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September 2009 Updates

Upcoming Fall Holidays

[ Note: For current site updates, please scroll down past this entry.... ]

Preparations for the High Holidays begin a month in advance. This year, the 40-day season of teshuvah (return or repentance) runs from Elul 1 (Aug. 19th) until the end of Yom Kippur (Sep. 27th). Five days after Yom Kippur is the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.  Here is a simple diagram to help you visualize this season of the Jewish calendar:

Fri Sep 19Sun Sept 27Fri, Oct 2-9thWed. Aug 19

The following is a list of the fall holiday dates according to the Gregorian Calendar. Note that according to the custom of the Jewish Calendar all holidays begin at sundown:

  1. ROSH HASHANAH 5770 - FRI. SEPT. 18th

    Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) begins Friday, September 18th this year (this is a Shabbat). According to traditional Jewish thinking, this holiday commemorates the creation of mankind by God. The Mishnah (earlier part of the Talmud) refers to Rosh Hashanah as the "Day of Judgment" (Yom ha-Din) since all of creation owes allegiance to the Creator and is accountable to Him. The Name Elohim (אֱלהִים) revealed in Genesis 1:1 bespeaks God as the Creator and Judge of the universe (the Name YHVH, on the other hand, reveals God's compassion, as the One who intimately relates to humanity and breathes into us the breath of life (Gen. 2:4)). In Jewish tradition on Rosh Hashanah we stand before God as our personal Creator and Judge. Many Messianic Jews believe that the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a symbol of the rapture (ἁρπάζω) of the followers of the Messiah.

    Yom Kippur
  2. YOM KIPPUR - SUN. SEPT. 27th

    Yom Kippur begins an hour before sundown on Sunday, September 27th. The 25 hour fast runs until an hour past sundown on Monday, September 28th. This is perhaps the most important holiday of the Jewish Year and holds tremendous prophetic significance.  It is considered a mitzvah to eat a sacred meal with loved ones (called Seudat Mafseket, a meal of cessation), just before the fast begins....

    Yom Kippur

    The sound of the shofar on Yom Kippur is called gedolah, since it signifies the "sealing of the books" for the coming year.... Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the "Day of the LORD" or the Day of Judgment in Acharit Ha-Yamim (the End of Days).
  3. SUKKOT - FRI. Oct. 2nd - Fri. Oct. 9th

    Five days after Yom Kipppur marks the start of the seven-day festival of Sukkot (referred to as "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). It can be argued that Sukkot is the climax of all the festivals in Scripture....  Everything leads to it as a culmination in God's prophetic plan. Sukkot concludes with an additional holiday called "Shemini Atzeret," on Friday, October 9th.


    Note: The Torah Reading Cycle is suspended for the holiday week of Sukkot as well as for Shemini Atzeret (sometimes referred to as the eighth day of Sukkot). Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah, and Shemini Atzeret Torah readings are from Leviticus 22-23, Numbers 29, and Deuteronomy 14-16. These readings detail the laws of all of the mo'edim or "appointed times" on the Jewish calendar and include the mitzvot regarding the festival of Sukkot.
  4. SIMCHAT TORAH - SAT. Oct. 10th

    Simchat Torah ("Joy of Torah") immediately follows the festival of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret evening service). On Simchat Torah we conclude, and begin anew, the annual Torah-reading cycle. First we read the Torah section of V'zot Haberakhah, and then we read the first chapter of Genesis (the beginning of the next Shabbat's Torah reading).

    Simchat Torah

Building our Sukkah

09.30.09 (Tishri 12, 5770)  Despite fighting the flu, we decided to put up our sukkah today (we have an easy to assemble sukkah kit).  Here are a few pictures of the event, chaverim:

Left-to-right (top): 1. Assembling the frame; 2. Josiah helping; 3. attaching the curtain;
4. Olga tying down the curtain; 5. positioning the schach (roof) beams.
(bottom): 1. Laying the schach (roof); 2. the finished sukkah; 3. adding seasonal lights;
4. twining lights around the beams ; 5. Judah's first Sukkot!


Tomorrow we will pick up our "four species" for the holiday to assemble our lulav. We also hope to further beautify the sukkah over the next few days, adding some hanging fruit, paper chains, more lights, and other festive things. Our four year old son Josiah really wants to add some of his own artwork inside the sukkah, too.

Since it follows Yom Kippur (i.e., the Day of Atonement), Sukkot represents a time of renewed fellowship with God, an appointed time when we gratefully acknowledge His sheltering provision and care for us.  The Gemara draws a parallel between the Mishkan (i.e., the Tabernacle) and the sukkah as a place for revelation of the Shekhinah. (The numerical equivalent (gematria) of sukkah (סוכּה) is 91, the same as the sum of two of the Divine Names: Adonai (אדני) and YHVH (יהוה)). 

Originally, the Mishkan (and later, the Temple) represented God's Shekhinah Presence among His redeemed people (Exod. 29:44-45). The New Testament reveals that God Himself "tabernacled" with us by coming in the disguised form of lowly servant in order to function as the great High Priest of the New Covenant (see Phil. 2:7, John 1:14). Because of Yeshua's priestly avodah and sacrifice, we now have access to the Heavenly Throne of God's Grace (Heb. 4:16). We are confident of the eternal atonement that our beloved Messiah has secured for us all (Heb. 10:14)! Our names are now written in the Lamb's Book of Life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5). We rejoice that we are members of the greater Temple of His body: we are now part of His Heavenly Sukkah (Eph. 5:30)!

Children's Craft Project Image

Ufros Alenu Sukkat Shlomekha - "Spread over us Your Sukkah of Peace"

Sukkot Hebrew Blessing Cards


09.30.09 (Tishri 12, 5770)  Tonight I updated the Sukkot Blessings page to include some "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Sukkot celebrations! The study cards are for the four key blessings customarily recited during this season: the Yom Tov blessing (candle lighting for Sukkot); the Shehechayanu blessing (1st night); the Leshev Basukkah blessing (for dwelling in the sukkah); and the Netilat Lulav (for waving the lulav/etrog). Of course the Hebrew audio is provided on the blessings page. I hope you find the new cards useful, chaverim! Sukkot Sameach!

Getting Ready for Sukkot...


09.30.09 (Tishri 12, 5770)  The festive holiday of Sukkot (סֻכּוֹת, "booths" or "tabernacles") begins just after sundown on Friday, Oct. 2nd (i.e., Tishri 15 on the Jewish calendar). The festival is celebrated for seven days (i.e., from Tishri 15-21) during which we "dwell" in a sukkah (‬סֻכָּה, the singular of "sukkot") -- a hut of temporary construction, with a roof covering (schach) of raw vegetable matter (i.e., branches, bamboo, etc.). The sukkah represents our dependence upon God's shelter for our protection and His covering for our providence. We eat meals in the sukkah and recite a special blessing (leshev basukkah) at this time.

In addition to the sukkah, the most prominent symbol of Sukkot is arba'at ha-minim - the "Four Species" - or the lulav and etrog. The idea of the lulav/etrog comes from the Torah itself: "On the first day you shall take the product of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Eternal your God for seven days" (Lev. 23:40). We wave the "four species" and recite a blessing (netilat lulav) to ask God for a fruitful and blessed year. (Note that the four species are not used on Shabbat -- even when it falls on the first day of Sukkot.)


Z'man Simchatenu - Season of Our Joy


Sukkot marks the conclusion of the Jewish Fall Holidays and is the last of the three Shelosh Regalim (i.e., the three annual pilgrimage festivals: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot (Deut. 16:16). It can be argued that Sukkot is the climax of all the festivals in Scripture: Everything leads to it as a culmination in God's prophetic plan. It is interesting to compare the use of words relating to simchah [joy] in the description of these three festivals. Regarding Pesach, the word simchah does not appear at all (Deut. 17:1-8); regarding Shavuot, it appears only once (Deut. 17:11); but, regarding Sukkot, simchah appears several times:

    You shall keep the Feast of Sukkot seven days, when you have gathered in the produce... You shall rejoice in your feast... because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful. (Deut. 16:13-15)

In fact, in ancient Israel, the joy of Sukkot was so great that it became known simply as "The Feast" (1 Kings 12:32). It was a time of many sacrifices (Num. 29:12-40) and a time when (on Sabbatical years) the Torah would be read aloud to the people (Deut. 31:10-13).

From a spiritual perspective, Sukkot corresponds to the joy of knowing your sins were forgiven (during Yom Kippur) and also recalls God's miraculous provision and care after the deliverance from bondage in Egypt (Lev. 23:43). Prophetically, Sukkot anticipates the coming kingdom of the Mashiach Yeshua wherein all the nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD during the festival (see Zech. 14:16). Today Sukkot is a time to remember God's Sheltering Presence and Provision for us for the start of the New Year.

Note: The Torah Reading Cycle is suspended for the holiday week of Sukkot as well as for Shemini Atzeret (sometimes referred to as the "eighth day" of Sukkot). For a list of the Sukkot Torah readings, please see the Weekly Parashah page.


Sheltering Presence -
A Sukkot Warm Up


09.29.09 (Tishri 11, 5770)  After the LORD delivered the Jews from slavery in Egypt, He said, "Follow me into the wilderness, into an unsown land" (Jer. 2:2). Over two million people - men, women, and children - heeded the call and left for the Promise of God.

Now the desert is a hard, dry place. Unless you were prepared with provisions and protection, a trek through it could be life-threatening, perhaps even suicidal. But consider what it must have been like for two million people! What would they eat or drink? Where would they find shelter? How would they avoid the scorpions, snakes, and other perils?

In a word, the LORD Himself sheltered the Jews with Clouds of Glory and supernaturally provided for them during their 40 years of wandering in the desert after the Exodus. God performed miracle upon miracle, sustaining the people in the midst of the desert and its dangers.... Consequently, He commanded Moses that these acts of Divine Chesed be commemorated as the festival of Sukkot (Lev. 23:34; Deut. 16:13-16).

The word sukkot (סֻכּוֹת) is the plural of the Hebrew word sukkah (סֻכָּה), meaning a "booth" or "hut."  In traditional Judaism, a sukkah is a temporary structure used for "living in" (i.e., primarily eating meals or entertaining guests) throughout the eight day festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"). The purpose of the sukkah is to remind us of the type of huts the ancient Israelites dwelt in as they made their trek through the dangers of the desert.

According to halakhah (Jewish law), the minimal sukkah must have two complete walls with a third wall at least the "length of a handbreadth." The walls can be made from any material, though the structure must be covered with a "schach" (סכך, thatched roof) made from only organic material (representing the Clouds of Glory). It is customary to decorate the sukkah by hanging fruit from the schach and adding other decorations.  Since a sukkah minimally is contructed of two walls (that resemble a bent arm) and a third wall (that resembles a hand), some of the sages says it represents God's arm wrapping around us to give us shelter (a "divine hug"). The traditional view, however, is that the Sukkah is meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that protected the Jewish people while they sojourned in hostile and dangerous desert conditions.


The Torah states that we are to rejoice during the appointed time of Sukkot - samachta b'chagekha (שָׂמַחְתָּ בְּחַגֶּךָ) - and immediately reiterates that we are to be "altogether joyful" -  hayita akh sameach (הָיִיתָ אַךְ שָׂמֵחַ). (Deut. 16:14-15)  For this reason, the sages called the eight days of Sukkot "Z'man Simchatenu," the time of our happiness.

But why are we commanded to "rejoice" and be "altogether joyful" during the season of Sukkot?  Here are a few reasons:

  1. First, the festival recalls the great Exodus from Egypt and the miracles that God performed on behalf of the Jewish people.  Since we are related to them and owe our faith to them, we should therefore be thankful and rejoice at God's sustaining care and providence of our faithful ancestors.

  2. Second, God Himself "tabernacled" with the camp of Israel in the wilderness. God's Sukkah is called the mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן), a word rendered as skeine (σκηνη) in the Greek translation (LXX). Moses was given the design for the mishkan on Sinai so that the LORD Himself would dwell in a tent in the midst of the people of Israel: shakhanti b'tokham - "that I may dwell among them" (Exod. 25:8). The covering of God's Sukkah was actually the cloud of God's Glory (Exod. 40:35-36). The Apostle Paul referred to the Jews being immersed ("baptised") by the surrounding Shekhinah Glory of God in their midst (1 Cor. 10:1-2).

  3. Third, after settling in the Promised Land, Sukkot became associated with the Festival of Fall Harvest, Chag Ha'asif (חַג הָאָסִף), or the "Feast of Ingathering" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22). This was an autumnal celebration of thanksgiving for the fruit harvest, held during the full moon of Tishri.

  4. Fourth, King Solomon dedicated the Jewish Temple on Sukkot (1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 7). The Shekhinah glory of the LORD descended to light the fire on the altar and filled the Holy of Holies (1 Kings 8; 2 Chron. 7:1-10).

