November 2009 Updates
Getting Ready for Chanukah - חֲנֻכָּה
[ Note: Chanukah begins Friday, Dec. 11th and runs through Saturday, Dec. 19th this year. ]
11.30.09 (Kislev 13, 5770) The Hebrew word Chanukah (חֲנֻכָּה) means "dedication" and marks an eight day winter celebration that commemorates the victory of faith over the ways of speculative reason, and demonstrates the power of the miracle in the face of mere humanism. Although it is customarily observed as a "Festival of Lights," Chanukah is really a "fighting holiday," that is, a call to resist the oppression of this world and to exercise faith in the LORD. This year Chanukah runs from Friday, December 11th at sundown (i.e., Kislev 25) and runs through Saturday, December 19th (i.e., Tevet 2).
The word chanukah shares the same root as the Hebrew the word chinukh (חִנּוּךְ), meaning "education." Just as the Maccabees fought and died for the sake of Torah truth, so we must wage war within ourselves and break the stronghold of apathy and indifference that the present world system engenders. We must take time to educate ourselves by studying the Torah and New Testament, for by so doing we will be rededicated to the service of the truth and enabled to resist assimilation into the corrupt world. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world..." (1 John 2:15). The "cleansing of the Temple" is a matter of the heart, chaverim. The enemy is apathy and the unbelief it induces. We are called to "fight the good fight of faith" and not to conform to this present age with its seductions and compromises (1 Tim. 6:12, Rom. 12:2).
In anticipation of this special season, let me wish you all Chanukah Sameach ("Happy Chanukah"), chaverim. It's my heartfelt prayer that you would love the LORD our God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Parashat Vayishlach - וישלח
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayishlach). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.30.09 (Kislev 13, 5770) The Torah reading for this week (Vayishlach) includes the account of Jacob's famous wrestling match with the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) that occurred just before he faced his estranged brother Esau. During the "grappling" session, the Angel injured Jacob's thigh, but Jacob refused to release his hold until the Angel blessed him. The Angel then asked him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob" (Ya'akov). The Angel then declared to him, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov ("heel holder" [of Esau]) but Yisrael ("contender with God"), for as a prince (sar) you have striven (sarita) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen 32:28).
After overcoming the clutches of his brother Esav, Jacob (now dubbed Israel) went to a place near Shechem and set up an altar dedicated to El Elohei Yisrael - God, the God of Israel:
Notice that after Jacob encountered God and wrestled with Him, he was wounded so that he walked with a limp... And so it is with the walk of faith. Who among us has not been broken before coming to know the LORD? As Tozer reminds us, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply." Beauty for ashes, chaverim....
I should add something here.
As I consider Jacob's life -- and how he was wounded before he could return to the land of promise -- I am somewhat saddened. After all, his homecoming was painful, to say the least. Along the way, his beloved wife Rachel died while giving birth; his hip was permanently dislocated as he wrestled the Angel of the Lord; his meeting with his brother Esav was a frightening ordeal; and when he finally made it back home to Chevron, he discovered that his mother Rebekah had died. His father Isaac soon died afterward....
Our way in this world is often painful, and our "education for eternity" often causes us heartache. The LORD Himself, however, is our great consolation, and yesh ohev davek me'ach - "there is a lover who cleaves more than a brother" (Prov 18:24b).
Israel - Sign of God's Faithful Love
[ This Thanksgiving we are grateful for God's abiding love for the Jewish people. The fact that Israel has been regathered to their ancient homeland after nearly 2,000 years in the Diaspora is a sign and a wonder to the world that testifies of God's faithfulness. Ethnic Israel is a "super sign" that God's promises are true and we can trust in His word (Ezek. 37:21). עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי - The people of Israel live! Christians owe the Jewish people a debt of gratitude for the blessings received from them. As Yeshua clearly said, "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22) From our family to yours: Happy holidays, chaverim. ]
11.24.09 (Kislev 7, 5770) Do you have a Jewish heart? If you say that you love the "LORD God of Israel" (יהוה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) -- and it's clear that the LORD God of Israel loves the Jewish people -- it follows that you should likewise love the Jewish people. After all, the LORD Yeshua is called מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים / melech ha-Yehudim: the "King of the Jews" (Matt. 2:2, 27:11, etc.), and the very term "Mashiach" [i.e., "Christ"] is a regal term denoting the anointed King of Israel. Christians who pray to "Jesus Christ" are really praying to Yeshua as the anointed King of the Jews... One day (very soon) Yeshua will indeed return to Jerusalem, the "City of the Great King" (Matt 5:35), to assume the throne of David and complete the redemption promised to the Jews (Zech. 12:1-13:1; 14:1-9, Ezek. 37:12-14, etc.). God will prove faithful to ethnic Israel. To deny this is to radically question God's faithfulness to the "Church." Indeed, let me say this as plainly as I can: Churches or teachers who claim that God has abandoned ethnic Israel are directly impugning the credibility of the Gospel message itself. Yes, it's that serious of an issue...
The physical descendants of Abraham are called בָּבַת עֵינוֹ (bavat eino), the "pupil of God's eye" (Zech. 2:8), a term of endearment God uses for no other nation on earth. Indeed, the LORD has never abandoned His original covenant people but will yet choose them for His Name's sake (Isa. 14:1). The church has not replaced Israel in God's redemptive plan but is merely "grafted in" to the original "root" of Israel. "Remember," Rabbi Paul warns, "it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you" (Rom. 11:18).
Did you know that the Brit Chadashah (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), or "new covenant," is described in only one place in the entire Old Testament? Here is the relevant passage:
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my Torah (תּוֹרָה) into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, "Heed the LORD"; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me -- declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, And remember their sins no more. (Jer. 31:31-4)
Many Christian theologians stop here and ignore the surrounding context of this passage, namely, the remarkable promise that ethnic Israel would continue to exist as a unique people as long as the laws of nature are in operation:
Thus saith the LORD (יהוה) who gives the sun for a light by day and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, Who stirs up the sea into roaring waves, Whose name is LORD of Hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת שְׁמוֹ): If these laws should ever be annulled by Me -- declares the LORD -- only then would the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease to be a nation (גּוֹי) before Me for all time (כָּל־הַיָּמִים). Thus said the LORD: If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed, only then would I reject all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done -- declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:35-37)
From this passage it is clear that the continuation and perpetuity of the physical descendants of Israel (zera' Yisrael) is to be reckoned as sure as the very "laws of nature" that are upholding the physical universe. In other words, so long as there is a sun shining during the day and moon and stars during the night, Israel will continue to be a nation (goy) before the LORD for all time (kol-hayamim). Using another analogy, it is as likely for someone to accurately measure the extent of the heavens and earth than it is to suppose that the LORD will cast off all of the seed of Israel. Note especially the last qualifying clause of this verse, "for all they have done," indicating that the unconditional faithfulness of the LORD is not based on the conditional behavior of national Israel.
Have you seen the sun, moon or stars today? If so, you can be assured that the ethnic nation of Israel retains a place in God's plan. The gift and the calling of God is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).
Why Bless Israel?
Since this may be a new idea to some of you -- especially if you have been involved in churches that teach the false doctrine known as "Replacement Theology" (i.e., the idea that the church "replaces" Israel as the recipient of covenantal blessings) -- I'll list a few reasons why Christians should love and support the physical descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people:
- The Nature of the Abrahamic Covenant. The covenant given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is בְּרִית עוֹלָם (brit olam), an everlasting covenant that is unconditional in nature. It is not, as supposed by some, conditioned upon obedience to the terms of the Sinatic covenant, since the covenant given to Abraham (i.e., the "Covenant Between the Parts" / בְּרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים given in Gen. 15:9-21) precedes the Mosaic covenant by 400 years (Gal. 3:17). Moreover, the covenant made with Abraham was in response to his faith and initiated solely by the grace by God (this idea is supported in both Romans Chapter 4 and in Paul's argument that there is a "deeper Torah" than the Lawcode given at Sinai (Gal. 3:17-18)).
- The Example of Jesus, the first disciples, and Paul. The gospel message itself is "to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile" (Rom. 1:16). It is first of all a new covenant made with the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:5-6). Jesus Himself focused on reaching the Jewish people with His message of ge'ulah (redemption) and had His followers focus their missionary activities on reaching the Jews. The apostle Paul never disavowed his Jewish ancestry and was burdened for the salvation of Israel throughout his ministry (Acts 20:16). For more on this, see the article entitled, "Torah Awareness."
- Gratitude to the Jewish People. We owe the Jewish people a debt of gratitude for the blessings we have received from them. As Yeshua clearly said, "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). Through Israel the promises and the covenants were given, and Jesus Himself was a Torah-observant Jew descended from the tribe of Judah. And the new covenant is a Jewish covenant made with the Jewish people. Non-Jews can be made partakers of this covenant but that in no way transfers the original terms of the covenant itself. We simply cannot properly interpret the message of the "New Testament" without appreciating its radically Jewish character and focus. For more on this, see "Israel and the Church: What's the Relationship?"
- Trust in God's Faithfulness. God's promise to Israel stands forever, and He will never abandon His people Israel -- no more than He will abandon the church. The gifts and election of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:28). God revealed the mystery of Israel's temporary fall to the Apostle Paul (Rom. 11), but this will last only until the all of the Gentiles called by the LORD have become partakers of the new covenant blessings, and then כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל יִוָּשֵׁעַ / kol-Yisrael yivashea: "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26). Paul further stated concerning ethnic Israel, "regarding the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake; but regarding election, they are beloved for the sake of fathers" (Rom. 11:28).
