? Didn't Constantine establish "Sun Day" as the replacement of the Sabbath and divide Christians into "clergy" and "laity"? Didn't the early Roman church absorb various facets of pagan worship, including saint adoration, the use of formulaic liturgies, the "hallowing" of buildings with stadium-like architecture complete with passive "pews" and an authoritative "pulpit"? Didn't the Roman church adopt ecclesiastical "hierarchialism" (i.e., church government) that mimicked the Roman Empire? What do any of these things have to with the teachings of Yeshua as given in the Scriptures?
Yes, there are good reasons to revise our understanding of the "New Testament" (i.e., New Covenant) Scriptures in light of a more accurate view of "Jesus" (i.e., Yeshua) and his Jewish heritage; and we should strive to define/use our terms clearly and consistently -- without obfuscation or ambiguity. The study of Biblical Hebrew is therefore essential for properly contextualizing the meaning and message of the New Testament. Likewise we should identify the various pagan influences (i.e., of Egypt, Greece and Rome) that are found in much of "Christian" tradition today (such influences are also seen in Jewish and Islamic theology, by the way). Carefully studying the Jewish context of the New Testament (and Jewish culture in general) will help us avoid mindlessly embracing the pagan thinking that is the legacy of the early Roman church tradition. Indeed, one of the main goals of Hebrew4Christians is to help us better understand these matters and expurgate the Gentile way of thinking about our faith... Over and over I restate the obvious: God chose to reveal Himself to the world in the form of a Torah observant Jewish man who lived within a distinctively Jewish culture, who regularly spoke and prayed in Hebrew, and so on. Studying the weekly Torah portion is a great way to keep yourself aware of these factors, chaverim...
All that said, I think it's important to keep in mind that salvation and the true knowledge of God is a gift from heaven, and not the result of human brilliance or wisdom. We must be careful, therefore, not to confuse the "gift of faith" with the idea of "gnosis." We are not made acceptable to God because we "got the answer right" or because we are "smarter" than other people who do not know the truth. The spiritual path is not found in Kabbalah or esoteric knowledge.... No, we are saved because the LORD God of Israel chose to reveal His personal love for us in the Person of Yeshua... If God didn't personally reveal Himself to us, we'd never come to know Him.
But how do we deal with those who are still living with various misconceptions about their faith? How do we work with the ambiguities and imperfections of language and thinking? For that matter, how do we deal with our own self-centered misconceptions? What about the person who regards "Jesus Christ" as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavian? Or an afro-sporting African? Or an Asian dressed in ceremonial garb? Or as an Apache warrior? Or (anachronistically) as a Jewish rabbi? (I recall playing music at a church years ago and seeing a portrait of a handsome black man on the wall. I naively asked, "Who's that?" and was told it was a picture of Jesus; another time I was present when some native Americans portrayed Jesus as a warrior who hung on a totem pole.) Alas, it seems that we all tend to make "Jesus" into our own image and likeness:
The New Testament doesn't provide physical descriptions of Jesus. We don't know how tall He was, his eye color, the length of his tunic, and so on. This is because the writers of the New Testament considered the inner character of the person to be more revealing than the color of his hair or the shape of his nose.... We do know, of course, that Yeshua was a Jew who lived in eretz Israel in the first century, and we do know that he was described by the prophet Isaiah as having "no form or majesty that we should look at him (לא־תאַר לוֹ וְלא הָדָר וְנִרְאֵהוּ), and no beauty that we should desire him" (Isa. 53:2). In other words, within the culture of his day, Yeshua was a very ordinary-looking Middle-Eastern Jew. His true identity was revealed only to the eye of faith.
We strive to understand the truth, but this must be tempered with genuine love.... We should never let the truth be an excuse for being unloving, just as we should never let our love be an excuse to overlook the truth. It is a balance, chaverim, and we must bear in mind that people are in different stages of awareness regarding these issues. A good shepherd helps people by leading them on, not by clubbing them on the head. Humility is called for, and an earnest passion to love others for the sake of Messiah and His kingdom. This is the deeper sense of truth, after all -- not gnostic awareness, nor technical accuracy, nor perfect knowledge. Even if we had a time-machine and went back to film the life of Yeshua - from beginning to end - and then replayed it for others, each of us would still be faced with the deeper question of the heart and our response to his message.... As Kierkegaard once said, there are no followers of Messiah that are not contemporary followers, no "followers at secondhand.." We do not have the "Old Covenant" and the "New Covenant," but also the "Now Covenant," chaverim...