    It later became customary (based on Deut. 31:10) that every seven years pilgrims would gather in the Temple Courtyard during Sukkot to listen to the reigning king read passages from the Torah. This ceremony was called Hakhel (הַקְהֵל, "assemble"), and it certainly was a joyful time.
  5. Fifth, the Scriptures record that Sukkot was the very first holiday observed after the Babylonian captivity, when the Second Temple was dedicated (Ezra 3:2-4).
  6. Sixth, over time Sukkot became the single most important festival held in the Promised Land, called "the Feast of the Lord" (חַג־יהוה, Lev. 23:39; Judges 21:19) or simply "the Feast" (1 Kings 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chron. 5:3; 7:8). Along with Passover and Shavuot, Sukkot is one of the three "pilgrimage festivals" that united all Israel in holy celebration. Pilgrims from all over Israel (and indeed the world) would annually come together and erect countless colorful booths near the Temple. They would purchase their four species (arba minim), light campfires, decorate their sukkas, and make themselves merry in celebration of the fall harvest.  They eagerly anticipated the famous Water Drawing Ceremony of the Temple (nisuch ha-mayim), the dramatic light shows, the special music and the waving of lulav.... After the solemnity of Yom Kippur, Sukkot was a time of camping out and rejoicing in the LORD's provision and love.
  7. Seventh, it's likely that Yeshua (Jesus) was born during Sukkot, since the same verb that says He "dwelt" with us (σκηνοω in John 1:14) derives from the same root used in the LXX to refer to both the mishkan (Tabernacle) and the individual tents of Sukkot (σκηνος). As Mashiach ben Yosef, He attended the festival but did so "secretly" (John 7:8-10); when He comes again as Mashiach ben David, it will be openly, with the "Clouds of Glory" (Matt. 24:30, Rev. 1:7). Note also that the two great themes of Sukkot (during the Second Temple period) were 1) water, and 2) light. It's likely that Yeshua referred to Himself as both the "Living Water" (John 7:38) and the Light of the world (John 8:12) during the "drawing of the house of water" ceremonies during this festival.

  8. Finally, when Yeshua returns to establish the Messianic Kingdom on earth, He will once again "tabernacle" with Israel in Jerusalem (Ezek. 37:27-28; Rev. 21:3). The visible manifestation of the LORD, the Shekhinah glory, will be seen as a shining fire over all of Mount Zion (Isa. 60:1,19, Zech. 2:5), and all of the nations of the earth will journey to there to celebrate Sukkot (Zech. 14:16-19). "Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory there will be a canopy" (Isa. 4:5).

    Note: This hope is expressed in the prayerbook blessing for the end of Sukkot: "May it be Your will, Adonai our God and the God of our forefathers, that just as I have fulfilled the mitzvah and dwelled in this (earthly) sukkah, so may I merit in the coming year to dwell in the Sukkah of the Skin of the Leviathan."

    Midrash says that in the world to come the Messiah will cause the "Leviathan" (a giant fish created on the 5th day of creation) and the "behemoth" (a giant ox) to destroy one another (Leviticus Rabbah 13:3). From the beautiful skin of the Leviathan God will construct sukkas to shelter the righteous (Bava Basra 75a). The remainder of Leviathan's skin will stretched out over Zion as a canopy, and the light streaming from it will illumine the whole world. This is sometimes called "the Sukkah of the Skin of Leviathan." Within these canopies, the righteous will eat the meat of the Leviathan and the behemoth in great joy.

But how is the modern observance of celebrating in a sukkah supposed to be joyful?  After all, the usual amenities of life are missing there.... How does "dwelling" in a frail little hut invite us to be happy?


Sukkot reminds us that we are sojourners, too, just passing through....  Like father Abraham, we live in a foreign land as ger v'toshav - "strangers and sojourners," looking forward to the City of God (Heb. 11:9-10). We do not need the so-called securities that this world can offer us -- including a stable economy -- to be happy and provided for, chaverim -- not if we truly understand that we are surrounded by God's sheltering Presence.  What more could we want, especially as we consider this fleeting and moribund world we live in?  As Paul said:

    This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent (σκηνος), which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.
    (2 Cor. 4:17-5:2)


Afflicted on Yom Kippur


09.29.09 (Tishri 11, 5770)   Well, I made it through the fast Sunday-Monday, but I was really, really sick with a high fever, body aches, and a severe (and painful) cough. This was undoubtedly the hardest Yom Kippur fast I've ever done.  And I am still really sick, too - though today I am able to get out of bed and do some things.   Anyway, I hope to get the Sukkot Torah Readings updated for this weekend later today.  Shalom Chaverim.

Note: Sukkot begins this Friday evening (Oct. 2) and is one of our favorite holidays.... We are getting ready to put up our family sukkah this week, IY"H. Yesterday Josiah made a sukkah from popsicle sticks (with Mom's help). Here's a picture of the finished project:


Tzom Kal Chaverim


09.27.09 (Tishri 9, 5770)  Tzom Kal to all of you who will be fasting for Yom Kippur Sunday and Monday. Chazak v'ematz, and may the Lord give you strength and courage as you live in the light of His Presence for the coming new year...  To all of you we wish: G'mar chatimah tovah b'ahavat Yeshua - May you be sealed for good in the Book of Life by the love of Yeshua!

Pray for the Jewish people...


09.24.09 (Tishri 6, 5770)  Today I read article about a minhag (custom) called kapparot (כַּפָּרוֹת) that is performed before Yom Kippur by some Ultra-Orthodox Jews. This is a sort of "scapegoat" ceremony in which a person's sins are symbolically "transferred" to a rooster or hen.  First, various verses from the Psalms and the Book of Job are recited. Then the live chicken is swung around the head three times while the following declaration is made: "This fowl shall be in my place, it shall be my atonement, my expiation. It shall go to death, and I shall proceed to a good, long life and peace."  The chicken is then taken to a shochet (kosher butcher) to be slaughtered and given to the poor for their Erev Yom Kippur meal (seudah ha-mafseket).

According to Encyclopedia Judaica, the custom was first discussed by Jewish scholars in the ninth century. They explained that since the Hebrew word gever can mean both "man" or "rooster," the punishment of the bird could be substituted for that of a person. Later, the widely influential medieval kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1574-1532) endorsed the ritual, and therefore many Kabbalists continue the practice to this day.

The requirement for blood sacrifice --  the "life-for-life" principle -- is the heart of the Torah's sacrificial system. The kapparot ceremony is therefore an open acknowledment of the authority of Leviticus 17:11, the key verse of substitionary atonement given in the Torah: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)." A person who studies and believes the written Torah understands the clear need for blood atonement, chaverim - notwithstanding the rationalizations of later rabbinical Judaism.

How tragic that these beloved people -- who study the Torah so much -- do not see the atoning work of Yeshua and His sacrifice for their sins... Please remember to pray for our Jewish friends during this High Holiday Season, chaverim.  Thank you.

יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם
יְהוָה יִתֵּן עז לְעַמּוֹ
יְהוָה יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם

Yom Kippur and the Gospel:
The Blood that Makes Atonement


[ The following entry is intended to help us remember the point of Yom Kippur -- and how it centers on the work of Yeshua as our great High Priest of the New Covenant. ]

09.23.09 (Tishri 5, 5770)  The story of the exodus from Egypt reveals that the nation of Israel was "born" by means of the blood of the Passover lamb.  But the original Passover was a means to the revelation given at Sinai (מַתָּן תּוֹרָה), and the revelation at Sinai found its ritual expression in a system that required the constant shedding of the blood of sacrificial animals (i.e., the Mishkan or "Tabernacle"). The Book of Leviticus is therefore the essence of the Torah. Thus we see the progression: Passover -> Sinai -> Tabernacle.

The word mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן) comes from a root (שָׁכַן) meaning "to dwell." This holy tent/compound was intended to provide a place of sacrifice and fellowship with the LORD God of Israel. Since the Mishkan represented God's dwelling place, it became associated with the Shekhinah (שְׁכִינָה), or manifest Presence of God Himself.  This is particularly the case regarding the Ark of the Covenant (אָרוֹן הָבְרִית) and its sacred cover called the "Kapporet" (כַּפּרֶת) located within the inner sanctum of the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). (Note that the term "Mercy Seat" comes from Martin Luther's translation of the Bible into German, where he added to the meaning of kapporet by translating it as a location or "seat" of mercy.) Upon the Kapporet were set two cherubim (כְּרֻבִים) -- angel-like figures with open wings and baby faces. It was from between these faces that the LORD later directly spoke to Moses, it was here that sprinkled sacrificial blood would appeal to God's forgiveness during the appointed time of Yom Kippur. Thus we have the following progression: Passover -> [Sinai] -> Tabernacle -> | Holy Ark.


The Holy Ark symbolized the antithesis of the profane. It was situated in a veiled-off sacred space where God Himself would manifest in the form of the Shekhinah that dwelt (shachan) between the cherubim over the kapporet of the Ark. As such, it was utterly sacred and represented the Throne of God Himself in the midst of Israel.  Thus we see the progression: Passover -> [Sinai] -> Tabernacle -> | [Holy Ark] -> Throne of God (i.e., the Ark was a means to God's Presence).

But note that the "medium of exchange" in all of this -- from the Passover to the Throne of God -- was the sacrificial blood of an innocent victim.  The blood is the means of "at-one-ment" or reunion with God. As the Torah (Lev. 17:11) plainly states, "For the life of the flesh is in the blood (כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם), and I have given it for you on the altar to atone (לְכַפֵּר) for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life (כִּי־הַדָּם הוּא בַּנֶּפֶשׁ יְכַפֵּר)."  This is the "korban principle" -- life for life -- that functioned as the underlying principle of the Torah's sacrificial system.  Indeed, over 40% of the Torah's commandments -- 246 of the 613 -- concern details of this system.  The Book of Leviticus is the essence of the Torah, and the essence of the Book of Leviticus is the revelation that "sacrificial blood makes atonement."

The Levitical sacrificial system was based on a daily calendar with regular sacrifices and rituals by means of which a Jew could experience a relationship with God.  However no Jew could ever enter the Holy of Holies and expect to live, since God's absolute holiness and glory would consume him immediately. So how, then, could Israel come before the very Throne of God? Only through an appointed representative (i.e., "mediator") who came bearing the blood of atonement on behalf of the sins of Israel -- and only on an appointed day (Tishri 10), otherwise known as Yom Kippur (the "Day of Atonement"). Thus the progression goes: Passover -> [Sinai] -> Tabernacle -> | [Holy Ark] -> blood presented by a mediator before the Throne of God -> Presence of God.

It is important to remember that the detailed instructions for constructing the Tabernacle were "according to the pattern" (תַּבְנִית) given to Moses at Sinai (Exod. 25:9).  In other words, the tent, the furnishings such as the Table of the Bread of Presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), the golden Menorah (מְנוֹרָה), the Bronze Altar for sacrifices (מִזְבֵּחַ הַנְחשֶׁת), the vessels, and so on, were first shown to Moses before they were created. They were copies or "shadows" that were intended to prefigure the eternal reality of the Heavenly Tabernacle itself. The entire sacrificial system was metaphorical, if you will, and pointed to a deeper reality that transcended the earthly sphere.  Even the yearly Yom Kippur ritual was never intended to remain into perpetuity but pointed to something more profound -- namely, the greater avodah of Yeshua, the Kohen Gadol of the New Covenant (Heb. 9). Indeed, if the older covenant had been sufficient to provide a permanent solution to the problem of our sin, there never would have been need for a new covenant to supersede it (Hebrews 8:7).

Note that the original Passover sacrifice (korban Pesach) was not given to the Levitical priesthood as a sin offering since it preceded Sinai and the giving of the various laws concerning the sacrificial rites.  In the same way, Yeshua's sacrifice was directed from Heaven itself by means of the prophetic office of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) - a higher order of priesthood (Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7). Yeshua both offered Himself up as the "Lamb of God" that causes the wrath of God to (eternally) pass over those who personally trust in Him, just as He offered himself as the "Goat of God" whose blood was sprinkled in the Holy of Holies to cleanse us from sin and give us (everlasting) atonement.  Understood in this way, we see the progression: Lamb of God -> Heavenly Tabernacle -> the blood presented by a Mediator before Throne of God -> the Presence of God. Yeshua is the "first and the last" (רִאשׁוֹן וַאֲנִי אַחֲרוֹן) of the love of God.


Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" pictures personal redemption from slavery to Satan and freedom from the wrath of God. This is the greater Passover/Exodus connection.  By means of Yeshua's shed blood and broken body, the wrath of God passes over us and we are set free to serve God.... And Yeshua as the "Goat of God" pictures both personal cleansing (i.e., "propitiation" for our sins -- the Greek word (ἱλαστήριον) used for the kapporet that was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur)  as well as national teshuvah and cleansing for ethnic Israel at the end of the Great Tribulation period. Upon the Messiah's ascension, the blood of his sacrifice was presented before the Throne of God, in the Holy of Holies "made without hands" (Heb. 9:11) for the soul's everlasting atonement before the Father:

    For the Messiah has entered a Holiest Place which is not man-made and merely a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, to appear now on our behalf in the Presence of God. Further, he did not enter heaven to offer himself over and over again, like the Kohen HaGadol who enters the Holiest Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer death many times- from the founding of the universe on. But as it is, he has appeared once at the end of the ages to do away with sin through the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:24-26)


This is why Yeshua said to Miriam, "Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father" (John 20:17). Just as the (Levitical) Kohen Gadol offered the blood of the goat in the Holy of Holies in the Temple, so the heavenly priest (i.e., the word "priest" first occurs in the Torah regard Malki-Tzedek who offered bread and wine) needed to apply the blood upon the heavenly kapporet.  This is the Yom Kippur connection. 

Under the older covenant, sacrifices merely "covered" sins for a single year, but under the new covenant, these sins are taken entirely away (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 9:25-28). There is no more need for continual sacrifices, since Yeshua provided the once-and-for-all sacrifice for all of our sins (Hebrews 9:11-14; 9:24-28; 10:11-20). Indeed, Yeshua's sacrifice is called the "propitiation" or "expiation" for our sins -- the very same Greek word ("hilasterion") used in the Greek LXX for the kapporet [cover of the ark of the covenant] in the Holy of Holies that was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice on Yom Kippur.

Yeshua's role as our great High Priest and Mediator gives us access to God! We can now come "boldly before the Throne of Grace" to seek mercy and help for our time of need. Because of the avodah of Yeshua, the parochet of the Temple has been rent asunder (Matt. 27:50) and we now have access to the Presence and love of God.  Because of the atonement of Yeshua, we are given everlasting "chatimah tovah," a permanent "sealing" for good in the Book of Life (Eph. 1:13, 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). Bless His Holy Name forever!

Battling Depression


09.23.09 (Tishri 5, 5770)  The Hebrew word hatmadah (הַתְמָדָה) means "perseverance" that is anchored in hope. A person who perseveres in their study of Torah is sometimes called a matmid, from the same root (in modern Hebrew, a matmid is a "frequent flier" on an airline). Anyway, I've have been struggling with depression (again) and feeling weighed down... Despite this inner struggle, my heart chooses to say,  יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (me-atah ve'ad olam, now and forever). You prayers for this ministry give me strength to carry on, ahuvim... Thank you.

Ten Days of Repentance


09.21.09 (Tishri 3, 5770)   The first ten days of the Jewish year, starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur, are called עֲשֶׂרֶת יְמֵי תְשׁוּבָה / Aseret Yemei Teshuvah - the "Ten Days of Repentance." This is traditionally the time when we ask for mechilah (forgiveness) from others whom we have harmed (and to extend forgiveness to others who have harmed us).  Sins between one person and another - bein adam l'chavero (בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרו) - must be dealt with before we make our appeal for God's forgiveness (Matt. 5:23-24). The sages make this point when they say that "even Yom Kippur cannot atone for offenses against other people."

Reconciliation and healing are the goals of teshuvah.  As followers of the Messiah Yeshua, we also must endeavor to forgive others and keep our "accounts short" with God.  Time is very short...  There are not many days left before we will see our King and give account for our lives. May the LORD God of Israel bless you and help you walk with Him!

Is Rosh Hashanah Biblical?


[ The following entry is my response to someone who questioned whether Christians should observe Rosh Hashanah.  Please skip ahead if you're already convinced about the value of this Season of Teshuvah, chaverim. ]

09.21.09 (Tishri 3, 5770)   Recently I was asked why we should bother observing "Rosh Hashanah." After all, the term isn't explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures, so isn't it likely that the whole idea of the Jewish "Civil New Year" is nothing but a rabbinical invention?  And didn't Yeshua find fault with those rabbis who attempted to "put a fence around" the Torah?

Well, first it should be noted that many Christian theological terms do not appear in the Scriptures themselves. Words such as "Trinity," "Church," "Bible," "Advent," "Easter," "Christmas," and so on are not explicitly mentioned in the Scriptures. However in this case the Torah explicitly states that the start of the 7th month (i.e., Tishri 1) is to be consecrated as a day of rest marked with shofar blowing (Lev. 23:24-25, Num. 29:1-2). But note that the commandment as stated is somewhat "stark" -- that is, no reason is given for this commandment in text of the Torah itself, and therefore we need to consult Jewish tradition for a fuller explanation of the law's meaning and significance (this us not unlike the use of Christian tradition or commentaries to explain theological ideas, after all).  When we look to Jewish tradition, then, we'll discover that the sages and great commentators of the Torah universally regard the number 7 as the number of completeness. Just as the seventh day of the week is considered sacred, so too is the seventh month of the year.  The sages reasoned that since each new moon (rosh chodesh) is regarded as a sacred time (Num. 10:10), it's logical that the seventh new moon (counting from Nisan in the spring) should acquire added sanctity.  This conclusion seems especially justified in this case because God directly commanded Israel to sanctify the seventh month as a solemn day of "remembrance and shofar blowing" (זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה). Therefore while it is clear that the new moon of the seventh month is to be observed as "Yom Teruah," it nevertheless has a somewhat "concealed" significance, suggestive of the absence of the moon on that date itself.


But how did the sages derive the idea that the seventh month is the "rosh" (head of) "ha-shanah" (the year), especially when they understood the Torah's description of Nisan 1 as the "beginning of months" (Exod. 12:1-2)? Well, like other Jewish holidays (e.g., Shavuot) Yom Teruah likely had an agricultural basis.  In ancient Israel, fall was the time of planting crops, and the planting season was therefore associated with the "beginning of the year." Prayers were offered so that the harvest would be a good one and that rain would be given from heaven (e.g., the blessing added to the daily prayers traditionally begin with the holiday of Sukkot). The "opening" or start of the economic and agricultural year for Israel would therefore have been in autumn, not in spring... Moreover, some scholars have noted that autumn was popularly celebrated in ancient Israel (and in other Ancient Near East cultures) as a time of "divine coronation," i.e., the beginning of a new cycle of the year.


The Mishnah (reflecting the discussions of the 1st century sages known as the Tannaim) discusses four "new years" (rosh hashanahs) of the Jewish calendar: Nisan 1 (for kings and festivals), Elul 1 (for tithing of animals), Tishri 1 (for Sabbatical years, Jubilee years, and for planting), and Shevat 1 (or 15) for trees (Rosh Hashanah 1:1). These four new years have become part of Jewish tradition, though the two most widely recognized are the New Year of spring (i.e., Nisan 1 and the time of Passover) and the new year of fall (i.e., Tishri 1, the time of the High Holidays).

Okay, but is there any "Biblical" evidence to suggest that the first day of the seventh month is the start of the Jewish "new year"? Not explicitly, though
the prophet Ezekiel (6th century BC) appears to refer to the time of Yom Kippur as the "beginning of the year" (Ezek. 40:1). The Psalmist likewise regarded the new moon of the seventh month as especially significant (Psalm 81:3-4). And after the return of the exiles, Ezra the Scribe gathered the Jews at the Water Gate in Jerusalem on the first of Tishri to read the Torah before the people (Neh. 8:1-9). Ezra's action may have been the precedent among the later sages for investing Tishri 1 with its distinctive status. 

Ultimately the question about Rosh Hashanah has to do with the authority of Jewish tradition itself.  Does the Jewish community have sanction to establish the date of Hebrew calendar?  To establish the start of the month? To determine if a year was shemittah (a sabbatical year)? To sound the shofar and declare a Jubilee? According to Moses, the answer is a qualified "yes." After all, it's clear that Moses established judges and courts to determine such matters and to develop case law based on the precepts of the Torah (Deut. 16:18). This "chain of authority" was later codified by the sages of the Mishnah, who said it was given by God first to Moses, then Joshua, then to the 70 elders, then to the prophets, and then to Ezra and the men of the Great Assembly (Pirke Avot 1:1). And according to "mainstream" Jewish tradition, Tishri 1 has been established as a "rosh hashanah" from at least the time of the return of the exiles (4th century BC). This is further attested by Flavius Josephus (first century AD) who wrote: "Moses ... appointed Nisan ... as the first month for the festivals ... the commencement of the year for everything relating to divine worship, but for selling and buying and other ordinary affairs he preserved the ancient order [i. e. the year beginning with Tishri]" (Antiquities 1.81). Even Yeshua Himself endorsed Ezra's division of the Scriptures into the "Law, Writings, and the Prophets" and said that not a "jot or a tittle" would pass from the Torah until all was fulfilled (Luke 24:44; Matt. 5:18).

That said, there are undoubtedly a lot of Rabbinical "additions" that have been added to the holiday over the centuries -- especially since the destruction of the Second Temple. For example, according to later Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life, and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death. Most people, however, won't be inscribed in either book, but are given ten days -- until Yom Kippur -- to repent before sealing their fate. On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be sealed in one of the two books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good.

Moreover, the idea that Rosh Hashanah represents the day Adam was created is based on speculative methods. The Mishnah says the sages determined this date by transposing the Hebrew letters of the first word of the Hebrew Scriptures (בראשׁית, bereshit) to form the phrase aleph b'Tishri (א בתשׁרי, "on the 1st of Tishri") in order to associate this date with the anniversary of the creation of humankind. The sages "decoded" the word bereshit to support the idea that Tishri 1 is the anniversary of God's judgment upon humanity.  The same sort of thing can be said about the customs of eating apples and honey, pomeganates, using round challah, performing the tashlikh ceremony, and so on.

Despite all this, let me suggest that many of the traditions of Rosh Hashanah can be genuinely helpful for Christians.  Undergoing self-examination and doing teshuvah are commanded by God and inherently valuable exercises for followers of Yeshua (see Lam. 3:40; Haggai 1:5; Psalm 119:59; Matt. 7:3-5, Gal. 6:3-4, 1 Cor. 11:28, 2 Cor. 13:5, James 5:16, 1 John 1:8-9, etc.). Setting aside 40 days each year to help us turn away from sin is a healing custom, especially if it's done in light of truth of the gospel message. After all, Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment (kisei ha-din) to give account for their lives (2 Cor. 5:10): "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). We have great consolation in our testings, chaverim: if we are honest with the Lord and appeal to Him for help, He promises to be there for us (Heb. 4:15).


Nonetheless we are given a certain amount of "liberty" regarding how we choose to honor the LORD God of Israel.  And of course it's our duty to guard against needlessly offending a brother or sister who considers this matter differently (Rom. 14:5). Walking in love is the higher truth we all must follow... Shalom for now, chaverim.

Note: For even more reasons why a Christian should observe Rosh Hashanah (including prophetic/eschatological reasons), see the Rosh Hashanah pages.

Shabbat Shuvah - שבת שובה


09.20.09 (Tishri 2, 5770)   The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah - "The Sabbath of Repentance."  It is called "shuvah" because the Haftarah (Hosea 14:2) begins, Shuva Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha - Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God! / שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ.  It is customary to listen to a sermon from an honored Torah sage calling for teshuvah (repentance) at this time.  "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:6-7).

The Torah reading for this Shabbat is Ha'azinu, the great prophetic song that Moses was commanded to teach the Jewish people before he died. Ha'azinu is always read on the Sabbath before Sukkot. For more about this Torah portion, see the Torah summary, as well as the short article, "You're always listening to someone."

The Yom Kippur Dilemma

Yom Kippur

[ The following entry continues the subject of teshuvah (repentance).  Please read this in connection with earlier entries for the month of Elul, below. ]

    "When there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well" (Hebrews 7:12)

09.20.09 (Tishri 2, 5770)  Yom Kippur (יום כפור) begins an hour before sundown on Sunday, Sept. 27th (i.e., Tishri 10). The 25 hour fast runs until an hour past sundown on Monday, September 28th.  It is customary for men to wear a kittel (קיטל) -- an all-white robe -- throughout the five prayer services on this day. This is intended to remind us of our burial shrouds -- and of our coming judgment before God. Yom Kippur is regarded as the most important holiday of the Jewish Year and holds tremendous prophetic significance regarding the Second Coming of Mashiach, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of the Mashiach Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Hebrews 5:10, 6:20).

The Biblical name for the Day of Atonement is Yom Kippurim (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים), meaning "the day of covering, canceling, pardon, reconciling." Yom Kippur was the only time when the Kohen Hagadol could enter the Holy of Holies and call upon the Name of YHVH to offer blood sacrifice for the sins of the people. This "life for a life" principle is the foundation of the sacrificial system and marked the great day of intercession made by the High Priest on behalf of Israel.

In post-Temple Judaism (i.e., rabbinical Judaism) it is customary for Jews to wish one another g'mar chatimah tovah (גְּמַר חַתִימָה טוֹבָה), "a good final sealing" during the Ten Days of Awe (i.e., from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur). The reason for this is that according to Jewish tradition the "writing of God's verdict" (for your life) occurs on Rosh Hashanah, but the actual "sealing of the verdict" occurs on Yom Kippur.  In other words, God in His Mercy gives us another ten days to do "teshuvah" before sealing our fate.... But it's up to us -- and the quality of our teshuvah -- to "save ourselves" from God's decree of judgment.  We are therefore enjoined: וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה / "Teshuvah, prayer, and charity deliver us from the evil decree."