- Israel's (Central) Place in Prophecy. God has promised to restore national Israel in the last days (Amos 8:14-5), and we are contemporary witnesses to this miracle. The fact that Israel has been regathered to their ancient homeland after nearly 2,000 years in the Diaspora is a sign and a wonder to the world that bespeaks of God's faithfulness. It is a "super sign" that God's promises are true and we can trust in His word (Ezek. 37:21). עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי - The people of Israel live! We are now told to "comfort God's people" (Isa. 40:1-2) and to help regather the remnant of the Diaspora to their original homeland (Isa. 49:22-23). Israel will also be the focal point at the time of the return of Yeshua, since He will return there to set up His kingdom. All of the promises made to national Israel in the Tanakh will then be literally fulfilled, again demonstrating the faithfulness of the LORD God of Israel. God still loves the Jews and has a promised future for ethnic Israel. This future is not "incidental" to the plan of God but is central, since both the "Old Testament" and the "New Testament" writings presuppose a glorious future for the Jewish people.
- The World to Come. In the olam habah (the world to come) we will all serve a Jewish LORD and worship in a new Jerusalem. There the names of the twelve tribes of Israel will be inscribed on the city gates (Rev. 21:12) and we will enjoy communion with the patriarchs and heroes of the faith (Heb. 11).
- Honoring God's Promises. God says He will bless those who bless Abraham and curse those who curse him (Gen. 12:3). This same statement is made concerning Abraham's descendants (see Gen. 26:3-4; 27:29; 28:13-15). This is a mysterious fact of Scripture that must be accepted by faith. Blessing Abraham and his descendants honors the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - the very LORD whom Christians claim as their God and the Father of the Jewish Messiah Yeshua (Exod. 3:15). Moreover, we are commanded to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6) and are told that we shall prosper if we do so.
God is faithful to Israel
The LORD has not cast off His original covenant people Israel, and neither should we, if we indeed are those who sincerely love the Jewish LORD and Mashiach! God's faithfulness to national Israel is a testimony of His faithfulness to us, as followers of His Son. Should God abandon Israel and the unconditional promises He made to Israel, what makes you think He would not abandon the church and the promises He has made to us? I'll say it again: those who say that the LORD God of Israel has abandoned the Jewish people are undermining the credibility of the Gospel message itself!
וְהָיָה יהוה לְמֶלֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ
בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה יהוה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד
v'hayah Adonai l'melech al-kol-ha'aretz
bayom ha-hu yiyeh Adonai echad u'shmo echad
And the LORD shall be king over all the earth;
in that day there shall be one LORD with one name.
Parashat Vayetzei - ויצא
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayetzei). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.23.09 (Kislev 6, 5770) In last week's Torah (Toldot), Jacob "grappled" the blessing from his father, but it cost him dearly.... His brother Esau was so enraged by the betrayal that Jacob was forced to flee his parent's home in shame, never to see his mother again (indeed, Rebekah "lost both her sons in one day," just as she had feared [Gen. 27:45]). Jacob's 20 year exile from the family began in heartache and sorrow -- "fleeing as an outcast over stony lands" -- away from the love of his mother and devoid of the hope given to his father and grandfather...
While he was on the run to Charan, however, the sun began to set, and Jacob "crashed into" an appointed place (יִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם) before departing from the Promised Land (according to midrash, the sun miraculously set quickly into a "thick darkness" so that Jacob was forced to dwell there before his long exile). Wearied from the journey, Jacob devised a makeshift "bed" in the field and used a stone as a pillow. That night Jacob dreamed his famous dream of the ladder (sullam) that was set up on earth and reached toward heaven with the angels of God (מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלהִים) ascending and descending upon it:
And behold, the LORD stood over him (נִצָּב עָלָיו) and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your descendants (seed) shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Gen. 28:13-15).
When Jacob awoke he was overawed. "Surely the LORD is in this place (בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה) and I knew it not." Shaken by the vision, he said, מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה / mah nora ha-makom hazeh - "How awesome is this place!" and added, ein zeh ki im-bet Elohim v'zeh sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) - "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen. 28:17). Jacob then made a monument from the stone he had used as a pillow, anointed it with oil, and called the place Bet-El (בֵּית־אֵל) - "the house of God."
The sages explain that ha-makom (הַמָּקוֹם), literally "the place," was actually Mount Moriah, the location where Jacob's father Isaac was bound in sacrifice (and which later became the site of the Holy Temple). In later Rabbinical thought Ha-Makom (הַמָּקוֹם) became synonymous for God Himself ("God is the place of the world, but the world is not God's only place"). Other Rabbinical names for God include: Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu ("The Holy One, blessed be He"), Ribbono Shel Olam ("The Master of the Universe"), Avinu She-bashamayim ("Our Father in Heaven"), Shekhinah ("Divine Presence"), among others.
Yeshua later referred to Jacob's dream when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51). Just as Jacob saw the ladder (sullam) ascending to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua told Nathanael that He was the very Ladder to God, the true sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) - the Way into heaven (John 14:6). Indeed, Yeshua is the true Temple or "house of God" (בֵּית־אֵל) and its Chief Cornerstone (Matt. 21:42). He is the divine communication (Word) from heaven to earth -- the Angel of the LORD who descends and ascends. The Son of Man is God's link with the children of Adam (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 26:64). Yeshua is the new "Bet-El," God's dwelling place (Gen. 28:17; John 1:14). Nathanael and the other disciples witnessed the glory of God come down to mankind in the Person and Life of Yeshua the Mashiach. Just as Jacob awoke and realized he was in the awesome presence of God, so Nathanael realized that he was in the presence of the very LORD of the universe!
Note: I will be out of town for a few days during Thanksgiving, though I hope to find some time to add additional commentary to this Torah portion later this week. Shalom for now, chaverim.
Why We Love the Torah
11.20.09 (Kislev 3, 5770) One of my favorite Hebrew Psalms contains a comforting promise: טוֹב־וְיָשָׁר יהוה עַל־כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ / tov v'yashar Adonai, al-ken yoreh chata'im ba-darekh: "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He will teach sinners in the way" (Psalm 25:8). The Hebrew word derekh (דֶּרֶךְ), often translated as "way," can refer to a physical road or pathway, but metaphorically it often refers to the journey, manner, or course of one's life. Note that the verb used in this verse (יוֹרֶה) comes from the root yarah (ירה) -- the same root used in the word Torah (תּוֹרָה). Because the LORD is good, He teaches us Torah in the journey of our lives.
Surely followers of Yeshua the Mashiach (i.e., Christians) should love and study the Torah. After all, the promise of the New Covenant (brit chadashah) explicitly states that the LORD would write His Torah "on our hearts" (Jer. 31:31-33). When the Apostle Paul wrote: "All Scripture is inspired by God (θεόπνευστος) and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for education in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16), he was referring to the Jewish Scriptures, i.e., the Torah, since the New Testament hadn't been compiled at the time. Indeed, the New Testament writings are simply inscrutable apart from the foundational truths of the Torah -- just as the writers of the New Testament clearly taught. With the psalmist, therefore, we earnestly pray: גַּל־עֵינַי וְאַבִּיטָה נִפְלָאוֹת מִתּוֹרָתֶךָ / gal einai v'abitah nifla'ot mi-Toratekha: "Uncover my eyes and I will behold wonders from your Torah" (Psalm 119:18).
Shabbat Shalom Chaverim...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Toldot). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.19.09 (Kislev 2, 5770) The Hebrew Scriptures are filled with various kinds of wordplay. In addition to some humorous play on words (i.e., puns), you will discover alliteration, acrostics, parables, similes, metaphors, hyperboles, gematria, and other literary devices used in the Hebrew text. Some scholars even suggest that the first two words of the Torah (i.e., בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא / bereshit bara) were intentionally spelled using the same initial three letters (בּ.ר.א) for the sake of "alliteration" (i.e., repetition of sound). At any rate, examples of wordplay often appear on the surface-level of the texts. For example, "Adam" (אָדָם) is a play on the word adamah (אֲדָמָה, "ground"); Chavah (חַוָּה, "Eve") is a play on the word chai (חַי, "life"); Cain (קַיִן) is a play on the verb kanah (קָנָה, "to get"), and so on (see Gen. 2:7, 3:20, 4:1). Of course, many other examples could be cited.
Of particular relevance to this week's Torah portion (Toldot) is the name Yitzchak (יִצְחָק, "Isaac"), which plays on the verb tzachak (צָחַק, "to laugh"). Some have said that tzachak is "onomatopoeic," that is, it imitates the sound of laughter itself. Appropriately enough, the root appears a number of times in the story of Isaac, though often with different connotations. The simple stem (kal) of tzachak conveys the idea of laughter, whether in joy or incredulity, though the stronger stem (piel) suggests more intense expressions, for example rejoicing, playing, and making love -- or (negatively) mocking, scorning, and deriding. In other words, the motive for laughter is only contextually understood. After all, there's a big difference between laughing at someone and laughing with them.
At any rate, God Himself named Isaac in response to Abram's laughter over the prospect of having a child in his old age. Here's some of the "back story." God originally called Abram to leave Ur of Mesopotamia for the land of Canaan (Gen. 12:1). When he arrived there, God appeared to him and promised that his descendants would inherit the land (Gen. 12:7). Abram was 75 years old at this time. Abram wandered through the land waiting for God's promise to be fulfilled. Some time later (but before the birth of Ishmael), God came to him in a vision and reaffirmed his promise that he would have a son "from his own loins" (Gen. 15:1-5). Abram "believed in the LORD, and He credited it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). The LORD then made the "covenant of the pieces" to seal the agreement to give the land of Canaan to Abram's descendants (Gen. 15:7-20). Ten more years passed, however, and Abram and Sarai were still childless. In a lapse of faith, Sarai urged Abram to sleep with her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, in order to produce the family heir. Ishmael was born when Abram was 86 years old (Gen. 16:16).