As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up" (ἡ γνῶσις φυσιοῖ, ἡ δὲ ἀγάπη οἰκοδομει). Let's agree to pray for wisdom and grace from Yeshua to deal with this sick world -- including the sickness of the institutionalized churches. "Love never fails," even though there is an end to knowledge (1 Cor. 13:8). Knowledge is a means to a greater end - that of the love of God:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith -- that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Messiah that surpasses knowledge (γνῶναί τε τὴν ὑπερβάλλουσαν τῆς γνώσεως ἀγάπην τοῦ χριστοῦ), that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)
A brief note about Pagan Christianity
by Viola and Barna
The person who wrote me today had recommended that I study Frank Viola and George Barna's best-selling book entitled "Pagan Christianity." Actually I had read this book several months ago and wrote a brief review of it on Amazon. For those of you who might be interested, here are my comments:
While Frank Viola and George Barna rightfully point out the accretion of various pagan influences that have become traditions in the Western Church, they inexplicably ignore the cultural and historical matrix from which the primitive Church was born, namely, the fact that Jesus was a first-century, Torah-observant Jew, as were all his disciples (including the apostle Paul). Ignoring this obvious fact, Viola and Barna seem to characterize Jesus as a Cosmic Christ who "floated down from heaven" in order to repudiate Jewish religion and establish an ahistorical entity (mistakenly called the "ekklesia") that transcends all forms of authority (other than the nebulous idea of being submitted to the "Headship of Christ").
When discussing the "Lord's Supper," for example, the authors seem oblivious of the connection with the Passover Seder of Jesus and His disciples. Constant references to the "first century church" or the "early church" reveals a profound lack of understanding of the inherent Jewishness of the gospel of Jesus -- the "King of the Jews."
The book is tendentious in that the authors, in a way not unlike various Christian cults, propose relinquishing most church tradition and dogma, and in its place find access to the true faith in their (distinctly postmodern) model. Their iconoclasm is meant to sell you the sequels to the book -- how to grow your own "certified organic assembly" that is free of the pratfalls of the "Church."
Very little charity toward the historical Church is found in this book (which reads a bit like a college research project, replete with tiny-print footnotes). No church tradition -- from singing hymns to hearing a sermon -- is immune from their criticism; no acknowledgment is given to the work and influence of the Church over the last two millennia. No - Viola and Barna are the postmodern "answer men" who are here to reinvent innumerable saints -- many of whom were martyred for their convictions -- as (unwitting) victims of paganism who need to get back to the "real gospel" message, etc. etc.
Though it's fun to read (somewhat like the "Devil's Dictionary" by Ambrose Bierce), it is simply not a serious work of scholarship. Those who are interested in pursuing the truth rather than indulging in puerile iconoclasm shouldn't waste their money...
Another serious problem I have with "Pagan Christianity" is that it (ironically) exhibits a Greek-bias and therefore tacitly endorses postmodern nihilism. What do I mean? Well, as Viola gives his spin on "the Story of Christianity," he simply disregards the Armenian church, the Syrian church, the Indian church, the Ethiopian church, and so on, which were not directly subject to ways and traditions of the western, Roman branch. Such an oversight is inexcusable in a book that purports that the whole of Christianity has been infiltrated by paganism. So at best we can say that the authors set up a "straw man" -- only to knock it down. They might want to consider renaming the book to "Pagan Christianity in the Western European Tradition," but of course that doesn't have quite the shock value of an "edgy" book that's meant to attack Christianity as a whole.... Regardless, the most glaring problem with the book is that the authors turn blind eyes to the historical context of Yeshua and therefore discount the Jewish roots of the faith. In this regard, Viola and Barna are replacement theologians who contemn the Jewishness of Yeshua and his followers. Since they ignore the entire matrix from which the message of Yeshua can be understood, I consider Viola and Barna to be untrustworthy guides on these matters. Beware, chaverim....
The Whole Megillah...
03.03.09 (Adar 7, 5769) The Hebrew word for "scroll" is megillah (מְגִלָּה). In conversational English, however, the term "the whole Megillah" has come to mean a long, involved story told in great detail... Though this connotation might be appropriate regarding matters that are tedious to hear (such as listening to an insurance salesman's pitch), if you've ever read or heard the story of Queen Esther in Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther), you know that it's anything but a droning tale. No, for in this megillah there's plenty of action, romance, intrigue, suspense, danger, and delicious irony. Best of all, the "whole megillah" gives us great reason to celebrate God's providential care for His people -- and that includes God's care for you and me, too!