Of course as Christians (and Messianic Jews) we have a permanent "sealing" for good by the grace and love of God given to us in Yeshua our Messiah (Eph. 1:13, 4:30; 2 Cor. 1:21-22). The Torah's statement that sacrificial blood was offered upon the altar to make atonement for our souls finds its final application in the "blood work" of Yeshua upon the cross at Moriah (Lev. 17:11, Rom. 5:11). The substitutionary shedding of blood, the "life-for-life" principle, is essential to the true "at-one-ment" with God.  The ordinances of the Levitical priesthood were just "types and shadows" of the coming Substance that would give us everlasting atonement with God (Heb. 8-10) .  Because of Yeshua, we have a High Priest of a better covenant, based on better promises (Heb. 8:6).  For this reason we must give thanks to the LORD for the permanent "chatimah tovah" given to us through the salvation of His Son.

It must always be remembered that Torah (תּוֹרָה) is a "function word" that expresses our responsibility in light of the covenantal acts of God. As the author of the Book of Hebrews makes clear: "When there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood expresses the truth of the Covenant of Sinai; the priesthood of Yeshua (after the order of Malki-Tzedek) expresses the truth of the New Covenant.

More about all this later, chaverim...

Rosh Hashanah 5770 Pictures

09.20.09 (Tishri 2, 5770)   Happy New Year chaverim! Here are a few pictures from our Rosh Hashanah celebration. Our family sincerely wishes you "shanah tovah u'metukah ba'adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach" - a good and sweet year in our Mashiach Yeshua!

Rosh Hashanah 5770

Left-to-right (top): 1. First seder table; 2. Yom tov candle-lighting; 3. Reciting kiddush;
4. Blessing the children; 5. Seder meal; 6. Shofar blessings.
(bottom): 1. Second seder table; 2. John blows shofar; 3. John and Peter blow shofars;
4. Judah with alef-bet ball; 5. Josiah holds up a sefer; 6. Josiah blows the shofar.


Note:  Among non-Messianic traditional Jews, Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a heightened ten-day period of prayer, self-examination and repentance that culminates on the fast day of Yom Kippur. These ten days are referred to as Yamim Norai'm, the "Days of Awe," in Jewish tradition. Five days after Yom Kippur then begins the "Season of our Rejoicing," the eight-day festival of Sukkot.  The holidays of the month of Tishri (i.e., Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah) "set the tone" for the entire year to come.


To a Good and Sweet Year in Yeshua!


09.18.09 (Elul 29, 5769)   We are getting ready for our Rosh Hashanah seder this evening, chaverim. When we taste of the apples and honey, we will all recite:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ

yehi ratzon milfanekha, Adonai Eloheinu velohei avoteinu,
she-techadesh aleinu shanah tovah u'metukah ba'adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach

May it be your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good and sweet year in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah!

Yeshua our Messiah is the one who renews and sweetens our lives with His goodness and love, after all. Rosh Hashanah -- like all the moedim (appointed times) -- centers on Him...  He is the One who gives the teruah, the "shout of victory" for our salvation, and He will soon sound the heavenly shofar to call us before His glorious presence.  It is our prayer that we all grow closer to Him during this coming year, chaverim.  Amen.

Should Christians Observe Rosh Hashanah?


[ The following entry continues the subject of teshuvah (repentance).  Please read this in connection with earlier entries for the month of Elul, below. ]

  Listen to the shofar

(Elul 29, 5769)   Should "Christians" observe the Jewish festival of Rosh Hashanah?  Surely you know my answer, chaverim, but I thought I'd provide a few reasons why we observe this special time for the sake of our Christian friends who might not understand the importance of the moedim (appointed times). What follows is a "short list" of reasons; for more information, scroll down and read the various entries regarding teshuvah (repentance): 

  1. First, the LORD God is indeed the King of all the earth, our Creator and Redeemer. He is Melech Gadol al-kol-ha'aretz, (מֶלֶךְ גָּדוֹל עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ), a "great King over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2). Though Christians should acknowledge His righteous rule and Kingship at all times, Rosh Hashanah is a "sanctified reminder" of God's creative authority in our lives. Yeshua (Jesus) is called the Mashiach (מָשִׁיחַ), a term that denotes His Kingly dignity and royalty (this idea is unfortunately obscured by the Greek word "Christ").  Yeshua is also borei Olam - the Creator and Sustainer of all creation (Col. 1:16). He is coming to rule and reign from Jerusalem (Zion) in the near future. Christians will be judged according to their deeds of service (2 Cor. 5:10) and the world system (and Satan) will be judged during the Great Tribulation period that precedes the Second Coming. Just as the heavenly shofar was sounded from Sinai, so it will be one day sounded from Zion (Isa. 27:13).

    As the only true King and Judge, God indeed has a
    Sefer HaChayim (Book of Life) as well as a Sefer Ha-Metim (Book of Death). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). The Kingship of our LORD should be of great interest to those who wish to honor Him... 
  2. Second, the month of Elul and the preparation for Rosh Hashanah reminds us to be ready for the soon appearance of King Yeshua our LORD. Though we do not know the exact day or hour of His return to possess His kingdom on earth, we are commanded to watch and be ready for His soon appearance. We ought, therefore, be in a constant state of repentance (teshuvah) as we seek to humble ourselves and walk with our God.

    The New Testament links teshuvah with salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) itself.  Yeshua's first message was "Repent and believe the gospel (בְּשׂוֹרָה)" (Mark 1:15), and Paul linked teshuvah with confession and trust in the saving work of the Messiah on our behalf (Rom. 10:8-13). Teshuvah implies a response to the Person of Yeshua that is demonstrated through confession that He is none other than YHVH, the LORD of Compassion and grace. The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken our hearts and to prepare for coming judgment. 
  3. Third, Rosh Hashanah itself, or rather Yom Teru'ah, has prophetic significance in the life of the Christian. The blowing of the shofar is prophetic of the rapture of the church, where those who are part of the Bride of Mashiach, the "church," will experience everlasting transformation:
    • "Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet (shofar): for the trumpet (shofar) shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Corinthians 15:51)

    Note that the Talmud states that on Rosh Hashanah the dead will be raised (Rosh Hashanah 16b). This corresponds to the "last trump" mentioned by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 15:52).  

  4. Fourth, the Tashlikh ceremony reminds us that our LORD is a God of new beginnings, and even if we have sinned and fallen away from Him, He is faithful to restore us and cast our sins away from us. After all, God sent His only Son Yeshua to be our Sin-Bearer and Kapparah, so we can take comfort in His forgiveness when we earnestly seek to repent from the harm we have done and begin anew with God. 
  5. Fifth, we should be grateful to the LORD for writing our names in the Lamb's Book of Life, or Sefer HaChayim. Of course we don't believe that we are made acceptable in the LORD's eyes by means of our own works of righteousness (Titus 3:5-6), but that doesn't excuse us from being without such works (as fruit of the Spirit in our lives). 
  6. Sixth, the Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme on Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of the First Sacrifice offered in Eden. How much more should we as believers in the greater sacrifice of Yeshua as our Lamb of God celebrate this day? 


  7. Finally, we anticipate the prophetic fulfillment of the LORD's covenant faithfulness to Israel when we understand that the Yamim Nora'im ("Days of Awe") foreshadow the future repentance of national Israel in the days to come.  This pictures the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai - the great Day of the LORD - that arrives just before national Israel's ultimate shuvah (return). Yom Kippur is the Holiday that pictures the full restoration of Israel to all her covenant promises with Yeshua as the recognized Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the New Covenant. The Brit Chadashah will be embraced and Yeshua will be revealed as Israel's Savior, LORD, and Deliverer. Then "all Israel shall be saved" (Rom. 11:26).

So yes, for these and other reasons a Christian should observe the significance of Rosh Hashanah (and the other Biblical "appointed times"). For more information, please see the Rosh Hashanah pages or scroll through the entries below.... Shanah Tovah!

Do-it-Yourself Rosh Hashanah Home Ceremony

Chag Sameach!

[ Though there are technically four "New Year Days" on the Jewish calendar, two are most widely recognized: the New Year of spring (i.e., Nisan 1 and the time of Passover) and the new year of fall (i.e., Tishri 1, the time of the High Holidays).  The new year of spring is based on the Biblical calendar and marks appointed times and the dates of kings, whereas the new year of fall is used for the Torah reading cycle and for the Jewish civil year. ]

(Elul 28, 5769)   Did you know that some people actually have two seders during the year: one in the spring (i.e., the Passover seder), and the other in the fall for Rosh Hashanah?  The Rosh Hashanah seder begins at least 18 minutes before sundown, just before the start of Tishri 1 (this year, Friday the 18th). The main event consists of a special simcha (festive) meal, somewhat similar to a Friday evening Shabbat meal, with the addition of some special food, blessings, and listening to the shofar blast. The celebration begins with the lighting of candles (symbolizing the transition from profane to sacred time) and the special blessing thanking God for enabling us to reach this season (i.e., Shehecheyanu).


After starting the celebration, ritual "appetizers" called simanim (סִימָנִים) are often served.  These are symbolic foods used as an occasion to offer first blessings for the New Year.  We eat round challah to remind us that life is a circle (a cycle of seasons) and also to remind us of the Kingship (Crown) of God; we taste apples dipped in honey as a token of our wish for a sweet year, and so on. We also eat some specialized foods just for Rosh Hashanah. For example, we eat leeks, called karsi in Aramaic, as a play on the Hebrew word karat - to cut down - i.e., "may our enemies be cut down."  We also eat pomegranates to remind us of the sweetness of the Torah and to remember God's commandments, and so on.  Doing all this adds fun to the occasion and helps us sanctify the main meal. After finishing dinner, we are ready for the climatic event of the evening: the sounding of the shofar!

  Listen to the shofar

Tonight I updated the Rosh Hashanah home ceremony page so that you might include some of the simanim as part of your seder, chaverim.  I hope you will find that it enriches your own Rosh Hashanah seder.  Shanah Tovah.

Note: The festival of Rosh Hashanah lasts for two days -- even in Israel where all other festivals are only one day. This year, Rosh Hashanah begins on the evening of Friday, September 18th, just after sundown.  May your name be written and sealed in the Lamb's Book of Life, chaverim!

Teshuvah and Renewal

Chagall Detail

[ The following entry continues the subject of teshuvah (repentance).  Please read this in connection with earlier entries for the month of Elul, below. ]

09.16.09 (Elul 27, 5769)  How hurriedly the days go by; how quickly the seasons change! It seems that we've just begun the task of teshuvah and now Rosh Hashanah is upon us... Perhaps that's part of the reason why Jewish tradition sets aside an entire month to help us get ready. We need the month of Elul to help us slow down and reconnect with what matters most of all -- our relationship with God, others, and ourselves.

But perhaps we've wasted time this past month, squandering the opportunity to undergo cheshbon ha-nefesh (self-examination) and to take account of our lives before the LORD? It's never too late, really. The gates of repentance are always open. "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart" (Heb. 3:15).

Though it's a difficult and sometimes painful process, the primary goal of teshuvah is healing from the oppression of our sins and the restoration of our relationships.  Someone once said that great sins are like great possessions -- both are difficult to give up. We have to be willing to "give up our sins" in order to find inner healing (and "giving up our sins" also may mean breaking free of the "pride-shame" cycle). Often we can only get to this point when we are afflicted and weary of our soul's sickness. Looked at this way, our afflictions are a really gift from the LORD to help us turn and surrender to Him.  As the psalmist wrote: טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71).

It's important to remember that one of the main goals of the devil is to induce a sense of forgetfulness and apathy.  The devil wants you to forget that you are ben melech (or bat melech) - a son (or daughter) of the King. The entire venture of teshuvah presupposes that you are created b'tzelem Elohim - in the image of God - and therefore you have infinite value and dignity. This is all the more evident in light of the awesome ransom that Yeshua our Lord paid in order to reconcile your soul with God.  What is the greatest sin you can commit in your life? To forget what God has done for you... Remaining asleep, unmindful of your true identity is one of the most tragic things of life.... Therefore Rosh Hashanah is sometimes called Yom Ha-Zikaron - the "Day of Remembrance" (Lev. 23:24). The blast of the shofar is meant to jolt us from our sleep... We are to remember who we really are -- and to remember that God is our King.  The person who says, "Tomorrow I will do teshuvah" really is saying, "Not now." And then tomorrow comes and he says, "Not now." And in this way his entire life passes by, saying, "Not now."  Finally one day he wakes up only to find himself already dead.