Another thirteen years passed before God appeared to Abram to renew his earlier promise that he would become a "father of a multitude" (Gen. 15; 17:7). Abram was now 99 years old. To symbolize Abram's changed status, God changed his name from Avram ("exalted father" [from אָב, "father," + רָם, "exalted"]) to Avraham ("father of a multitude" [from אָב, "father" + המוֹן, "crowd"]). (Note that some scholars regard Avraham's name to mean "father of mercy" (from אָב, "father" + רחם, "womb"). Likewise God changed Sarah's name from Sarai (שָׂרַי, "princess") to Sarah (שָׂרָה) -- the exchanged Hey (ה) for the Yod (י) was given to indicate that the Divine Presence was to replace of the "hand" of Sarah's design. (Indeed, the root of Sarah's name (i.e., שׂר, "prince") later reappears when her grandson Jacob was renamed "Israel." The wordplay occurs in the phrase "for you have striven (sarita) as a prince (sar) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen 32:28)). God reaffirmed his promise to make Abram into a great nation and then gave him the commandment of brit millah (בְּרִית מִילָה, ritual circumcision) as a token or "sign" of the agreement. (There's another play on words here: Abraham's male descendants who refuse to "cut off" their foreskins would be "cut off" from the terms of the covenant).
Getting back to the wordplay on Isaac's name, when the LORD repeated his promise that Abraham would sire a son in his old age, he "threw himself on his face and laughed (וַיִּצְחָק) as he said to himself, "Can a child be born to a man a hundred years old, or can Sarah bear a child at ninety?" (Gen. 17:17). When Abraham attempted to recommend Ishmael as his heir, God said "No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Yitzchak (יִצְחָק, "he laughs").... (Gen. 17:19). After this vision of the LORD, Abraham promptly circumcised himself along with his son Ishmael (Gen. 17:23-26).
Rashi says it was the third day after Abraham's circumcision when he was visited by the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) accompanied with the two other angels. When Sarah overheard the Angel of the LORD say, "I will certainly return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son" (Gen. 18:10), she laughed (וַתִּצְחַק) within herself (lit, "at her insides") and thought, "Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment, my husband being so old?" (Gen. 18:12). The LORD (יהוה) then asked, "Why did Sarah laugh (צָחֲקָה)? Sarah denied it (לא צָחַקְתִּי, "I didn't laugh"), but the Angel of the LORD said, "No, but you did laugh" (לא כִּי צָחָקְתְּ).
Jewish tradition maintains that Abraham laughed in joy at the prospect of becoming a father, whereas Sarah (initially) shook her head in disbelief. Sarah underwent teshuvah, however, even before her conception (see Heb. 11:11), and after the miraculous birth of her son exclaimed in heartfelt joy: "God has made laughter (צְחק) for me; everyone who hears will laugh for me (יִצְחַק־לִי)" (Gen. 21:6).
After Isaac was weaned, however, Abraham held a celebration, but Sarah saw Ishmael mocking (מְצַחֵק, i.e., the piel participle of צָחַק, "to laugh") her son and demanded that he be sent away. This grieved Abraham greatly, but God reassured him that Ishmael would become a great nation in his own right (Gen. 21:11-13). The promise of an heir belonged to Isaac alone - the miraculously given son that would bring laughter to the hearts of all those who believe.
A further example of wordplay on the name "Isaac" occurs when the Torah records how he fled to the Philistine city of Gerar to escape a famine in the land. Like his father Abraham, Isaac lied by telling people that his wife Rebekah was his "sister." The Torah records that his deception was detected when Abimelech saw him "playing" with Rebekah: יִצְחָק מְצַחֵק אֵת רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ / "Isaac was 'sporting' with his wife Rebekah" (Gen. 26:8). The verb translated "sporting" is the intensive (piel) form of tzachak (צָחַק, "to laugh"), and clearly suggests the idea of caressing and fondling -- i.e., making love.
Hebrew wordplay also applied to Isaac's sons, of course. When the twins were born, the first came out hairy and was named Esau (עֵשָׂו), perhaps from the Hebrew word esev (עֵשֶׂב), "grass"), whereas the second came out with his hand on his brother's heel, and was named Ya'akov (יַעֲקב, "grappler," from the word עָקֵב, "heel"). Later, when Esau learned that Jacob had taken away his blessing, he exclaimed, "Is he not rightly named "heel holder" (i.e., יַעֲקב)? For he has taken me by the heel (יַּעְקְבֵנִי) these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing" (Gen. 27:36).
[ Note: Because of time contraints this entry is currently unfinished... If it pleases God I will resume this topic at a later time, chaverim. ]
Two Blessings for Jacob
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Toldot). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.17.09 (Cheshvan 30, 5770) When we think of Jacob, we naturally tend to recall the dramatic epsiode when he disguised himself as Esau to "steal" the blessing from his father Isaac. In this week's Torah, however, we note that Jacob actually received two blessings from his father. The first blessing -- given to a disguised Jacob -- focused on material blessings: the "dew of heaven," the "fatness of the earth," "plenty of grain and wine," political power and hegemony (Gen. 27:28-29), whereas the second blessing -- given to an undisguised Jacob -- focused on his role as God's chosen patriarch of Israel (Gen. 28:3-4). The difference between these blessings turned on Isaac's restored vision. His first blessing was tailored to the character of Esau as his "natural choice," whereas his second blessing looked beyond mere appearances to behold the vision that was originally given to his father Abraham:
וְאֵל שַׁדַּי יְבָרֵךְ אתְךָ וְיַפְרְךָ וְיַרְבֶּךָ וְהָיִיתָ לִקְהַל עַמִּים׃
וְיִתֶּן־לְךָ אֶת־בִּרְכַּת אַבְרָהָם לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אִתָּךְ
"May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous,
so that you become an assembly of peoples.
May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring..."
- Isaac's second blessing to Jacob
In a sense, the self-effacing, disciplined, and strong-willed Isaac abandoned his "natural vision" (i..e, to install Esau as the next patriarch) by finally surrendering to the vision of his father Abraham. Isaac's entire life was a sort of overreaction to his father - an "antithesis to Abraham's thesis." By choosing to bless Jacob a second time, this time with his eyes wide open, Isaac revealed that he had finally accepted the grace of God that was revealed to his father Abraham.
Recall that after Esau discovered that the blessing was given to Jacob, he lamented and pled with his father to bestow upon him a blessing as well. It is interesting to note that the "residual" blessing that Isaac gave to Esau was the inverse of that given to Jacob: the "fatness of the earth" is put before the "dew of heaven" (compare Gen. 27:39 with Gen. 27:28). Receiving sustenance from heaven is of greater value than finding earthly prosperity. And indeed, Jacob was "blessed" with trouble his whole life, which caused him to rely on the "dew from heaven," whereas Esau was "blessed" with prosperity that came from trafficking in this world.
Note: Isaac was 60 years old when his two sons were born (Gen. 25:24-26), and according to Jewish tradition, Jacob and Esau were 63 years old at the time of the blessings (Yevamot 6a), making Isaac 123 years old at the time. He died at the age of 180 (Gen. 35:28-29), making him the longest living of the three patriarchs. The Talmud further states that Jacob first fled to the School of Shem (i.e., Malki-Tzedek) before proceeding to Padan Aram, so that actually arrived at Laban's home when he was 77.
Isaac's Troubled Family...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Toldot). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.16.09 (Cheshvan 29, 5770) Like Abraham's wife Sarah, Isaac's wife Rebekah (רִבְקָה) had trouble getting pregnant, though Isaac determined never to resort to the use of a concubine as did his father. Indeed, the story of Hagar and Ishmael haunted Isaac throughout his life. Therefore, after experiencing 20 years of barrennness and infertility, the Torah records that Isaac "entreated" (יֶעְתַּר) the LORD on behalf of his wife. The sages note that this verb (עתר) means to slaughter, and the midrash explains that Isaac ascended Mount Moriah, pitched a tent, and there offered a sacrifice during his prayers. This must have been terribly difficult for Isaac, since the trauma of the Akedah never left him. Nevertheless, Isaac's intercession for his wife proved fruitful, and Rebekah later conceived twins (Gen. 25:21).
Rebekah's pregnancy was not an easy one, however, and the children "struggled within her" (the Hebrew verb used here (רָצַץ) comes from a root that means "to run," suggesting that the children were "running in different directions" within the womb; see Rom. 9:11-12). According to Jewish tradition, Rebekah feared she might miscarry and decided to go to the School of Shem (i.e., Malki-Tzedek) to inquire of the LORD. There she was told that "two nations" were in her womb, and "two peoples from within you shall be divided"; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23; cp. Rom. 9:11-12). When the children were born, the first came out hairy and was named Esau (perhaps from the Hebrew word esev (עֵשֶׂב), "grass"), whereas the second came out with his hand on his brother's heel, and was named Ya'akov (יַעֲקב, "grappler," from the word עָקֵב, "heel"). When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, an outdoorsman, while Jacob was a quiet man, studying Torah in the tents of Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 25:27). In later Jewish tradition, Esau represented the nation of Rome (and especially Roman Christianity), whereas Ya'akov represented the nation of Israel.
Perhaps opposites attract. The Torah states that Isaac loved Esau whereas Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen. 25:28). Isaac grew up as the quiet, disciplined, and dutiful son of Abraham, and he perhaps saw something in his son Esau which he himself lacked. Rebekah, on the other hand, grew up adventuresome, strong, and outgoing, and she perhaps saw something in her son Jacob which she lacked.... At any rate, the sibling rivalry was deep and abiding in the family, and perhaps reflected the problematic differences between the parents themselves. As we will see, Isaac and Rebekah were opposites, just as were their twin sons.