Much is made over the fact that the book of Esther is the only book of the Tanakh that does not explicitly mention the Name of God. However, the idea of God's sovereignty and hashgachah (divine providence) is clearly implied throughout the entire story. In light of this nes nistar, or "hidden miracle" of the Jew's deliverance, Esther and Mordecai ordained that Purim should be observed as a "day of feasting and merrymaking" and of sending gifts to the poor (Esther 9:22,28). By the way, Purim was so named because Haman had cast lots (purim) to determine the day on which to destroy the Jews.
The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of the face" and is often used when discussing the Book of Esther. In this sense of the term, hester panim is somewhat like the sun on an overcast day: Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. God's providential love is at work at all times, whether we perceive it or not.
The festival of Purim ("lots") is celebrated every year on the 14th of Adar -- always a month before Passover. This year Purim begins Monday, March 9th (for the Diaspora), with Shushan Purim observed in Israel a day later. For most Jews, Purim is celebrated somewhat like Halloween and Mardi Gras combined, with masquerade parties, revelry, and sending baskets of goodies to friends (mishloach manot). Eating "hamentaschen" (the traditional holiday cookies made to resemble "Haman's ears") are also part of the fun. It is customary to attend services to hear Megillat Esther chanted (keriat ha-megillah) and to watch the children of the synagogue put on an endearing "Purim Play" (with an all-star cast of characters, including the evil Haman, the good guy Mordecai, and the heroine Esther!) If you've never seen a children's Purim play, you're missing a great simcha!
So what does Purim teach us? Well, besides celebrating the sovereignty of God in world full of "control freaks," Purim is a time to commemorate and anticipate the Kingship of the LORD God of Israel. Tyrants and all purpled princes of this age beware! Like the false usurper Haman, you are likwise doomed to failure, and the LORD will vindicate all those who trust in Him for deliverance.
Jesus spoke of that insatiable lust within the unregenerate heart that leads to violence, oppression, and slavery of every kind:
You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45)
This might sound counterintuitive to those who have been indoctrinated into believing that a lifestyle of self-centered fulfillment, power, and carnal pleasure are the goals of life, but Jesus turns the world's logic on its head by affirming that true greatness is not to found in the eyes of others but solely in the humble acknowledgment of our eternal indebtedness to God for everything. It is the servant, the slave, "the nonentity" who is considered great in God's kingdom. Mankind's lust for power and greatness is nothing but the ridiculous donning of a tinfoil crown.
In anticipation of Purim, then, let me wish you and your family Purim Sameach -- with the prayer that you will stand true to your faith, despite this wicked world and its syncretizing influences... Hooray for Mordecai! -- may the LORD raise up many like him! And may Haman and his kind forever be foiled in their attempts to undermine those who call upon the Name of the LORD God of Israel. Amen.
Parashat Tetzaveh - תצוה
03.01.09 (Adar 5, 5769) The Torah portion for this week (Tetzaveh) continues with the description of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and gives instructions about the institution of the priestly functions of ancient Israel. The reading begins with God telling Moses to command the children of Israel to provide pure olive oil to feed the "everlasting flame" of the menorah. Special garments to be worn only by the kohanim (priests) while serving in the Mishkan are also described.
Remember ... to Forget!
03.01.09 (Adar 5, 5769) The Shabbat that precedes the holiday of Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The Maftir (additional reading) is Deuteronomy 25:17-19 which describes the attack by the ancient tribe of Amalek when Israel first left Egypt:
Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; How he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.
To fulfill this commandment, the Sages prescribed the public reading of this passage on the Shabbat which precedes Purim so that the 'wiping-out' of Amalek might be connected with the 'wiping-out' of Haman the Agagite, i.e., a descendant of Amalek (Esther 3:1).
It is said that Amalek's great sin was that he taught the nations to disregard the LORD and not fear His Name. Thus Nechama Leibovitz writes, "After the Exodus mankind as a whole might have taken one great step further and acknowledged the sovereignty of the God of justice and truth, but then along came Amalek and unrestrained by the dread and awe that kept all the nations of the world in check showed the way for the others. What was there to fear? That a people had gone forth from the land of Egypt. Now they were wandering in the wilderness, weary and struggling. Why should they not be attacked? This was the way of the world. The world returned to its former rut."
Amalek may have been a grandson of Esau and chief of an Edomite tribe (Gen. 36:12, 16), though he is also described as "first among the nations," perhaps predating the time of Abraham (Gen. 14:7, Num. 24:20). To this day, the soferim (scribes) blot out the name Amalek to test their quill before writing a Torah scroll, and the Amalekites are regarded as the perpetual enemies of Israel. Haman, Hitler, and other anti-Jewish people are often referred to as "Amalekites" in Jewish tradition.