According to some of the sages past events are not fixed in stone; rather they -- like our relationship to them -- can change.  We do not have to live with childhood trauma or bitterness from the past.  Teshuvah means "putting away childish things" and growing up (1 Cor. 13:11). Only our personal future is unknown and therefore seemingly "static."  The forgiveness given through Yeshua redeems all of our sins -- including those that might haunt us from our past.  Our present response to the LORD has the potential to transform everything in our lives -- both our past, present, and future... His love transforms every aspect of our lives, from cradle to grave. God is always present whenever we let Him in.

The sages point out that the gematria for the word Elul (אלוּל) equals binah (בּינה), suggesting that teshuvah is a matter of the heart's understanding of itself.  Of course this is not to suggest that we should do teshuvah only during the 40 days before Yom Kippur. On the contrary, teshuvah is a lifelong and ongoing process -- a daily struggle to retain our focus and faith. Repentance is often "slow motion," involving lots of smaller decisions we make throughout the days of the year...  This is the normal course of genuine transformation (or "sanctification").  The process of seeking the LORD is an ongoing process of discovery about God's love and forgiveness. For this reason the confession of sin should be a regular part of our fellowship with one another (James 5:16).

The essence of Torah is to love your neighbor as yourself. Teshuvah means, among other things, understanding how far we are removed from this ideal and how we might move to remedy the breach. This is a daily task, an ongoing duty... But we cannot give away what we don't have, so if we're deficient in self-love, we will be unable to genuinely love others, too. Part of loving others is the obligation to forgive yourself for your sins. For some people, this might mean "accepting that they are accepted" by God... Real change is difficult -- some would even say impossible -- though with God all things are possible -- including the miracle of a heart of stone turning to flesh.

Forgiving others is a way to be free of their hold over us.  It is a letting go of the pain of the past and finding courage to press on in hope. Some of the sages recommend beginning your prayers with, "I hereby forgive all who have hurt me this day." It is only when we give up our hurt that we are able to move forward in the realm of the spirit.  Faith and forgiveness are therefore intimately linked. Therefore Yeshua taught us to forgive others whenever we pray to the Father (Matt. 6:12).

For this coming year, may it please the LORD to first of all help us to love Him with all of our hearts, and to love others as we love ourselves... May it please Him that we "lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and run with endurance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1). May the LORD renew our minds so that we might discern His will (Rom. 12:2), and may He help us abide in Him -- so that we will not be ashamed at His coming (1 John 2:28). May the new year be good and sweet for us all, and may our righteous deeds increase, like the many seeds of the pomegranate (1 John 2:29).

Hashivenu Adonai elecha vena-shuvah, chadesh yamenu ke'kedem: "Turn thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; Renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).

Blowing the Shofar


09.15.09 (Elul 26, 5769)  Throughout the month of Elul it is customary to blow the shofar every morning (after shacharit, the morning prayers).  The sound of the shofar calls us to do teshuvah and to prepare our hearts for divine judgment.  The midrash says that during the 40 days Moses was on the mountain to receive the second set of tablets (i.e., from the first day of Elul until Tishri 10), shofars were sounded in the camp to warn the people not to sin again as they did the first time with the Golden Calf.


The shofar (ram's horn) is the most-mentioned musical instrument in the Scriptures. It is blasted at least 100 times during a typical Rosh Hashanah service (unless it falls on the Sabbath, in which case we hear the shofar on the second day of Rosh Hashanah). This is to fulfill the obligation to make teru'ah ("noise") on this day. (There is a "darker" tradition that says the 100 blasts symbolize the number of letters in Sisera's mother's lament for her son as recorded in the "Song of Deborah" (Judges 5:28).  According to some of the rabbis, it is suggested that sounding the 100 blasts "nullifies" all of the letters corresponding to her thoughts but one -- the sorrow of a grieving mother.) The sound of the shofar, then, is meant to stir the heart to fear and to inspire teshuvah (repentance): "When the shofar is blown in the city, don't the people tremble?" (Amos 3:6).

There are four primary types of shofar blasts:

  1. Tekiah (תְּקִיעָה) - A long single blast (the sound of the King's coronation)
  2. Shevarim (שְׁבָרִים) - Three short wail-like blasts (signifying repentance)
  3. Teru'ah (תְּרוּעָה) - Nine staccato blasts of alarm (to awaken the soul)
  4. Tekiah ha-Gadol (תְּקִיעָה הַגָּדוֹל) - A great long blast (for as long as you can blow!)

The general custom is to first blow tekiah, followed by shevarim, followed by teruah, and to close with tekiah hagadol:

  Listen to the shofar

But how can we affect Heaven's disposition to grant us a year of goodness and peace? Jewish tradition teaches, וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רעַ הַגְּזֵרָה / "Teshuvah, prayer, and charity deliver us from the evil decree."  In other words, turning to God at this time is considered determinative for the outcome of the hidden decrees of God (gezerot merosh) for the coming year of our lives... How we respond to the call of repentance now will affect the days and months ahead, chaverim. May the LORD give us all mercy and grace to turn to Him in the truth.

Apple Picking for Rosh Hashanah

09.14.09 (Elul 25, 5769)  Traditional Judaism regards Rosh Hashanah as the date of the Creation of the universe by God (Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 27a), but the Midrash notes that it actually occurred six days earlier, on the 25th of Elul, when God created the Divine Light by saying, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3-5).  This is the first work of creation (מַעֲשֵׂה-בְּרִאשִׁית) performed by God when He began creating the heavens and the earth. Because of this, last evening (at sundown) we lit yom tov candles and blew our shofars to herald Elul 25 - the Day of Creation. We want to prepare our hearts for Rosh Hashanah that arrives this coming Friday night.

We also thought this would be an ideal time to go to the orchard today to pick some apples for our Rosh Hashanah simanim (סִימָנִים) - i.e., the symbols for a coming good year (apples, honey, etc). Here are a few pictures of this time, chaverim:

Elul 5769 Apple Orchard

Right-to-left (top): 1. John blowing shofar; 2. John holding the boys up to pick apples;
3. family shot at the orchard; 4. Olga picks an apple; 5. an apple tree branch.
(bottom): 1. Josiah enjoys the day; 2. Josiah carrying apples; 3. Olga and her sons;
4. at the in-laws during the shofar blowing; 4. Judah reaches for an apple.


May the new year be good and sweet for us all, and may our righteous deeds increase, like the many seeds of the pomegranate (1 John 2:29). B'shem Yeshua Adoneinu: Amen.

Note: Simanim are symbolic foods served at the beginning of a Rosh Hashanah seder meal that are used as an occasion to symbolically bless the New Year. After lighting the yom tov candles and performing kiddush, it is customary to recite a short prayer about the symbolism of each food before eating it. We eat round challah to remind us that life is a circle, a cycle of seasons, or to remind us of the Crown of God. Some foods are sweet for the hope of a sweet year (i.e., apples and honey); some grow abundantly to symbolize an abundance of merits (i.e., pomegranates or fish), and some are a play on words.  For instance, when we eat leeks, which in Aramaic are karsi, we associate them with the Hebrew word karat - to cut down - i.e., "May our enemies be cut down."  The most common example is apples and honey, of course. After reciting the blessing over the apples (borei pri ha'etz), we pray, "May it be your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers, that you renew for us a good and sweet year."


Rosh Hashanah Torah Readings


[ Rosh Hashanah is nearly here. chaverim.  Are you ready?  May the LORD open our eyes to behold Him enthroned as our King... ]

09.13.09 (Elul 24, 5769)  Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) begins this Friday (i.e., Sept. 18th) and runs for two days. Since this is also a Shabbat, we have different Torah readings for this week, too (the last two portions of the Torah reading Cycle will be read before Simchat Torah). According to traditional Jewish thinking, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of mankind by God. The Mishnah (earlier part of the Talmud) refers to Rosh Hashanah as the "Day of Judgment" (Yom ha-Din) since all of creation owes allegiance to the Creator and is accountable to Him. The Name Elohim (אֱלהִים) revealed in Genesis 1:1 bespeaks God as the Creator and Judge of the universe (the Name YHVH, on the other hand, reveals God's compassion, as the One who intimately relates to humanity and breathes into us the breath of life (Gen. 2:4)). In Jewish tradition on Rosh Hashanah we stand before God as our personal Creator and Judge. Many Messianic Jews believe that the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a symbol of the rapture (ἁρπάζω) of the followers of the Messiah.


  Listen to the shofar

I will add some further thoughts about the end of the month of Elul and the start of the High Holidays soon, IY"H. Meanwhile, L'shanah tovah tikkatevu vetechatemu, chaverim.

Hebrew Blessing for Coffee


09.11.09 (Elul 22, 5769)  This time of year I always feel overwhelmed with good things to share about the coming High Holidays, especially as they pertain to us as believers in Yeshua our Mashiach. Perhaps because of this -- and of the extra effort I need to keep up with the Season of Teshuvah -- I thought it would be good to remember to thank the LORD for something we often take for granted: a good cup of coffee (or tea)! The LORD knows how it often helps me push through a late night of writing...

So today I created another "Hebrew Blessing Card" (here) that lets you practice giving thanks to the LORD for that morning (or afternoon) cup of coffee (or tea). The Hebrew blessing is short and sweet: barukh attah Adonai, Elohenu melekh ha-olam, she-hakol niyah bidvaro (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֶינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁהַכּל נִהְיָה בִּדְבָרוֹ). This blessing is also appropriate to recite before eating a snack, drinking beverages other than wine, etc.

The King is Coming!

[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul. May the LORD open our eyes to behold Him enthroned as our King... ]


09.11.09 (Elul 22, 5769)  According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah the destiny of the righteous, the tzaddikim, are written in the Book of Life, and the destiny of the wicked, the resha'im, are written in the Book of Death. Most people, however, won't be inscribed in either book, but are given ten days -- until Yom Kippur -- to repent before sealing their fate. On Yom Kippur, then, everyone's name will be sealed in one of the two books. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are therefore called Aseret Yemei Teshuvah - the "Ten Days of Repentance" - because personal repentance can affect the divine decree for good....

As Messianic believers, we maintain that Judgment Day has come and justice was served through the sacrificial offering of Yeshua for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). He is the perfect fulfillment of the Akedah of Isaac. Our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life, or Sefer HaChayim (Rev. 13:8). We do not believe that we are made acceptable in God's sight by means of our own works of righteousness (Titus 3:5-6), but that does not excuse us from being without such works (as fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives). The Scriptures clearly warn that on the Day of Judgment to come, anyone's name not found written in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15). Moreover, all Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment to give account for their lives (2 Cor. 5:10). "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). Life is an examination, a test, and every moment is irrepeatable. Every "careless" word we utter will be echoed on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Our future day of judgment is being decided today....

Yom Adonai - the Day of the LORD

The Spring Festivals (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavuot) have been perfectly fulfilled in the first coming of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, and the Fall Festivals (Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) will be fulfilled in His second coming as Mashiach ben David. Since the first advent fulfilled all of the spring mo'edim to the smallest of details, we believe that His second advent portends similar fulfillment as revealed in the fall mo'edim

After the summer of harvest (John 4:35), the very first Fall festival on the Jewish calendar is Yom Teruah, which is a picture of the "catching away" of kallat Mashiach (the Bride of Christ) for the time of Sheva Berachot (seven "days" of blessing that follows the marriage ceremony). Then will come the Great Tribulation and Yom Adonai - the Day of the LORD (יוֹם יְהוָה). The heavenly shofar blasts heard at Sinai will be reissued from Zion.  First will be the gathering together of those who follow the Mashiach (i.e., those declared tzaddikim because of the merit of Yeshua's sacrifice), and then God's war against Satan and the world system will begin, culminating in the long-awaited coronation of the King of King of Kings - Melech Malchei Ha-Melachim (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים).

Rosh Hashanah (or better, Yom Teruah) is therefore a sacred time that has prophetic significance for the Messianic believer, since it commemorates both the creation of the universe by Adonai as well as the "calling up" of the new creation at the behest of Yeshua, when the sound of the heavenly shofar inaugurates the anticipated End of Days (1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:15-18). It also prefigures the coming Day of the LORD and Great Tribulation period that marks God's judgment on an unbelieving world...

The King is Coming!

The King is coming, the King is coming!  Have you heard the news?  We must prepare for His soon arrival!  For Christians and Messianic Jews, the month of Elul and the preparation for Rosh Hashanah reminds us to be ready for the soon appearance of Yeshua our LORD. Though we do not know the exact day or hour of His return to possess His kingdom on earth, we are commanded to watch and be ready for His soon appearance. And with the appearance of the Great King will come great judgment. Let's be ready to appear before this awesome King, chaverim, by turning to Him now and trusting in His redemption and love for us... Shanah Tovah.

The Anniversary of Creation


[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul. May the LORD open our eyes to behold Him enthroned as our King... ]

09.11.09 (Elul 22, 5769)  Traditional Judaism regards Rosh Hashanah as the date of the Creation of the universe by God (Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 27a), but the Midrash notes that it occurred six days earlier, on the 25th of Elul, when God created the Divine light by saying, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3-5). This is the first work of creation (מַעֲשֵׂה-בְּרִאשִׁית) performed by God when He began creating the heavens and the earth. This year, the 25th of Elul occurs on Sunday, September 13th (at sundown).