The Torah gives an episode in the lives of the two boys to indicate something of their respective characters. Once when Jacob was cooking lentil stew, Esau came in from the field quite exhausted. Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!" (Gen. 25:29-30). Some scholars note that Esau's words should be rendered, "Let me swallow from that red-red," suggesting that he was in such a hurry to meet his needs that he didn't even bother calling it "stew" (the Torah parenthetically notes here that this was the reason Esau was later known as "Edom" (אֱדוֹם, "red")). Jacob, however, decided to take advantage of his brother's weakness by manipulating Esau into "selling" him his birthright. The Torah gives a realistic view of this exchange: while Esau "despised" his status as the firstborn son, Jacob was cunningly manipulative and exploited his brother's weakness.
Some time later, when Isaac "was old and his eyes were dimmed from seeing," he sought to bless Esau as the family heir before he died (Gen. 27:1-4). The midrash states that Isaac's eyes were dimmed on account of the ordeal of the Akedah. When he was bound to the altar, Isaac looked up and saw the Throne of Glory with the angels of God circling about. Some of the angels' tears fell on Isaac's eyes, and from that time his eyes had begun to darken. Perhaps Isaac "saw" God as Elohim (אֱלהִים) - the Judge and Ruler of the Universe - but became blind to God as YHVH (יהוה), the Source of Compassion and mercy. The "afterimage" of the Akedah never left him - despite the divinely supplied substitute of the ram - and haunted him later as a form of blindness. Isaac revealed that he was "blind" to the character of Esau, "blind" to his wife's vision regarding Jacob, and so on.
When Rebekah overheard Isaac's plans, she decided to trick her husband into conferring the blessing upon Jacob instead of Esau. For his part, Jacob was left with a serious dilemma: Either he had to defy his mother or else deceive his father. And of course Rebekah knew that Isaac would discover the deception after the fact. Rebekah's deception of her husband was intended to show him that he was gullible and thereby easily deceived by Esau's hypocrisy. It was an object lesson, if you will, rather than a outright case of lying. After all, Esau was soon to arrive - venison in hand - and the charade would be exposed for all to see... Apparently Rebekah's plan was to "open the eyes" of her myopic husband, revealing to him that he had been guilty of sacrificing the righteous son Jacob for the sake of deceptive Esau (for more on this, see the "Deception of Esau").
The trickery proved to be tragic, however, for everyone involved. Jacob desperately wanted the love and approval of his father, but he sought to get it through false pretenses. "Come close and kiss me my son..." (Gen. 27:26). This was Jacob's deep desire, and yet after "grappling" the blessing from his father he ironically lost his father's embrace. Indeed, Jacob lost not only his father's embrace, but his mother's as well (after fleeing to Haran, Jacob never saw his mother again). Moreover, Jacob's pathetic attempt to "be Esau" severed any hope of a relationship with his twin brother, who afterwards became his sworn enemy. Away from home and on the run, Jacob's life was also marked with painful irony. He was later deceived by his father (in-law) Laban, his wife Leah, his firstborn son Reuben, and even by his own children (regarding the death of Joseph, his firstborn son from Rachel). And Rebekah's subterfuge cost her dearly, too: after the charade was exposed, Esau turned against her (Gen. 27:45), Jacob was lost to her forever , and her marriage undoubtedly suffered...
When Esau returned from his hunting expedition to receive the blessing, the truth came out, but Isaac tremblingly acknowledged to his son: גַּם־בָּרוּךְ יִהְיֶה / "... he (Jacob, not Esau) shall be blessed" (Gen. 27:33). Isaac "trembled exceedingly" because he realized that he had been laboring under an illusion all these years. He now finally understood the truth about his sons and ratified heaven's decision. It is ironic that when Isaac had his sight, he favored Esau, but when he lost his (physical) vision he was enabled to give Jacob the blessing as the patriarch of Israel.
After Esau realized the implications, he used wordplay used to vent his anger: When he learned that Jacob had taken away his blessing, he exclaimed, "Is he not rightly named "heel holder" (i.e., יַעֲקב, "Jacob," from the word עָקֵב, "heel")? For he has taken me by the heel (יַּעְקְבֵנִי) these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing" (Gen. 27:36). Then he cried out, "Have you only one blessing, my Father? Bless me too, my Father!" And Esau wept aloud." This is a terribly poignant moment. Esau didn't accuse his father of being gullible or foolish, but simply implored him for his blessing all the more. Tragically, Esau learned the value of the blessing too late. Despite his many tears, he could not reverse the decree from heaven (see Heb. 12:16-17).
The sages talk about the "voice of Jacob" and the "hands of Esau" (Gen. 27:22). Both sons were counterparts of one another, though each needed the qualities of the other to be complete. Esau needed to learn the ways of Jacob - to love Torah, to respect the call of the family to be God's agents in the world, to value the things of heaven, and so on, whereas Jacob needed to learn the ways of Esau - to be a man of action, to work with his hands, to deal with the rough-and-tumble world at large. After Jacob fled to Charan to escape the clutches of his aggrieved brother, he learned to be a shepherd, a husband, and a father. In this way Jacob also learned the value of the blessing given to Esau, although this too was discovered needlessly late in his life.
In Jewish tradition, Abraham is known primarily for the quality of chesed (חֶסֶד), "kindness," "openness," "expansiveness," hospitality, and generosity. His tent flaps were always open to all who happened to come his way. He was outgoing, welcoming, and solicitous for the welfare of others. His son Isaac, on the other hand, is known primarily for his quality of gevurah (גְּבוּרָה), "strength," "focus," concentration, and discipline. Isaac meditated alone in the fields, stayed close to his tent, and never ventured outside the Promised Land. The sages note that chesed unrestrained by gevurah is unbalanced (leading to indiscriminate leniency and gullibility), whereas gevurah unrestrained by chesed is also unbalanced (leading to stern judgmentalism or cruelty). Whereas Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son at Moriah (chesed), Isaac was willing to be sacrificed (gevurah). The ideal is to have both chesed and gevurah function together to create an inner balance. This ideal is sometimes called tiferet (תִּפְאֶרֶת) and is thought to have been the characteristic later evidenced by Jacob (i.e., after he was renamed "Israel" at Peniel). The enmity of Esau (the extreme of gevurah) haunted Jacob for years, even to the point of wrestling with the Angel of LORD over the issue (Gen. 32:24-29). From such wrestling (i.e., between the ideal of justice and the ideal of chesed) came an inner resolution -- the true blessing from God that resulted in a "limp" -- and the new name of "Israel."
Some have speculated what it would have been like for the twins if Isaac and Rebekah had a better relationship. Was their marriage mirrored in the lives of their sons? Why didn't Rebekah tell Isaac about the prophecy about the "elder serving the younger" -- or if she had told him, why didn't Isaac listen to her? And why didn't Isaac tell Rebekah about his plan to bless Esau as the heir of the family? Why did Rebekah feel the need to literally deceive her husband? And why did each parent favor a different child, thereby creating a ferocious sibling rivalry? Rebekah perhaps encouraged Jacob's duplicity because she felt ignored or disrespected by her husband. She found an ally in her son - a "tool" she could use to find leverage and a voice in the family. But Isaac perhaps encouraged Esau's profanity because he never resolved his inner turmoil regarding the Akedah. Perhaps he inwardly chafed at the ideal of strict justice and wanted to be set free.... After all, Isaac was wounded and left nearly blind from the encounter of God as Judge, but somehow he could not embrace God's sacrificial love for himself...
It's clear that the families of the patriarchs had serious struggles and were often quite dysfunctional. When we idealize these people, however, we tend to forget their humanity, and they may appear disconnected from us - on a higher spiritual level. For example, Isaac is often characterized as the obedient son who was willing to be sacrificed at Moriah at the hands of his loving father, whereas Abraham is characterized as being so "sold out" to God that he was willing to sacrifice the son he so dearly loved. Now while it is gloriously true that the sacrifice of Isaac presents a clear foreshadowing of the greater "Akedah message" of the Gospel (John 3:16), there is a human side to this story that is sometimes overlooked. Jewish tradition states that Sarah died from the shock of the Akedah, leaving both Abraham and Isaac bereaved. Isaac's "personal holocaust" at the hands of his father caused him to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder that profoundly affected him for the rest of his life: He struggled as a son (he fled from his father Abraham after the Akedah), as a husband (he seemed unable to communicate with his wife), and as a father (his preference of Esau over Jacob caused a terrible rift in the family). Most of all Isaac struggled to understand God's love, despite God's justice...
The story of Isaac's family is ultimately one of hope for us all. Isaac was deeply wounded but ultimately found healing, just as his son Jacob later wrestled through his family issues to become "Israel." Take heart, chaverim: God can use us for His kingdom purposes despite whatever dysfunctionality might be in our family backgrounds.
New Moon of Kislev
11.15.09 (Cheshvan 28, 5770) "Sunrise, sunset; quickly go the days...." Monday November 16th is "Rosh Chodesh Kislev," i.e., the "new moon" of the ninth Hebrew month of the Jewish calendar (counting from Nisan). The month of Kislev is unusual because it sometimes varies between 29 and 30 days on the Jewish calendar. Of course, Kislev is also the month when the eight day holiday of Chanukah (חנוכה) begins. This year Chanukah begins on Friday, December 11th at sundown (1st candle) and runs through December 19th.
Considering these late days of autumn (and the "late hour" of human history), the following pasuk (verse) comes to mind:
יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ וּדְבַר־אֱלהֵינוּ יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם
yaveish chatzir, naveil tzitz; u'devar Eloheinu yakum l'olam
"Grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isa. 40:8)
Every time I check the news I am reminded that we are living in a "withered and fading world" -- the prophesied "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים). But Baruch Hashem: our place (מָקוֹם) is grounded in truth that stands (i.e., יָקוּם, "is raised up") forever! Yeshua is our life, chaverim.... He is the Word of our God that is raised up forever!