Just as we are commanded to remember (זָכוֹר) the Shabbat to keep it holy (Exod. 20:8); to remember (זָכוֹר) the day on which you went free from Egypt (Exod. 13:3), and to remember (זָכוֹר) what God did to Miriam (Deut. 24:9), so we are commanded to remember (זָכוֹר) what Amalek did to Israel. Indeed, the Torah adds that we are to "blot out" the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven, stressing "you shall not forget it." The Greek LXX uses a "double negative" subjunctive construction: οὐ μὴ ἐπιλάθῃ, "You shall not, no not, forget [i.e., to blot out the name]." There is a paradox here, since how can the memory be blotted out if we yearly recall it? Remember...to forget! If God wanted the Amalekites to be forgotten, then why mention their name? This is similar to the so-called "Liar's Paradox" (Titus 1:12). If all Cretans are liars, and a Cretan then says he's a liar, is he then telling the truth? Likewise, if we fulfill this commandment do we not fail to fulfill it?
The verb translated "blot out" (מחה) probably comes from the idea of erasing a scroll by washing or sponging off the ink (rather than by "blotting" or making it illegible). Names from Sefer ha-chaim (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים), the Book of Life, are therefore said to be erased (Psalm 69:29, Rev. 20:15). The verb is used elsewhere in Scripture to mean wiping the mouth clean (Prov. 30:20), wiping away tears (Isa. 25:8), wiping out names (Exod. 32:32, Deut. 9:14, 25:9), wiping out memories (Exod. 17:14, Deut. 25:19), wiping out sins (Isa. 43:25; Psalm 51:3,11, Zech. 3:9), and even annihilating all signs of life (Gen. 6:7).
It should be obvious that "Amalek" denotes more than a particular tribe that attacked the children of Israel, but rather represents the collective "children of darkness" and servants of evil that abound in the world. In Augustine's terms, Amalek represents the "City of the World," whereas Israel represents the "City of God."
Wiping out Amalek, then, is a call to spiritual warfare... It is a call to show compassion and kindness to those whom the "Amalekites" seek to destroy. On the surface it might seem high-minded to show tolerance and love for others who openly engage in evil and attack God's people and truth, but such acquiescence is actually a form of spiritual complicity. Showing compassion to the wicked is a form of wickedness itself. We are called to resist the devil and earnest contend for the faith (2 Cor. 10:4, Eph. 6:12, 2 Tim. 3:8, Jude 1:3)... "Turning the other cheek" refers to personal offenses for the sake of righteousness, not to turning a blind eye to issues relating to social justice and truth.
It was because of this attitude of pseudo-compassion that the sages say Saul lost his position as King of Israel. Recall that Saul acted compassionately to Agag, King of Amalek and did not kill him as he was instructed (see 1 Sam. 15). The sages wrote in Tractate Yomah (22b), "When God said to King Saul: 'Go and wipe out Amalek,' he replied: 'For the murder of one soul, the Torah required the [intricate ceremony of] neck-breaking of a heifer, ['eglah arufah'], for all of these souls [that you have instructed me to kill] how much more so would [such atonement be required!], and even if human members of that nation sinned, in what way did the animals sin [that I should be obligated to kill them]? And if the adults sinned, why do the children deserve to die?' A Heavenly Voice descended from on High and said: 'Don't be too much of a Tzaddik (Righteous person).'"
The sages were being ironic, of course. At that time in Israel's history, the genuinely compassionate action meant dealing with God's enemies forcefully, not with a sense of the universal brotherhood of man in mind.... Besides, who knows true compassion but the LORD God Himself (Psalm 97:10)?
The Targum Yonatan says, "you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens; but of the days of the King Messiah you shall not be unmindful." The commandment to "blot out" Amalek ultimately will ultimately be fulfilled in the Messianic Kingdom to come, "when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies in the land the LORD your God is giving you as your inheritance to possess" (Deut. 25:19). At that time all memory of Amalek will be "blotted out" from under heaven just as God will "wipe away" all tears from our eyes... This is a glorious truth we should never forget, despite the condition of this world and the apparent upper hand of the "Amalekites." As the Festival of Purim also reminds us, "salvation belongs to the LORD" / לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה.
Though we are "in" the world, we are not "of" it, and we serve a Great King to whom all the princes of this age will one day give account. Amen. Maran Ata Yeshua!