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 38b) states that Adam and Eve were created six days later on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1).  But how did the sages determine this date?  By transposing the Hebrew letters of the very first word of the Hebrew Scriptures:


In other words, by rearranging the letters of the word bereshit ("in the beginning"), the phrase aleph b'Tishri ("on the 1st of Tishri") was formed, and therefore this date became associated with the anniversary of creation (or rather, the creation from Adam's perspective, i.e., the "sixth day").

So while technically speaking it is incorrect to regard Rosh Hashanah as the anniversary of creation, it is regarded as the anniversary of the creation of humanity -- the day that God began to rule as King of the Universe (melekh ha-olam). When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, "The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. The birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe.  Psalm 47 celebrates the Kingship of God that mentions the "shout" (teruah) and shofar blast of God's coronation:


The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken our consciousness that the LORD is King of the Universe. As Rambam says, "Wake up from your (moral) sleep. You are asleep. Get up from your slumber. You are in a deep sleep. Search for your behavior. Become the best person you can. Remember God, the One Who created you" (Mishneh Torah). "How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound (teruah), O LORD; they walk in the light of Your Presence" (Psalm 89:15).

  Listen to the shofar

Note: The LORD God of Israel is a God of order. The appointed times (moedim) were not given to Israel in vain. As Samson Raphael Hirsch once wrote, "The catechism of the Jew is his calendar." Round and round the calendar we go -- with the LORD waiting for us to become attuned to the rhythm of His revelation and will.

The Letters of Torah...

Bar Kokhba Coin

[ Though the following entry is not directly related to the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul, it is an important topic nonetheless. I hope you find it interesting. ]

(Elul 21, 5769)  Today I read about how the largest-ever collection of coins from Bar-Kokhba revolt were recently found in the Judean hills. What is interesting about this -- from a Hebrew langauge perspective -- is that these coins are embossed with an earlier form of Hebrew script that predates the Second Temple period. This script, sometimes called ketav Ivri (or paleo-Hebrew), was used during the First Temple period, though it was later updated to the "square-style" Assyrian script (ketav Ashurit) by Ezra the Scribe in the 5th century BC (after the Babylonian Exile). Apparently Simon bar Kokhba emblematically used this older script on coins during the Jewish-Roman Wars of the 2nd century AD for jingoistic purposes. Interestingly enough, the older script can even be seen in modern Israel today. For example, the City of Nahariya (a coastal city in northern Israel) uses this script on its Coat of Arms emblem:


Scholars are uncertain how far back ketav Ivri goes in Jewish history, though it appears to date to at least the 10th century BC.  The work of some paleolinguists suggests that an even earlier form of Canaanite cuneiform is actually the basis of ketav Ivri.  These Hebrew Word Pictures are regarded as the most ancient form of Hebrew known. Here is a simplified illustration of the progression of the script forms (left-to-right, oldest to newest):


And here is how Genesis 1:1 looks in the three ancient Hebrew scripts:


Do we have a letter-perfect Torah today?

All of this may make you feel somewhat uncertain about the integrity of Hebrew text found in our modern Hebrew Bibles, but there is no genuine reason for concern. In Judaism, two important halachic ("legal") concepts determine the transmission of the Hebrew text: 1) The "majority" of extant manuscripts available, and 2) the Masorah (מַסּוֹרָה), i.e., the long history of Jewish tradition and scribal arts relating to correct textual reading and preservation of the Hebrew Scriptures. (Note that the word "masorah" comes from the phrase masoret ha-brit, the "bond of the covenant" in Ezek. 20:37.) We can rely on the preponderant reading of the ancient texts because they were accepted as authoritative in their time, just as we can rely on the notes of the Masoretic scribes because they were based on intensive study of even earlier manuscripts.  Based on these two principles, we have confidence that we possess a near "letter-perfect" Torah, with less than 0.01% of letters being in doubt.  Therefore we should have no qualm reciting the blessing, "This is the Torah that Moses placed before the Children of Israel, given by God, through Moses' hand..." said during the Torah reading ceremony at synagogue.  According to the Talmud, Ketav Ashurit was a transliteration of Hebrew into a different script style, not a translation into Aramaic. In other words, Hebrew is Hebrew is Hebrew, despite the style of the script used to write it.  After the Babylonian Exile, the sages retained the Hebrew Torah in Ktav Ashurit (i.e., the square script) even though the general public conducted their daily business using Aramaic.  In addition, we also have the "masorah" and testimony of Yeshua the Messiah, who endorsed Ezra's transliteration of Hebrew down to the "jot and tittle" of the text of His day (Matt. 5:18).

Note: Because this subject seems to be a growing area of interest for people, I am considering adding Ketav Ivri script lessons to the online Hebrew Grammar pages (Unit One). Please let me know if you think this would be helpful to your studies, chaverim.

Bible Music Writer Software


09.10.09 (Elul 21, 5769)  For those of you who enjoy the Music From God project, you might also be interested in the new Bible Music Writer software. Using this tool you can convert any Hebrew text in the Bible into heavenly music!  You can also export your projects to MIDI files and print sheet music of your discoveries.

Mechilah - Forgiving Others

Medieval Book Illumination

[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul. May the LORD open our eyes to behold Him enthroned as our King... ]

09.09.09 (Elul 20, 5769)  Yesterday I wrote a little about the five traditional steps of performing teshuvah (repentance). Though only God can forgive our sins (selichah), we should be forgiving toward others, just as we want God to forgive us (Matt. 6:12). In Jewish tradition, forgiving another person who has harmed you is called mechilah (מְחִילָה), a "legal" term that means "forgoing the other's indebtedness." The idea is that just as a creditor can forgo a debt, waive an obligation, or relinquish a claim in a contract, so an offended person can waive the obligation of the offender to right the wrong done to him. Understood in this way, mechilah is not so much a reconciliation between two parties as it is a legal sort of pardon.

During the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, it's a common practice for Jews to contact one another to ask for mechilah. We want to be sure that no one is holding an offense against us before we come before God on Yom Ha-Din, the Day of Judgment (Matt. 5:23-24). We make the effort to "beg mechilah" from others in the hope that God will render to us a favorable verdict in the year to come.  The sages make this point when they say that "even Yom Kippur cannot atone for offenses against other people." After all, how can we be close to God if we continue to hurt God's creatures? If I harm someone, I am obligated to make the matter right; conversely, if someone has harmed me, I am obligated to allow the person to correct the wrong done to me. This is the path of mutual respect and responsibility, after all.

A twist to this discussion, however, is that Jewish tradition says that we're not obligated to forgive someone if the other person does not ask (or refuses to ask) for our forgiveness.  At first sight this might seem unloving, but the intent here is to ensure the integrity of all the people involved. We are not respecting either ourselves or others if we suppress our pain by immediately offering excuses for the sin of the other person. Besides being emotionally dishonest with ourselves and hypocritical toward the other, this degrades the image of God within us both. It takes courage and a sense of self worth to say to someone who has hurt you: "Hey -- I am important here. I am hurt by what you did. And you matter to me, too. This relationship matters to me. If I didn't care, I'd blow it off, but I do care, and therefore I won't let this go." "Easy forgiveness" is a palliative that does not address the underlying cause of the pain.  It cheapens us and implicitly gives assent to the irresponsibility of others.... Ultimately, easy forgiveness is an evasion of our duty to love one another.

In other words, mechilah is a two-way street.  On the one hand we are obligated to extend it to someone who requests it, but on the other hand we are responsible to let the other person know that we are aggrieved (if the matter is not obvious to all). Of course, imaginary offenses are possible, and we need to be careful to check both the facts and our heart's motives to avoid sinfully taking offense. While it's a sin to give offense, it's also a sin to take offense when none is given (Matt. 13:57-58). Being "touchy" or getting angry because others don't highly esteem you may be a symptom of spiritual pride, after all. But still, if after testing our motives we are certain of genuine offense, how we can offer our forgiveness to someone who does not accept that they have sinned against us? How can we forgive someone who does not ask us to be forgiven? After all, many of us have ventured to disclose our heartache to someone who has hurt us, only to have our pain dismissed as unimportant or to hear a denial of responsibility.  In this case should we simply let the matter go?  But if we do this, what about the damage done to our relationship?  Is it mercy to forget about the hurt and overlook it, or is it an evasion of our duty to love and respect ourselves and others?

There can be no real connectedness with others without honesty and open communication. Trust is essential for any real friendship. The entire discussion of mechilah, then, implies the context of community. If our friend offends us, it is a matter of "shalom ha-bayit" to repair the breach.  We want unity and harmony in our relationships, but forgiveness cannot be demanded at the expense of trust or respectful fellowship. The Scriptures define an offense (σκάνδαλον) as something that trips someone so that he falls into sin or unbelief. The sin in this case can lead to enmity and alienation, whereas the unbelief can lead to the loss of faith in the friendship itself...  It takes real wisdom from God to find the balance in all of this, chaverim.

Only God can forgive us for our sins, though we are obligated to extend mechilah to others who ask us to be forgiven. This might explain the indignation expressed by the scribes and Pharisees when Yeshua forgave the paralytic's sins (see Luke 5:17-25). These Jewish sages were accustomed to hearing words of melichah but not words of selichah coming from the lips of a man. Only God Himself can forgive the sinner, so these sages were scandalized by the authority of Yeshua as God the Son.

Yeshua taught us to pray: "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us" (Matt. 6:12). Your forgiveness is your forgiveness... In other words, your forgiveness of others is the measure of your own state of forgiveness, "for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). If we cling to resentment, bitterness, or a desire for revenge, we appeal to principles that alienate us from the hope of reconciliation with others. If we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we thereby appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well.

May the LORD help us all find the balance we need to genuinely love and forgive others in the truth, chaverim. And let's thank God for the selichah He freely gives to those who put their trust in His Son as their means of obtaining reconciliation with Him.

Teshuvah and Love


[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul. "Great is teshuvah for it brings healing to the world," teaches the Talmud. May the LORD help us prepare our hearts for the coming High Holidays, chaverim... ]

09.08.09 (Elul 19, 5769)  Some Christians tend to think of repentance in terms of occasionally confessing their sins in private prayer, but the Hebrew word teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) implies turning to others and to God -- thereby radically changing the "direction" and focus of our lives.  According to Jewish tradition this is accomplished through the practice of the following steps.

Steps of Teshuvah:

  1. We must recognize our sin as a sin (i.e., hakarat chata'ah [הַכָּרַת חַטָּאָה]). This comes from honest efforts at self-examination (i.e., cheshbon ha-nefesh [חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ]) in light of God's revealed truth and by the voice of our own conscience (Acts 24:16, Rom. 2:5). Acknowledging the truth about our sin leads to confession (i.e., viduy [וִדּוּי]) - first inwardly to ourselves and then directly to God.
  2. If we committed a sin against another person, we must confess our sin to that person and ask them for forgiveness. In Jewish thought, only the offending party can set the wrong aright and only the offended party can forgo the debt of the sin (this is called mechilah [מְחִילָה]). This means, among other things, that our sin against another must be dealt with "independently" from our sins against God (see Matt. 5:23-24). The sages make this point when they say that "even Yom Kippur cannot atone for offenses against other people." If I offend someone, it is my responsibility to set the matters right (conversely, if someone has offended me, it is my responsibility to allow the offender to do teshuvah and correct the wrong done to me. The refusal to pardon another who sincerely asks is considered cruel). Jewish tradition states that the offended person is not obligated to extend mechilah to the offender if he is insincere or if he has not taken concrete steps to demonstrate remorse for the offense.
  3. We must cease from the sin (azivat ha-chet). It is generally regarded that those who refuse to stop sinning are not being sincere in their expression of teshuvah. Of course, we might struggle with addictions and compulsive behaviors, and it is our responsibility to get help with these issues for healing to take place. If another person, however, sincerely asks us for mechilah -- even if they've harmed us "seventy times seven times" -- we are nonetheless obligated to forgive them (see Matt. 18:21-22). In other words, we are responsible to stop our own sinning -- yet we are responsible to extend forgiveness to those who repeatedly sin against us.
  4. We must show remorse and regret for the sin (i.e., charatah [חֲרָטָה]). This is an emotional response in light of the harm our actions have caused others and ourselves. This is an entirely subjective matter between your heart and God, though genuinely expressing remorse may help in the reconciliation process with others.
  5. We must resolve to live in a new way (kabbalah al ha-atid) by choosing to refrain from the sinful action in the future. Again, this involves the intent of the heart and inner resolution -- and therefore is a matter between you and God alone. Promising to others that you will change is a dubious practice.