Parashat Toldot - תולדת
11.15.09 (Cheshvan 28, 5770) The Torah reading for this week is called Toldot ("generations"). This parashah is about Isaac and Rebekah's family and how the promised Seed (i.e., Messiah) would descend through Isaac's son Jacob (renamed Israel) -- rather than through his older twin brother Esau. From Israel (i.e., the Jewish people) would come the "generations" that would ultimately lead to the salvation of the world. As our beloved Yeshua (Jesus) said, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22).
Note: Recently the computer I use to develop this site crashed and I am busy repairing broken links, restoring lost data, and so on. God willing, I hope to add some additional commentary to this Torah portion later this week, chaverim. Thank you for your prayers for this ministry -- and for your patience!
Eliezer and Ruach HaKodesh
[ The following entry is related to last week's Torah reading (Chayei Sarah). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.15.09 (Cheshvan 28, 5770) In the same verse that the great patriarch Abraham is described as "old and advanced in years" (זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים) he is described to have been blessed bakol - "in everthing" (Gen. 24:1). Contrary to the ideals of youth-obsessed culture, the Torah regards aging as a process of construction, of upbuilding, of perfection -- not of decay. The sages say that the elderly "wear the days of their life as a garment," that is, as an accumulated "presence of days" that attends to the soul of the person. Indeed, the Talmud notes that the word zaken ("elder") can be read as zeh kana, "this one has it." Maturity and wisdom are qualities that should be honored in our culture -- not abhorred or disregarded. As the proverb puts it, עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת שֵׂיבָה / aseret tiferet sevah: "Gray hair is a crown of glory" (Prov. 16:31).
Before he died, however, Abraham wanted to set his affairs in order. His sole land possession in the Promised Land was his burial place (i.e., the Cave of Machpelah (מְעָרַת הַמַּכְפֵּלָה), where Sarah was also buried), but there was a nagging concern that his son Isaac needed a wife to carry on the family line. Indeed, the last recorded words we have of Abraham concern instructions to his servant regarding the mission to find Isaac a wife: "The LORD, the God of heaven (אֱלהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם), who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, 'To your offspring I will give this land,' he will send his Angel before you (יִשְׁלַח מַלְאָכוֹ לְפָנֶיךָ) and you shall take a wife for my son from there" (Gen. 24:7). Abraham wanted his son to find a wife among his relatives rather than from among the Canaanites, and he therefore commissioned his servant to arrange a marriage.
Though he is not explicitly named in the account, this "elder servant" is undoubtedly Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2). Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר), whose name literally means "my God will help," is regarded as a consummate example of a godly servant. In Christian theology, Eliezer is regarded as a picture of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) sent on a mission to find a bride for the Seed of Abraham (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua). Eliezer dutifully departs on his mission and waits by the "well of water," interceding on behalf of righteousness... He asks for a sign from heaven: "Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels' -- let her be the one whom you have appointed" (Gen. 24:13-14). Rebekah's response of kindness and generosity (i.e., חֶסֶד, chesed) to a tired wayfarer demonstrated God's choice. Note that the test concerned the inward character of the woman, not her status or beauty or other worldly factors. And since a single camel needs about 25 gallons of water and requires 10 minutes to drink, watering ten camels would require 250 gallons and at least a couple hours of work running back and forth to the well - no small task for anyone! Rebekah possessed her grandfather Abraham's qualities of gracious hospitality and diligence...
Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58). This courageous willingness was likewise a characteristic of Abraham who was willing to leave his homeland in search of the greater things of God. Like Abraham, Rebekah was ger v'toshav - a "stranger and a sojourner" - who left everything behind in order to become part of God's chosen family...
Strangers and Sojourners - גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Chayei Sarah). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.12.09 (Cheshvan 25, 5770) God's people are "strangers" in this world. They are literally estranged and live as "resident aliens" -- here, yet not here. Thus Abraham said to the sons of Chet: "I am a 'stranger and sojourner' (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4), and King David likewise confessed: "For we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers (כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ); our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope" (1 Chron. 29:15). Life in olam hazeh (this world) is nothing but a "burial site," a graveyard, a shadowy place of passing that leads to olam haba, the world to come, and to God's glorious kingdom. We cannot find lasting hope in this world and its values; all that must be buried and surrendered to God.
Being gerim v'toshavim (גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים), "strangers and sojourners," is inherently paradoxical, however, since a ger (גֵּר) is one who is "just passing through," like a visitor or refugee, whereas a toshav (תּוֹשָׁב) is one who is a resident, like a settler or citizen. Living by emunah (אֱמוּנָה, faith) therefore invariably leads to collision with worldly culture and its values. Faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The life of faith therefore calls us to live as toshavim - sojourners - who are put at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances. We ache with a divine "homesickness." We lament over the state of this world and its delusions. We gnaw with hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. And yet this loneliness, this dissonance, this place of suffering "outside the camp" is not without an overarching comfort:
This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent (σκηνος), which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.
(2 Cor. 4:17-5:2)
If we are given grace to answer the call of Yeshua to "take up our cross," we presently become ger v'toshav. As gerim we confess that we are strangers in this present world, but as toshavim we believe that our labors are not in vain, and that our true citizenship is in heaven. Like father Abraham, we live in a foreign land as "strangers and sojourners," looking forward to the City of God (Heb. 11:9-10).
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִינוּ מֵעוֹלָם וְעַד־עוֹלָם
barukh atah Adonai Elohei Yisrael Avinu me'olam v'ad-olam
Blessed are You, LORD, God of Israel our father,
from eternity to eternity (1 Chron. 29:10).
May His Kingdom come speedily, and in our day, and may the LORD help us live today -- in this world -- as ambassadors and emissaries of the world to come. Amen.
Note: Of course I don't mean to suggest that we are to be so "otherworldly" that we are no earthly good. No, but many of us are so "this-worldly" that we are of no heavenly good! The direction must be first toward heaven, and then back to earth ("seek ye first the kingdom..."). We surrender to God and then receive back our lives to reengage the world. "Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth fruit" (John 12:24). Life in this world must be "mediated" by the presence of God through our faith in Him. Only then are we able to truly love and care for the world as God's emissaries.
New "Lord's Prayer" Reader Page
11.11.09 (Cheshvan 24, 5770) The Lord's Prayer might better be called the "Disciples' Prayer," or even the "Learner's Prayer." After all, Yeshua taught it to his talmidim (i.e., disciples, learners) in response to their request, "Lord, teach us how to pray" (Luke 11:1). If you are His student, you must likewise ask the Lord to teach you how to pray....
Of course the very first step is to receive God as your loving Heavenly Father who already knows what you need. God is not ignorant of even the smallest of details in your life: "The hairs on your head are all numbered" (Matt. 10:30). The Lord knows all things -- the complete realm of what was, is, and will be -- as well as all "possible worlds." Indeed, Your Heavenly Father knows the "words on your tongue" before you utter them (Psalm 139:1-12). Before praying, then, we must first attune ourselves to reality. "Know before whom you stand" (in Hebrew: דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד - da lifnei mi attah omed). In order to genuinely pray, we must first wake up!
Sometimes we "pray" in a lethargic state, "forgetting" that God is constantly sustaining us by the Word of His Power (Col. 1:17). But as the Scriptures clearly teach, we are always in the Presence of God (Acts 17:28) and the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3). "Worthy art Thou, O LORD, to receive glory and honor and power: for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created" (Rev. 4:11). Prayer subjects us to self-examination and is a corridor into the realm of truth. Genuine prayer doesn't change God as much as it changes us. It is a passion of the heart that functions as refining fire. And praying for others is a means of expressing love and care for them. It's an act of sacrificial love.
Prayer should be something essentially inward and private - utterances and groanings made in the "secret places" of the heart - where the the Lord alone has access (Matt. 6:6). That does not mean, of course, that we should never pray collectively or in a group, but the ultimate "amen" of the heart is always an intensely personal decision. There is no authentic "kavanah" in a group; God is not impressed with crowds -- much less with religious ceremonies (as Kierkegaard once said, the "crowd" is untruth). No, God looks at the individual heart and communes with each soul individually (Rev. 3:20).
We should never pray for the sake of appearances or to "impress" others. Is there anything more outrageous in the realm of the spirit that such "holier-than-thou" spirituality? Praying for the sake of appearance is sheer hypocrisy. It is a lie expressed in religious talk... Such pretense is a proverbial "pig wearing lipstick." As Yeshua said, those who pray "to be seen by others" have already received their reward (Matt. 6:5).
Moreover, Yeshua warned us to avoid "vain repetitions" and ritualistic, formulaic expressions (Matt. 6:7-8). Indeed, even the Disciple's Prayer itself can be turned into a vain repetition if we are not careful! God does not want us to merely read someone else's prayers out of a page from a book (e.g., the "Common Book of Prayer" or the words of a siddur). He is not impressed with the oratory of rabbis and preachers, either. He is not interested in your pastor's eloquence, your favorite teacher's charisma, or your preferred author's insights. God looks at you alone -- as if you were the only one in the room, so to speak - and then He listens... Shema calls to shema.
Each of us must ask the Lord to teach us (individually) how to pray. The Disciples' Prayer was Yeshua's answer to His talmidim, but He assuredly didn't want us to parrot the prayer in an unthinking manner. It was Yeshua's answer to His disciples at that time, but we cannot make it our own prayer until we internalize its meaning and choose to follow the Master now.... We can't "copy the answer" out the book and expect to please our Teacher. Each follower of Yeshua must work through the message of this model prayer and make it part of his or her own inner experience of faith. The disciples were ready for Yeshua to teach them to pray, and we need to likewise be ready....
Okay, after saying all that as a sort of disclaimer, tonight I created a new "Disciple's Prayer Reader Page" for those of you who are learning to read Hebrew. This page provides the Hebrew text of Matthew 6:9-13 with a translation for each word directly underneath. I have also included the Greek New Testament text (with translation) as well. I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim! You can download the page here.
An appeal for help...
11.10.09 (Cheshvan 23, 5770) Recently the computer I use to develop this site crashed. Since it's a fairly old system, I think it is time for it to be replaced. I have ordered a new one in the hope that supporters of this ministry will help me defray some of the additional costs. Eventually I hope to have two computers that will "mirror" one another so that if one crashes, I can still continue working on this site without major interruption. If you can help with some of the costs of this project, it would be most appreciated. Thank you!
Parashat Chayei Sarah - חיי שרה
[ This week's Torah reading is called Chayei Sarah (the "life of Sarah") which begins (paradoxically enough) with the account of Sarah's death (Gen. 23:1-2). If you haven't already done so, please first read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.09.09 (Cheshvan 22, 5770) Recall that Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old and later died at age 127, when Isaac was 37 years old. The Torah does not explicitly state the cause of her death, though according to Jewish tradition Sarah died from shock after learning about what happened to her son at the hand of her husband (i.e., the near sacrifice of Isaac at Moriah). It was just too much for her heart to bear. How could she comprehend Abraham's actions? Was he insane? And what about Isaac? How could Sarah bear the terror her son must have endured? And what about the cherished dream of the family to be God's chosen people on the earth? Because of this great trauma, her soul departed from her....
The midrash elaborates by explaining that after Abraham's early departure (for Moriah) Sarah grew more and more worried about the welfare of her son. By the third day - the day of the Akedah itself - she decided to go look for him. When Sarah reached Hebron, however, the evil one disguised himself as her (disfigured) son. When she saw him, she asked: "My son, what has your father done to you?" He answered, "My father took me and made bound me on the altar. He then took the knife to slaughter me. If the Holy One had not called out, 'Do not cast your hand on this boy,' I would have been slaughtered." When she heard how her son had been bound on the altar, Sarah was so overcome with fright that her soul had departed from her" (Midrash Tanchuma).
Therefore when the Torah says, "And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to cry for her" (Gen. 23:2), the sages say that he was returning directly from Mount Moriah, the place of the sacrifice of Isaac. (This also explains why Isaac was not present at his mother's funeral since he had fled from Abraham and sought refuge with Shem in Salem after the terrifying ordeal). In the Torah text the phrase "and to cry for her" (וְלִבְכּתָה) is written with a diminutive letter Kaf, which has led some of the commentators to explain that Abraham's mourning for his wife was restrained. How are we to understand this? The sages state that the death of Sarah was yet another severe test for Abraham. Would he now regret his faithful obedience to the LORD because of the loss of his wife? The Akedah settled the question that Abraham loved God more than even his beloved son, but the death of Sarah was another matter.... Since Abraham believed that God would raise his son from the dead, perhaps he likewise believed that God would raise his wife from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19). At any rate, to indicate that Abraham loved God unconditionally, the letter Kaf was written smaller, suggesting that his mourning was tempered with continued trust in God's will and plans...
It is a provocative thought that Sarah - not Isaac - was the real victim of the Akedah. She, not Isaac, is the one who dies, after all. Jewish tradition has associated the cries of Sarah with the blasts of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. The broken notes of the shofar are thought to recall her crying for her son...
The sages further wonder why Sarah lived only 127 years while Abraham lived to be 175, that is, 48 years more? They answer that Sarah's years amounted to the number of years Abraham lived as ha-Ivri (הָעִבְרִי), "the Hebrew," a term that identifies his relationship to the one true God (for more, see the entry Abraham the Hebrew, below). Since Abraham was 48 years old when he came to believe, and a convert is regarded as a newborn, then Abraham lived (as a Hebrew) exactly 127 years, precisely as long as did Sarah (who was regarded a prophetess from birth). For more about this, please see the article "The Greatness of Sarah."
Note: If it pleases God I will add more commentary on this Torah portion later this week. Shalom for now, chaverim.
The Angel of the LORD - מַלְאַךְ יהוה
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayera). Please read the previous entries to "find your place" here. ]
11.05.09 (Cheshvan 18, 5770) In Hebrew, an "angel" is called malakh (מַלְאַךְ), a word that basically means "messenger" or representative (from the root לאך, meaning "to send"). God created many angels, of course (Psalm 68:17, 103:20), but there there is one malakh who stands out from all the rest of the malakhim (angels) as a King stands above his subjects. This "King of Angels" is called Malakh Adonai (מַלְאַךְ יהוה), or "the Angel of the Lord." Unlike the other angels that function as emissaries of God, Malakh Adonai is the supreme representation or Message of God Himself. His Word/Voice is "one" with the Person of God, just as the Spirit of God is "one" with the Person of God. Since the glory and power of God's infinite Being is incomprehensible to finite creatures, the Angel of the LORD is a form of God's condescension in a visible or audible manner so that an angel or a human being can apprehend His message....
This unique King of the Angels, or "Angel of the LORD," is named in about 50 verses of the Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament"), though he is alluded to in various other places as well (e.g., Gen. 18:1-ff; Gen. 48:16, Exod. 23:20-23, etc.). He is first mentioned in Genesis 16:7-13 where He is clearly called God. After he spoke with Hagar in the desert, she called him "the LORD" (יהוה) and identified Him as El-Roi (אֵל ראִי) -- the "God who sees me" (Gen. 16:13). He later appeared to Abraham in the grove at Mamre (Gen. 18:1-ff) to reaffirm the promise of a coming heir, and later still, during the most terrifying moment of the sacrifice of Isaac, he cried out to stop Abraham from bringing down the knife on his son (Gen. 22:11, see also Gen. 22:15-ff). And note especially that it was the "Angel of the LORD" who appeared to Moses in the "burning bush" and identified himself as YHVH, the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (see Exod. 3:2-ff).
Other examples from the Tanakh should be noted. The Angel of the LORD helped Gideon deliver Israel from Midian (Judges 6:11-13); he prophesied regarding the birth of Samson (Judges 13); he led Elijah to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19); he commanded David to build an altar which later became part of the Holy Temple (1 Chron. 21:18), and he is mentioned in Psalm 34:7 ("The Angel of the LORD camps around those who fear him") and in Psalm 35:6-7. In light of all this, it is clear that that Malakh Adonai is nothing less than a manifestation of the LORD Himself. Indeed, the prophet Isaiah calls him the "Angel of His Face" (מַלְאָךְ פָּנָיו, Isa. 63:9). And since Yeshua is the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, who upholds the universe by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3), it is clear that He is the Angel of God's face -- the "message of God" -- that was "sent" (לאך) in human flesh (John 1:1,14). Yeshua is the King of Angels -- He is the Angel of the LORD! Indeed, Yeshua is Melekh Ha-kavod, the King of God's Glory (Psalm 24) and Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת), the LORD of the heavenly host.
Abraham's Three Visitors
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayera). Please first read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.04.09 (Cheshvan 17, 5770) This week's Torah portion begins: וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יהוה / Vayera elav Adonai: "and the LORD appeared to him (i.e., Abraham) by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day" (Gen 18:1). The midrash colorfully states that the phrase "by the terebinth trees of Mamre" (בְּאֵלנֵי מַמְרֵא) should be read as "in the terebinth trees," that is, God manifested Himself "as a tree" to suggest that just as an old tree could still bear fruit, so would Abraham in his old age.
Rashi says it was the third day after Abraham's brit millah (i.e., circumcision) and God came (in a vision) to inquire as to his friend's welfare (this is regarded as a divine example of bikkur cholim (בִּקּוּר חוֹלִים), "visiting the sick"). During the vision, Abraham suddenly saw "three men" (שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים) standing before him. But who were these strangers? According to the Jewish sages, they were the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael disguised as wayfarers. Each angel had a distinct mission. Michael came to announce that Sarah would give birth to a son; Raphael came to heal Abraham from his circumcision; and Gabriel came to overthrow Sodom (Bava Metzia 86b).
According to Jewish tradition, when Abraham said, "My Lord (אֲדנָי), if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant" (Gen. 18:3), he was not speaking to the three visitors (as might be inferred from casual reading of the text) but rather was addressing the LORD Himself. (As a point of Hebrew grammar, Rambam notes that the vocalization of the word Adonai (אֲדנָי) with the qamets vowel refers to God; whereas if it's vocalized with a patach (i.e., אֲדנַי) it refers to others, i.e., "sirs.") In other words, when Abraham saw the three strangers, he interrupted the vision of God and asked to take leave of the LORD: "My Lord, if you would, please do not go away from your servant." This interpretation has led to the Talmud's statement that showing hospitality to strangers (i.e., hachnasat orechim / הַכְנָסַת אוֹרְחִים) is more important than even welcoming the Shekhinah (Shabbat 127a). On the other hand, Rashi notes that the literal flow of the narrative suggests that Abraham was addressing the angels by requesting that they stay. In this case, the verse would be rendered, "My lords (אֲדנָי), if I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant" (Gen. 18:3).
The accepted Christian interpretation is that the chief Angel was a pre-incarnate appearance of Yeshua the Messiah (i.e., a "theophany"). Understood in this light, the first verse of the portion, "and the LORD appeared to him" is immediately connected with the vision of the three archangels. In other words, the LORD appeared to Abraham as the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) accompanied with two other angels. This explains why it is written that the LORD (יהוה) tarried with Abraham after the other two angels left for Sodom. (Note that the patriarch Jacob later referred to the LORD (יהוה) as מַּלְאָךְ הַגּאֵל אתִי מִכָּל־רָע / "the Angel who redeemed me from all evil" (Gen. 48:16), just as he earlier had wrestled with a "Man" whom he later identified as God (Gen. 32:30)).