All of these steps are necessary and interrelated. We cannot rightly "confess" our sins to God and expect to be forgiven when we are conscious that we have grieved someone due to our sinful or thoughtless actions. No, we must seek forgiveness from the offended friend.... After all, we are part of a larger "body" (i.e., community) and when one member hurts, the entire community is affected (1 Cor. 12:26). We must be ready to acknowledge the wounds we have caused others and to seek their forgiveness; we must likewise be ready to forgive those who have offended us. Only in this way can our relationships be restored and love prevail in our midst.... "Love is the perfect bond of unity" (Col. 3:14).

When we sin against another person, we hurt them. The natural response to being hurt is to withdraw or pull away from the source of pain.  This causes an emotional breach in a relationship. Left uncorrected, the original desire for friendship is replaced with a sense of ambivalence or even aversion. Confessing our sin means admitting to the other person that we know that we've hurt them. This humbles us and shows that we are experiencing pain because of the broken relationship. By humbling ourselves in this way we may revive the latent feelings of love in the offended friend and reconciliation can take place....

When we turn to God and begin to wake up to reality, we grieve over the fact that we've harmed ourselves and others. As we walk in love, God will prompt us to restore the broken relationships in our lives. The way of teshuvah is the path of love and reconciliation. This is essentially the goal of Torah, too: "The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (1 Tim. 1:5). "For the whole Torah is fulfilled in one word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Gal. 5:14) and "love is the fulfilling of the Torah" (Rom. 13:8). As the Apostle Paul wrote:

    Be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.... And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in the Messiah has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as the Messiah loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph. 4:23-5:2)

Apples and Honey

It's traditional to ask God to give us a sweet year after we dip our apples in honey on Rosh Hashanah.  Yehi ratzon milfanekha, Adonai Elohenu, velohei avotenu, she-te-chadesh alenu shanah tovah um'tukah: "May it be your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers, that you renew for us a good and sweet year." If we genuinely undergo teshuvah, we can indeed trust that our coming new year will be one of sweetness and good fellowship. It's my hope and prayer that each of us will walk in love of our beloved Mashiach Yeshua, blessed be He. Amen.

Personal Update: We've incurred some unexpected expenses last month, including a dental emergency visit and the replacement two major appliances: a broken refrigerator and dryer! Oy va voy... God provides despite the struggle, chaverim, but please remember my family in your prayers... Todah rabbah.

Selichot Services

Selichot Siddur

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: Nitzavim ("You are standing") and Vayeilech ("and he went"). Moreover, since this coming Shabbat is the last of the Jewish year, many congregations will hold an additional late-night service to offer prayers for forgiveness in anticipation of the High Holidays. ]

09.07.09 (Elul 18, 5769)  The Hebrew word s'lichah (סְלִיחָה) means "excuse me!" in colloquial Hebrew, but in the Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner. In Psalm 130:4 we read, "But with you there is forgiveness (s'lichah), that you may be feared" (כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא).

In Jewish tradition, Selichot (סְלִיחוֹת) is a "technical term" that refers to additional prayers for forgiveness recited during the month of Elul (through Yom Kippur). These prayers and poems for mercy are usually recited before dawn, before the daily shacharit (morning) service. The list of the Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy (Shelosh Esrei Middot shel Rachamim) are the primary focus of the prayers, based on the Talmud's statement that, "Whenever the nation of Israel sins, let them pray this prayer (i.e., the Thirteen Attributes) and I shall forgive them" (Rosh Hashanah 17b). In general, Selichot services are intended to guide us toward an examination of our lives and to undergo teshuvah.

In Sephardic tradition, Selichot services begin at the start of Elul and run until Yom Kippur (similar to the 40 days Moses spent on Mount Sinai), though in the Ashkenazic tradition they are recited late (i.e., midnight) on the Saturday night prior to Rosh Hashanah. Some of the prayers and music for the Selichot service are taken from the services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, providing a transition between the "old year" and the New Year.  A Chassidic tradition holds that the last twelve days of the year (i.e., Elul 18 to 29) correspond to the twelve months of the closing year: on each of these twelve days, the pentitent should review the deeds and achievements of its corresponding month.

Perhaps you (like me) once learned Psalm 19:7 as, "The Law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." The Hebrew text reads, תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ, and might better be translated as, "The instruction of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul." Giving heed to the Torah causes our souls to undergo teshuvah, the very theme of Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays....

Now more than ever, chaverim.  We must not put our trust in man or in this moribund world system (κοσμος). We are living in the "end of days." God's judgment has begun in earnest.  It is time for us to choose whether we will be shaken or if we will walk in the trust of the LORD God of Israel....

  Listen to the shofar

Selichah (forgiveness) - סְלִיחָה


[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul.  This is the time to prepare our hearts for the coming High Holidays, chaverim... ]

09.06.09 (Elul 17, 5769)  During the Season of Teshuvah, and especially during the Selichot service, the appeal for God's forgiveness is connected to the great revelation of the Name of the LORD (יהוה) given to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7. After the Jews had committed the grievous sin with the Golden Calf, Moses despaired of ever being able to find favor in God's eyes again. God, however (as recounted in the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 17b)), donned a prayer shawl, and, in the role of a cantor, sang to Moses the order of the thirteen attributes of rachamim (mercy). These thirty-two words have become known in Jewish tradition as the Shelosh Esrei Middot shel Rachamim, or the Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy:

  Listen to the reading
  Listen to the shofar

According to traditional interpretations, the thirteen attributes are articulated as follows:

  1. Adonai (יהוה) - I, the LORD, am the Compassionate Source of all of life; I am the breath of life for all of creation.
  2. Adonai (יהוה) - I, the LORD, am also compassionate to one who has sinned and repented.
  3. El (אֵל) - I, the LORD, am God the Almighty and Omnipotent;
  4. Rachum (רַחוּם) - I, the LORD, am merciful (rachamim (רַחֲמִים) means "mercy" and rechem (רֶחֶם) means "womb");
  5. Chanun (חַנּוּן) - I, the LORD, am gracious; I pour out my favor freely to all of creation. (Chen (חֵן) is the word for "grace");
  6. Erekh Apayim (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם) - I, the LORD, am slow to anger and patient (the word erekh means "long" and af (אַף) means "nose." The idiom erekh apayim means "long suffering, patient");
  7. Rav Chesed (רַב־חֶסֶד) - I, the LORD, am abundant in love (חֶסֶד) to both the righteous and the wicked;
  8. Rav Emet (רַב־אֱמֶת) - I, the LORD, am truthful and faithful in carrying out promises;
  9. Notzer Chesed La'alafim (נצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים) - I, the LORD, retain chesed (love) for thousands of generations, taking into account the merit of our worthy ancestors (called zechut avot);
  10. Nosei Avon (נשֵׂא עָוֹן) - I, the LORD, forgive iniquity (avon), defined in the tradition as wrongful deeds committed with premeditation; I "carry iniquity away" (nasa) for the penitent;
  11. Nosei Pesha (נשֵׂא פֶשַׁע) - I, the LORD, forgive transgression (pesha), defined as wrongful deeds committed in a rebellious spirit;
  12. Nosei Chata'ah (נשֵׂא חַטָּאָה) - I, the LORD, forgive sin (chet), defined as those wrongful deeds that were inadvertently committed;
  13. Nakkeh (נַקֶּה) - I, the LORD, will not cancel punishment, but I will clear the guilt for those who genuinely return to Me in teshuvah.

King David appealed to the God's forgiveness based on the revelation of the Name (Psalm 51, 103:8), as did the prophets Jonah (Jonah 4:2) and Joel (Joel 2:13). During Israel's national confession of sin (after the Babylonian Exile), Ezra the Scribe likewise appealed: "But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love" (Neh. 9:17). Even though Israel's sins called for God's righteous judgment as the perfect Lawgiver (אֱלהִים), appeal was made to His revelation as YHVH, the Compassionate One. The appeal to God's mercy reassures us that teshuvah (repentance) is always possible and that God always awaits our return to Him.

It should be note that in rabbinical Judaism the ritual act of offering Selichot is regarded as a means of rendering a favorable verdict of "din," or "judgment" by God during the Days of Awe. As Messianic believers, however, we affirm that eternal forgiveness is obtained by exercising emunah (faith) in the sacrifice of Yeshua as the kapparah for our sins, and by evidencing wholehearted teshuvah in our daily life.  This is the New Covenant truth expressed by the author of the book of Hebrews (see 9:11-10:23).

Note: There are several Hebrew words that are related to the idea of forgiveness: "selichah" (סְלִיחָה), "mechilah" (מְחִילָה), "nasa" (נָשָׂא), and "kapparah" (כַּפָּרָה). "Selichah" is forgiveness that strips or wipes the offense away. In the Hebrew Scriptures, selichah is the prerogative of God alone. "Mechilah" is an act of pardoning another who has wounded us deeply by "forgoing the other's indebtedness." It is the obligation of the offended person to offer mechilah to those who ask for forgiveness (Matt. 18:21-22). The verb "nasa" means "to bear, to take away" and pictures the bearing and taking away of guilt. The verb is used in the Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy (Exod. 34:6-7) suggesting that it is also a divine prerogative.  "Kapparah" is the divine act of atonement that "covers" or absorbs the hurt through love and creates healing and restoration. Divine Kapparah redeems us from our sins by appeasing God's wrath through the life-for-life principle. The substitutionary shedding of blood is essential to the true "at-one-ment" with the LORD God (Lev. 17:11). Kapparah leads to tahorah, a state of purification from sin that allows us to have our relationship with God restored. It is the sacrifice of Yeshua that gives us everlasting forgiveness and healing from God.

The Season of Teshuvah


09.04.09 (Elul 15, 5769)  According to Jewish tradition, the month of Elul represents the time that Moses spent on Sinai preparing the second set of tablets after the idolatrous incident of the Golden Calf. Moses ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul ("Head of the Month of Elul") and then descended 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri, the end of Yom Kippur, when the repentance of the people was complete. The month of Elul therefore represents the time of national sin and forgiveness obtained by means of teshuvah before the LORD. It is now customary to observe the 29 days of Elul as a time of "soul searching," or cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ), and offering prayers for forgiveness (selichot) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days. The appointed season of teshuvah (repentance) therefore runs 40 days from the last day of the month of Av to Yom Kippur:


Teshuvah is considered one of the greatest gifts God gives to mankind. The Talmud (Yerushalami, Makkot 2:6) states, "They asked wisdom, 'What is a sinner's punishment?' Wisdom answered, 'Evil pursues sinners (Prov. 31:21). They asked prophecy, 'What is a sinner's punishment?' Prophecy answered, 'The soul that sins -- it shall die'  (Ezek. 18:4). They asked the LORD, 'What is a sinner's punishment?' The LORD answered, 'Let him repent, and he will find forgiveness.' As King David wrote: tov v'yashar Adonai, al-ken yoreh chata'im ba-derech / "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way" (Psalm 25:8). The LORD's goodness and uprightness is revealed by guiding sinners in the way of teshuvah.

Some of the sages state that teshuvah is equal to all the commandments given in the Torah: "When you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn (תָשׁוּב) to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 30:10). Indeed, teshuvah is said to be one of the seven things created before the world, suggesting that the very purpose of creation itself was so that we might return to the LORD our God. Teshuvah brings healing to the world, reaches the throne of Glory, hastens the redemption of the universe, and (along with tzedakah) lengthens a person's life.

The Spirit of the LORD says, "Seek the LORD when He can be found; call upon Him when He is near" (Isa. 55:6). Though it is true that every day is a good day to turn to the LORD, the month of Elul represents days of God's favor in preparation for the future redemption. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter said that a person is obligated to consider all the days of the year like Elul -- and to remember that Elul itself is Elul itself!  Today is the day of salvation, chaverim... May you draw close to the LORD now.

Turning Away, Turning Toward

Chagall Detail

[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul.  This is the time to prepare our hearts for the coming High Holidays, chaverim... ]

09.04.09 (Elul 15, 5769)  When Lot was mercifully urged by the angels to flee from the corruption of life in Sodom, he was commanded: himalet al-nafshekha, al-tabit acharekha / הִמָּלֵט עַל־נַפְשֶׁךָ אַל־תַּבִּיט אַחֲרֶיךָ - "Flee for your life! Don't look back" (Gen. 19:17). Interestingly, the Targum Onkelos translates this as: "Be merciful to your life; look not behind you." From this the sages note that teshuvah, or repentance, is both a turning away and a turning toward. It is a turning away from sin and it is a turning toward God. Of the two turnings, however, turning toward God is more important...

It's one thing to turn away from sin -- to distance yourself from temptation and to flee from the yetzer hara, or evil inclination -- and it's another to turn toward God and seek His love and help for your life.... In the former case, your focus is still on the self and the sources of inner corruption; in the latter case, your focus is on God as the Source of your healing and life.  Of course both turning away from sin and turning toward God can be thought of as a single "movement" of the heart, but it is turning toward God that is the goal.

This reminds me of a story. Once a chassid had to travel to a wicked city for business. Before he left, his rebbe asked him to pick up a particular brand of cigars for him. The chassid soon left for the city, but during all his time there forgot about his promise.  When he later returned home, he suddenly remembered the mission his rebbe sent him on. He came before the rebbe to ask forgiveness for returning empty handed.