The dialog gets somewhat confusing, however, since it is unclear at times who is speaking. For instance, after graciously providing the three guests with a meal (nb: meat and dairy!), the visitors (plural) asked where Sarah was (וַיּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו / "they asked him..."), but then then the Angel of the LORD said, "I will certainly return to you next year, and your wife Sarah shall have a son" (Gen. 18:10). Most of the Jewish sages (i.e., Rashi, Maimonides, etc.) understand this to be the Voice of God that was interjected into the conversation, though the text suggests this came directly from one of the angels, not from a "disembodied Voice" from the heavens. At any rate, the purpose of the question was to confirm God's promise (originally given to Abraham in Gen. 17:16) to Sarah herself.... When Sarah heard this, she laughed within herself (lit, "at her insides") and thought, "Now that I am withered, am I to have enjoyment, my husband being so old?" (Gen. 18:12).
When the LORD (יהוה) repeated Sarah's inward thoughts to the others present, however, He omitted some of her words so that Abraham would not feel ashamed: "Why did Sarah laugh, saying, 'Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?" (Gen. 18:13). The midrash says that the LORD overlooked her reference to Abraham being "too old" for the sake of shalom bayit (family harmony) and to refrain from lashon hara (evil speech). Perhaps some of this exchange was meant to reprove Sarah for disbelieving her husband's faith about a having future son. The sages note that when Abraham first heard the news about an heir "from his own loins," he laughed joyfully, but Sarah later laughed derisively... The Angel continued: "At the appointed time I will return to you (אָשׁוּב אֵלֶיךָ), about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son" (Gen. 18:14). It should be noted here how the miraculous conception of Yitzchak - the promised "only begotten" son (בֵּן יָחִיד) who was to be sacrificed at Moriah - was meant to foreshadow the miraculous conception of Yeshua and His later sacrifice for our sins....
After reaffirming the promise of the coming heir to Sarah, the angels set out to finish their mission. Abraham escorted them on their way. The chief Angel (i.e., the Angel of the LORD) then rhetorically asked his angelic companions, "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do (i.e., go to Sodom), seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him (כִּי יְדַעְתִּיו), that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD (דֶּרֶךְ יהוה), to do charity and justice (לַעֲשׂוֹת צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט); that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he has spoken of him" (Gen. 18:17-19).
Abraham was destined to be the father of a multitude of nations - and the land promised to him included the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Moreover his nephew Lot dwelt in Sodom with his family. The LORD went on to say that "because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know." The "outcry" has been interpreted to mean the cries caused by violence, and in particular, of the brutal murder of a young girl who dared to help a poor man by giving him bread. According to midrash, it was this girl's cry that "broke through" to heaven and moved the LORD to investigate the matter personally. The LORD's "going down to see" has been interpreted to mean descending from the attribute of mercy to that of judgment. The midrash (citing Ezekiel 16:49) states that the sin of Sodom was primarily because of their pride and their refusal to give charity.
According to midrash, Abraham was perplexed about the generation of the Flood and thought it was impossible that there were not ten or twenty righteous people on the earth at that time. Because of this, he felt compelled to question the LORD. Would God destroy the righteous along with the wicked? Perhaps Noach thought the decree of the world's destruction was irreversible, but in this case, the LORD told Abraham that His verdict was not sealed, and that emboldened him to intercede on behalf of Sodom. Abraham's chesed (חֶסֶד), his goodness and compassion, prompted him to "draw near" to the LORD as an advocate on behalf of others. Would God's anger cause Him to indiscriminately stamp out the righteous along with the wicked? May it not be so! The wrath of God is the manifestation of His attribute of justice, but what about his attribute of mercy? Surely the Judge of all the earth would be righteous? Surely the reputation of the LORD was at stake?
Abraham opened his plea bargaining with 50 righteous (10 for each of the surrounding cities) and went down to 10. Some of the sages say that he did not fulfill his mission since he did not beg that no matter what the circumstance, Sodom should not be destroyed. As it is written in Proverbs: צַדִּיק יְסוֹד עוֹלָם / "The righteous (even one) is an everlasting foundation" (Prov. 10:25). Moses had interceded on behalf of Israel after the sin of the Golden Calf, even asking God to take his life for the sake of God's pardon of his people. Likewise Yeshua went to Cross and died for the sinful and wicked. Abraham appealed to God to spare the righteous. After learning there were none, he no longer interceded on their behalf.... A midrash, however, states that Abraham did not pray for fewer than 10 righteous men because he believed that if there were less than this, God would destroy the entire world (as He did with Noach and his family, which totaled eight souls). Ultimately, however, God saved Lot and his daughters on the merit of Abraham's intercession ("God remembered Abraham" - Gen. 19:29). In other words, though God might judge the world, He always makes a way of escape for those who are righteous.
Note: This entry is presently unfinished. I hope to add to it later this week, IY"H.
The "Temptation" of Grace...
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayera). Please first read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
11.02.09 (Cheshvan 15, 5770) Apparently there are some "Messianic" ministries out there that claim there are two different ways to "walk faith" in the Messiah, depending on whether you identify yourself as a Jew or not. According to these people, Jewish believers in Yeshua should be "Torah observant," while non-Jewish believers (i.e., "Gentiles") are merely "invited" to become (what they term) "Torah submissive." As one of these organizations recently put it: "Gentile believers do not share identical obligation to Torah as Jewish believers, but they are invited to participate in all of the commandments along with Israel and should be encouraged to do so" (FFOZ, Divine Invitation). According to this "two class" system, Jewish believers are obligated to be "Torah observant," whereas their non-Jewish counterparts are not... The two groups "do not share" the same obligation before the Lord.
Let me say plainly that "Messianic" ministries that advocate such invidious doctrines are in grave error -- and are undoubtedly legalistic cults. Forget the lip service these ministries may give to the idea of "salvation by grace through faith." When you get past the "surface language" you will begin to discern appeals to a form of "works righteousness," a meritocracy, a system that claims that salvation itself is ultimately conditional upon something you do, some merit of your own, some observance, some action, some prescribed ritual... Listen closely to the connotations of language. You will soon enough detect that those who teach such divisive things are either ignorant of the meaning of the Torah (and therefore of the meaning of the gospel) or else are deceivers intent on "bewitching" vulnerable souls with superficial knowledge. Their message is often joined with a seductive appeal to human pride as well: "This is what the text really means..." "Now you can know the secrets - unlike those common 'Gentile Christians' who don't really understand..." etc. Please read what I've got to say and see if you might not agree.
At the outset it must be conceded that no one has ever been genuinely "Torah observant" since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. More than 40% of the Torah's commandments concern various laws of the priesthood and the sacrifices (korbanot), but apart from a divinely appointed altar (i.e., the Temple), it is literally impossible to fulfill these commandments. Since this is undeniably the case, any advocate of "Torah observance" must immediately qualify their claim by appealing to the logic (and authority) of the Mishnah/Talmud (i.e., Oral Law), which equates prayer, good deeds, and charity with the Torah's sacrificial system (see Berachot 26b). In other words, the idea of "Torah observance" today distills to the question of the authority of the various customs and traditions of post-Temple Judaism. The Oral law of Judaism -- and therefore the authority of the sages -- is given priority over the written law of Moses. (The same point might be made, incidentally, regarding various social laws found in Torah. For example, we are not living in a theocratic kingdom, we do not observe agricultural laws for ancient Israel, we do not release slaves at the year of Jubilee, and so on.)
But let me go further here. I've written extensively about the question of "Torah observance" in numerous articles elsewhere on this site. "Torah triflers" (i.e., those who advocate legalism but have yet to seriously think through its implications) are often unaware of the deeper function of Sinai and its provisions. Two things should immediately be said regarding this: 1) Olam ("everlasting") doesn't necessarily mean unchanging (at least in the Greek sense of the term), especially since Moses, David, and Ezra all changed the Torah, and most of the later Jewish sages acknowledged that Torah would be changed in yemot ha-Mashiach (the days of the Messiah); and 2) the New Covenant is an entirely new covenant -- not a renewed version of the sefer ha-brit sprinkled with the blood of bulls at Mt. Sinai. Paul goes back to the Abrahamic covenant -- not to the "blessings and curses" issued from the mountains of Gerizim and Eval as the foundation underlying the deeper covenantal message of God's chesed. Of course you are "free" to attempt to justify yourself using the terms given at Sinai, but then you are constrained by the conditions of that agreement (Deut. 27:26), and you are thereby implicitly denigrating the need for a radically New Covenant. Be forewarned: Persisting in such a project ultimately outrages the Spirit of Grace (רוּחַ הֶחָסֶד) that broods over the Cross of Mashiach (Heb. 10:29). We are furthermore cautioned that hardening our hearts on this matters can lead to eternal loss (Heb. 6:4-8). God is not mocked. He did not sacrifice His Son for the sake of creating disciples of Moses and the rabbis... We are called to follow the Messiah and submit to His authority alone (Matt. 23:8). Anything else is chillul HaShem and a betrayal of the Messiah!
It is written: "Now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:21). Those who attempt to mix the covenants are called adulterers (Rom. 7:4-ff.).... The goal or aim of the Torah was the New Covenant -- not the other way around (Gal. 3:17-19). The law is called a "schoolmaster" meant to lead to the Messiah and His Kingdom rule (Gal. 3:23-26). The glory of the Torah of Moses was destined to fade away (2 Cor. 3:3-11), just as its ritual center (i.e., the Tabernacle/Temple) was a shadow to be replaced by the greater priesthood of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 10:1; 13:10). "Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Rom. 7:6). "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4).
Let's look at this from a metaphorical perspective, or by means of a Scriptural parable. מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children." When Abraham was tested with the Akedah (i.e., the sacrifice of his son Isaac), the temptation was to elevate blind obedience above the dictates of compassion and conscience. His temptation, so to speak, was whether to listen to the voice of God (אֱלהִים) or to the voice of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה).
Why didn't Abraham argue with God (אֱלהִים) by remembering Him as the LORD (יְהוָה), the Compassionate Source of life? Earlier he had argued with God regarding the destruction of Sodom. So why didn't he argue to save his own son? Might this have been Abraham's test, namely, that God wanted Abraham to argue and to challenge the command to perform child sacrifice? According to this view, Abraham failed the test, since he blindly obeyed God without protest (this is similar to those who want to obey the letter of the Torah without taking time to discern the overarching significance of its message). It is noteworthy that after the Akedah, God and Abraham never spoke directly to one another again...
Abraham went ahead to offer homage to Elohim, the God of Justice, upon Moriah... The temptation, from this perspective, was not to be swayed by the "merely human" compassion of a father for his son... For three days Abraham steeled himself from all appeals of human tenderness and compassion. At the decisive moment, however, the LORD (יְהוָה) intervened -- and Abraham ultimately heeded the Voice of Love/Grace rather than the voice of Justice/Law.... This was the deeper Voice of the LORD; this was also Abraham's vindication....
There is a fantastic midrash about the white ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of his son (see the Midrash of the White Ram). After its death, the ram's soul returned to heaven, but it wanted to do more in the world of people, so God sent him back to earth. God then gave the ram horns so long that they reached all the way to heaven. In this way, the ram could be in both worlds at once: with its feet on earth and its horns in heaven. Similarly, God sent His Son as the Ram of God to satisfy His requirements for justice (as Elohim) and to demonstrate His unbounded chesed/love (as the LORD). Yeshua now spans heaven and earth as our substitionary atonement, intercessor, and heavenly advocate. In Him "steadfast love (chesed) and truth (emet) meet; justice (tzedek) and peace (shalom) kiss" (Psalm 85:10). His merit alone is our Bridge to the Father: יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה - Salvation is from the LORD.
It is vital, chaverim, to understand that we are saved by hope in the love and grace of God -- not through adherence to an external lawcode (or by appealing to God as Elohim rather than as YHVH/Yeshua). God looks within the heart. The justified live by trusting in God's gracious love and forgiveness-- not on the basis of meritocracy or conformity to a religious code (Hab. 2:4; Titus 3:5-6). Ultimately there is an infinite difference between being a slave and being a child.
Messianic groups that advocate adherence to the terms of the Sinai covenant or otherwise promote "Torah observance" spawn insidious confusion that subtly undermines the message of the Gospel itself. Ironically enough, most of these so-called "Torah observant" ministries often do not truly understand what the word "Torah" actually means. They seem to rather uncritically accept rabbinical thinking and definitions, but they really don't go back far enough. They do both too little and too much in their theology.
It is vital to remember there is a distinction between "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) and "Covenant" (בְּרִית). As the author of the Book of Hebrews lucidly states: "When there is a change in the priesthood (i.e., as mediators of the covenant), there is necessarily a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood mediates the truth of the Covenant of Sinai; the priesthood of Yeshua (after the order of Malki-Tzedek) mediates the truth of the New Covenant. Torah is a general word that means "instruction" and is always a function of the underlying covenant of which it is part: it is our response to the covenantal actions of the LORD God of Israel.
Focusing on the Torah's requirements for ethnic Jews (as opposed to non-Jews) promotes a religious "class system" that Yeshua never once promoted. It focuses on what separates us -- the mechitzah or "dividing fence of partition" -- rather than on the "one new man" ideal that brings us all together (Eph. 2:14). If you want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, you efface yourself and become a slave to all (Mark 9:35; 10:44). Moreover, since circumcision is the ritual "sign" par excellence of what it means to be an "ethnic Jew," it may be regarded as a test case in this matter. As the great Torah sage Rav Sha'ul (i.e., the Apostle Paul) wrote:
For freedom the Messiah has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (ζυγῷ δουλείας). Mark my words- I, Sha'ul, tell you that if you undergo brit milah (בְּרִית מִילָה) the Messiah will be of no advantage to you at all! Again, I warn you: any man who undergoes brit milah is obligated to observe the entire Torah! You who are trying to be declared righteous by God through legalism have severed yourselves from the Messiah! You have fallen away from God's grace! For it is by the power of the Spirit, who works in us because we trust and are faithful, that we confidently expect our hope of attaining righteousness to be fulfilled. When we are united with the Messiah Yeshua, neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is trusting faithfulness expressing itself through love. (Gal. 5:1-6)
The great Apostle went on to say, "I wish the people who are bothering you (regarding the matter of legalism) would go the whole way and castrate themselves" (Gal. 5:12). Paul used such strong language because the heart of the gospel message was at stake. As the author of the Book of Hebrews put it, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tent (i.e., the Temple) have no right to eat" (Heb. 13:10). Salvation is a gift from God given to those who are trusting in Yeshua for deliverance, just as sanctification is likewise a gift. There is no middle ground on this issue. You either accept God's justification on your behalf, or you will resort to efforts at self-justification.
Note: It is written that Yeshua is the "end of the Torah for righteousness to all who believe" (Rom. 10:4); He is Torah righteousness for those who trust in Him and who put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3-9). If you're struggling with the question of whether you should become "Torah observant" (or "Torah submissive"), it might be helpful to revisit some of the contrasts between the "old" and "new" covenants described in the New Testament. To help you see some of this, I've created a new table called "Compare the Covenants." Hopefully you will better appreciate the life-transforming differences between the Torah of the New Covenant (given at Zion) with the Torah of the older Covenant (given at Sinai).
Parashat Vayera - וירא
11.01.09 (Cheshvan 14, 5770) The Torah reading for this week (Vayera) includes the "Gospel according to Moses," or rather his account of how Abraham was tested by God to offer his "only begotten son" (בֵּן יָחִיד) as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah -- the place of the future Temple. This famous story is referred to as the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה), or Akedat Yitzchak (עֲקֵידָת יִצְחָק) - the "binding of Isaac" (Gen. 22:1-18). At the very last moment, God stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice and provided a ram as a substitute. Abraham then named the location Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD who sees" (from the 3p impf. of the verb ra'ah (רָאָה), "to see").
As Messianic believers, we understand the Akedah as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice the heavenly Father would give on our behalf. Unlike Abraham, God the Father actually offered His only begotten Son (בֵּן יָחִיד) Yeshua upon Moriah in order to make salvation available to all who believe (John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9). As Abraham himself believed: אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה / Elohim yireh-lo haseh ("God Himself will provide a lamb").
Consider how the Akedah provides a prophetic picture of the Mashiach Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" (Seh haElohim) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Both Isaac and Yeshua were born miraculously; both were "only begotten sons"; both were to be sacrificed by their fathers at Mount Moriah; both were to be resurrected on the third day (Gen. 22:5, Heb. 11:17-19); both willingly took up the means of his execution; and both demonstrate that one life can be sacrificed for another – the ram for Isaac, and Yeshua for all of mankind. Indeed, Isaac is a clear picture of the Greater Seed of Abraham to come, the One who would remove the kelalah (curse) and save us from death.
Whereas the Akedat Yitzchak foreshadowed God's provision and the coming of the Temple, the Akedat Yeshua (i.e., His crucifixion at Moriah) was the altar where the justice and chesed (love) of the Father fully met.
Midrash about Moriah
According to Jewish legend, God chose the site for His Holy Temple in order to honor brotherly love.
In the days before the Bet Hamikdash (Temple) was built, two brothers, Shimon and Levi, inherited a large field from their parents. This field was on Mount Moriah, in the heart of the Promised Land. Instead of dividing the land into separate fields, however, the two brothers decided to work the field together. Every morning they got up early and worked the days together. At harvest time, they would cut the wheat, bind it into sheaves, and divide it equally into piles. Then each brother would carry his pile into his own storehouse.
One year, after harvesting all day in the sun, the brothers decided to sleep beside their piles of sheaves instead of carrying them to their storehouses.
But late that night Shimon could not sleep. He kept thinking of his brother Levi. "It isn't fair that the harvest is divided equally between us. Levi has a family to support, but I am alone.... Why should I take so much? It is better that he receive a bigger portion." So Shimon got up, gathered up as many sheaves he could from his pile, and surreptitiously placed them on his brother's stack. He then went back to his own pile of sheaves and slept sweetly.
Awhile later, Levi awoke from a dream. In his dream he saw his brother Shimon as an old and sick man. He thought, "It isn't fair that the harvest is divided equally. Shimon is all alone. He has no wife or children to care for him when he gets old. He will need more grain to help him prepare for his future. It is better that he receive a bigger portion." So Levi got up, gathered up as many sheaves he could from his pile, and surreptitiously placed them on his brother's stack. He then went back to his pile of sheaves and slept sweetly.
When daylight came, the two brothers went to load their wagons but were amazed to see the same number of sheaves in their piles as before. Perplexed, they quietly finished their work and went home.
But neither brother could sleep that night. Each kept thinking of the needs of the other. Finally, each went to his storehouse, took as many sheaves as he could carry, and began walking quietly to his brother's house. Suddenly, halfway between their homes, the two brothers saw each other in the moonlight. In an instant, they both understood the other's heart. Embracing, they gave each other a kiss of brotherly love.
And it was on that spot, atop Mount Moriah, that God chose the site for His Holy Temple.