The rebbe was visibly upset and said to the chassid in astonishment, "Did you think for one moment that I really wanted those cigars? I only wanted that you should remember that you are my student while you did business in such a wicked city. I wanted you to remember that you still have a rebbe...  What a shame that you forgot."

It's one thing to turn away from sin, but it's another to turn to God. The chassid was apparently able to withstand temptation during his travels, but his heart was not really turned toward his master during his venture, either.

May it please the LORD to give us all teshuvah sh'lemah -- a complete repentance -- by having our hearts turn away from all distractions so that we can focus on pleasing and serving Him alone...

Teshuvah of the Tongue

Chagall Detail

[ The following entry continues the theme of teshuvah (repentance) for the month of Elul.  This is the time to prepare our hearts for the coming High Holidays, chaverim... ]

09.03.09 (Elul 14, 5769)  "The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance (overflow) of the heart the mouth speaks" - Yeshua (Luke 6:45).

Our words often reveal what's hidden within our hearts, and therefore -- because words and thoughts are intimately connected -- we must be very careful about how we think -- and especially about how we esteem others. The Chofetz Chaim wrote that the foundational principle of shemirat ha-lashon (guarding our speech) is to always judge others (including ourselves) in the best possible light. This involves hakarat tovah, that is, recognizing the good in others and choosing to see with ayin tovah, a good eye.

The Jewish sages say that our judgments carry great weight in heaven. The words we say, whether good or bad, call for a response in the realm of spirit. (This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "word," i.e., devar, which also means "thing.") When we defend someone and speak favorably of him or her, our words mean something and favorably dispose heaven itself; on the other hand, if we accuse them or are critical of them, we align our thoughts with the satan, and the opposite effect is produced.  Moreover, there is great danger when we accuse others of wrongdoing, since we thereby open ourselves up to reciprocal judgment (Matt. 7:3-5). It takes great chokhmah (wisdom) and humility to offer godly correction to others, and it is vital that we approach this matter will fear and trepidation. Our motive always must be love for the other person, never vindictiveness or pride.

We must always be vigilant to avoid lashon hara, "the evil tongue." It's important to realize that this involves far more than merely avoiding the use of profanity or telling lies. No, lashon hara means saying (i.e., thinking) something bad about someone even if it happens to be true. In other words, lashon hara is essentially the manifestation of a critical or judgmental spirit toward others.

It's better to judge favorably -- even if we are in error -- than it is to judge critically -- even if we are telling the truth.  After all, truth is sometimes expressed for the sake of the kingdom of Hell... Satan doesn't pull his accusations "out of thin air" but rather looks at the same "books" that God does. The issue here is not a matter of factual truth, chaverim, but with the deeper truth that is apprehended through God's love...

Sometimes true words and actions performed in an unloving or spiteful manner are morally blameworthy. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (19061945) tells the story about how a teacher once humiliated one of her students by standing him up in front of the class to ask whether his father -- notoriously known as the town drunk -- had been out carousing the night before.  The little boy knew the accusation was true but bravely announced "No."  When the teacher mockingly asked him again -- pressuring him for "the truth" -- the boy was adamant: "NO!" Bonhoeffer's comment was that this little boy spoke more truth by his lie than if he had merely reported the "facts" to the class -- and thereby betrayed the dignity of his father... The truth is not some objective state of affairs that can be reported dispassionately. Without love as its goal and context, such "truth" becomes a lie.

Yeshua spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are revealed in our words (i.e., devarim - "words/things"). The focus here is not so much on the externals (for example, the use of profanity), but rather on the underlying condition of the human heart. The hidden motives of the heart determine our thinking, which in turn affect the way we act and use words.  Just as one mitzvah leads to another, so one negative thought leads to another.  We must be on guard to keep our thoughts on what is worthy, lovely, and of good report (Phil. 4:8). May God help us "take every thought captive" to the mind of the Messiah (2 Cor. 10:5).

Our thoughts and words are really prayers we are constantly offering... Think about that for a moment, chaverim! Proverbs 4:24 says, mikol-mismar netzor libekha ("more than all else, guard your heart"), ki mimenu totze'ot chaim ("because from it are the bounds of your life").  How you think determines the course of your life... Right now. As Yeshua said, "According to your faith be it done unto you" (Matt. 9:29).  

This past year, have I judged others with ayin hara - an "evil eye"?  Have I been unfairly critical of others?  Have I been unkind, hurtful, fearful, or hateful? Have I begrudged seeing the worth and goodness of others -- including myself? Have I harbored any ill-will, resentment, or unforgiveness within my heart? Am I bitter about something that's happened in the past?  Am I jealous or envious of others?  Listen to the words of your heart -- and understand that they are devarim, "things." These "words" are defining the course of your life right now.

The old adage says, "hurt people hurt people." Dealing with underlying heart issues is crucial to genuine shemirat ha-lashon. Just as we have used our brains and our tongues for evil purposes, so we must now use them for healing purposes. The "teshuvah of the tongue" requires viduy (confession) -- first to ourselves and then to those whom we directly have harmed with our words... Our present heartache is a messenger.

"The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD" (Prov. 16:1). Let's turn to the LORD Yeshua and confess our sins; let's ask Him to fill us with the good treasure of His heart. May it please Yeshua to give us this teshuvah, chaverim.  Amen.

Sin and Unbelief

Chagall Detail

[ The following entry continues the subject of teshuvah (repentance).  Please read this in connection with earlier entries for the month of Elul, below. ]

09.02.09 (Elul 13, 5769)  As I reflect over some of the missteps and sins of the previous year, I become more and more aware that "whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23). My most profound problem in life -- the underlying root of my other sins -- is always unbelief that takes the form of forgetfulness, mindlessness, and lethargy. This then leads to fear, pride, and other attitudes of heart that are expressed as sinful actions. Hence we are urged: "Seek the LORD while He may be found" (Isa. 55:6). If I was truly awake to the reality of the risen Savior, sin would often not find its "occasion" in my life.... If faithlessness is the matrix of sin, hope is the matrix of teshuvah...

As just one practical example, imagine feeling frustrated with your spouse, your child, or someone you work with. By means of a habit of mind -- a prejudice, if you will -- you might react to the other person as if the future will (indefinitely) resemble the past, and therefore you feel justified in taking some sort of offense. Perhaps you feel slighted or ignored and you now want to "lash out" to become visible to the other... The sages of the Talmud equate anger with idolatry (Shabbat 105a). We often feel most angry when we believe we are losing control of life.  We feel helpless, powerless, and invisible, so we attempt to exert our will in order to feel capable, powerful, visible -- alive. Our will therefore becomes all-important, usurping the will of God for our lives... Yet this is essentially a return to our previous life -- the "womb" of flesh from which we were delivered. We have "forgotten" the truth about reality and are now operating under a set of false assumptions.  Teshuvah here means waking up to reality, "reframing" the situation in light of truth, remembering who God is and who you are, and then asking for God's loving intervention....  Instead of trying to control the situation using manipulative methods, we look to the Spirit of God to direct us and show us the path of righteousness....

May the LORD God of Israel help us all wake up to His reality....

Further thoughts on Teshuvah

Chagall - White Crucifixion

[ The following entry provides some additional thoughts regarding the subject of teshuvah (repentance). Please read this in connection with earlier entries for the month of Elul, below. ]

09.01.09 (Elul 12, 5769)  Yeshua calls us to "nullify ourselves" (bittul hanefesh) and to "take up our cross daily and follow him" (Luke 9:23). Paradoxically, we are called to die so that we may live: "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very soul?" (Luke 9:24-25). Among other things, the taking up our cross means "putting to death" our own agendas -- including our religious agendas -- and exchanging them for the will of God.

The cross, of course, also represents God's judgment for our sin.  It was at the cross -- the true "Holy of Holies" -- where Yeshua our Kohen Gadol offered up his blood for our atonement. Yeshua's sacrificial death on our behalf "propitiates" God's righteous wrath, enabling us to be reconciled with the Father (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Jn 2:2, etc.). And it is at the cross that we face our own mortality -- our own personal death -- and begin taking genuine responsibility for our redeemed lives. It's there that we awaken to judgment -- and it's there that we begin to understand that each moment we subsequently live is "life from the dead" given to us by God.

Chagall Detail

This leads to the seemingly intractable question of whether we are saved by ma'asim tovim (good works) or by emunah (faith).... Does the "taking up of the cross" represent an obligation to undergo self-nullification and to perhaps even to die kiddush Hashem (as a martyr for Yeshua)?  Is this how we find our zechut (merit) before God?   But isn't this a paradox? After all, we affirm that it is the sacrifice of Yeshua -- alone -- that establishes our peace with God. It is in the merit of His life and death we find our courage and life. He is our mediator, and it's not "by works of righteousness which we have done" that we find our salvation (Titus 3:5). We cannot "crucify ourselves" in order to find favor in the eyes of God; if we could undergo such self-abnegation -- if we could please God in the power of our own will and merit -- then we wouldn't need the cross of Yeshua in the first place.... No, the message of the cross is that we cannot save ourselves, that we need God's mercy and help, and that "salvation belongs to the LORD" (alone). God gets the glory for our salvation, chaverim, just as He gets the glory for our sanctification. "This is the work of God -- that you believe in the One whom God has sent" (John 6:28-29). There are no "bragging rights" in the Kingdom of God; we are all saved by the unmerited gift of God's love: "not by works, so that no one may boast" (Eph. 2:8-10).

What God asks of us is the impossible -- to relinquish all that is natural and instinctual for the sake of divine love... The two great commandments, namely, to love the LORD with all our heart, soul, and strength, and to love others as ourselves are likewise impossible, at least humanly speaking. This is because human nature is inherently self-serving and egotistical. Human beings are specialists at loving themselves and hating others; selfishness, pride, and so on are innate character traits of the children of Adam...   "Who then can be saved?" wondered the disciples. Yeshua replied, "Humanly, this is impossible; but with God everything is possible" (Matt. 19:25-26). Apart from God we can do nothing (John 15:5), but with Him all things are indeed possible.  From the human perspective this seems like madness -- like moving a mountain by faith -- yet it is undoubtedly the main nisayon (test) of the life of bittachon (trust).  Yeshua took up the Cross, suffered and died so that we may respond (teshuvah) with our own sacrificial love.

Even the pagan Socrates once said, "philosophy is the practice of death," by which he meant becoming prepared to pursue the truth in the afterlife.  Socrates' goal was a sort of "beatific vision" of Truth apart from the encumbrances of the body.  Yet Yeshua does not disown the body or assign it to a lower realm. He shed real blood and was physically resurrected. Yeshua redeems fallen human nature and restores it to its original vision and purpose... The love of God gets messy with the details of life; it does not seek to escape to "nirvana" or to find repose in some abstract world of ideals...

It is a strange paradox that it often takes the consciousness of death to awaken us to life. We hear of a terrible tragedy or learn that someone we know has died... Or perhaps we have a near-death experience of our own... Often this induces a state of reflection and a heightened awareness of the sanctity and preciousness of life. This is only natural and a function of the basic instincts we all share as human beings.  In the realm of the spirit, however, we see a similar sort of correspondence. Life itself is a matter of becoming spiritually awake. Yeshua himself used the metaphor of "sleep" to signify death and awakening from sleep to signify life (John 11:11-14, Matt. 9:24).

The state of the natural soul is described as "dead" or "asleep." The world is filled with innumerable people who are "walking in their sleep," living in a dream world of illusions.... Becoming alive means being roused from the slumber of mere appearances.  It means being stripped of our fantasies and awakening to the truth.  In the realm of the spirit, this means opening our eyes to a different kind of reality than anything we've known before. It is often jarring, unsettling -- not unlike being born, though in this case the birth is spiritual rather than physical.

We are sometimes tempted to think that the new life we have in our Messiah settles the future to such a degree that we have nothing to do now but to wait until we get to heaven.  But we are forgetting that our present lives -- as well as the lives of all other souls -- are under divine examination: "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27). All Christians will stand before the Throne of Judgment to give account for their lives (2 Cor. 5:10). "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). Life is an examination, a test, and every moment is irrepeatable.  Every "careless" word we utter will be echoed on the Day of Judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Our future day of judgment is being decided today....

-- turning to God -- means becoming spiritually awake. It means understanding and appreciating that this moment of your life is precious; that your own personal judgment is coming; that God will ratify the "book of life" which you are writing with the days and hours of your life, and so on. And most of all it means awakening to Yeshua -- and seeing the Cross of Yeshua.  It is the revelation of the Cross and its message for your life...

We do not have an infinite number of days in which to turn to God. "Repent one day before you die," the sages admonish.  But who knows the day of one's death in advance?  Aha! Therefore live each day as if it were to be your last, and live it with gratitude and joy. "Today is the day of salvation..."

May it please the LORD God of Israel to give us the gift of teshuvah by seeing the glory of His Son, Yeshua our Messiah....Amen.

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