April 2010 Updates
Look to things Unseen...
04.30.10 (Iyyar 16, 5770) Shabbat Shalom, chaverim. Chazak v'ematz - be strong and of good courage. Despite the vain show of this ephemeral world and its omnipresent despair, we are commanded to "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" (2 Cor. 4:18). We must walk by faith, not by sight... Human sight is limited in perspective and subject to the conditions and constraints of temporal experience, but God created each of us with an intuitive sense of His reality, and human reason therefore must confess that the "invisible things" of God are "clearly seen" (Rom. 1:20). The unseen or invisible world is real. God, heaven, angels, demons, and the human soul are all "unseen" but very real indeed. Be vigilant: There is a real spiritual war going on in the heavenly realm, and the battle is ultimately for the souls of men...
We must stay strong and keep hope, for through hope we are saved (Rom. 8:24). Faith is the conviction (ἔλεγχος) of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Do not be seduced by mere appearances; do not allow yourself to be bewitched into thinking that this world could ever be your home. No, we are strangers and pilgrims here; we are on the journey to the reach "the City of Living God, to heavenly Jerusalem, to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven" (Heb. 12:22-23). Therefore do not lose heart. Keep to the narrow path. Set your affections on things above (Col. 3:2). Do not yield to the temptation of despair. Look beyond the "giants of the land" and reckon them as already fallen. Keep pressing on. Chazak, chazak, ve-nit chazek - "Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened!" Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called (1 Tim. 6:12).
חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ אַל־תַּעֲרץ וְאַל־תֵּחָת
כִּי עִמְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ
cha·zak ve'e·matz al ta'a·rotz ve'al te·chat,
ki im·me·kha Adonai E·lo·he·kha be·khol a·sher te·lekh
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified, and do not be shattered,
for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." (Josh. 1:9)
הוֹדוּ לַיהוָה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
ho·du La·do·nai ki tov ki le·o·lam chas·do
"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his loyal love endures forever."
Hebrew Study Card
Should We Count the Omer?
[ This week's Torah portion (Emor) includes the commandment to "count the omer" on each of the forty-nine days between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. This entry briefly explores how religious Jews sometimes regard the omer count and compares this with the New Testament teaching of Yeshua. ]
04.29.10 (Iyyar 15, 5770) The word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This is called omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה), or the "waving of the omer." Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only produce from earlier harvests could be eaten (called yashan). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are kosher for use by God's people...
For Pharisaical Judaism, the "Counting the Omer" (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר) begins on the second day of Passover (the 16th of Nisan) and continues 49 days until Erev Shavuot (this implies that Shavuot always falls on Sivan 6 on the fixed Jewish calendar). For the Sadducees (and the later Karaites), the count begins following the weekly Sabbath after Passover and ends on Erev Shavuot (this implies that Shavuot always occurs on a Sunday, though the date is not set on the Jewish calendar). In general, however, the period between Passover and Shavuot is simply called "the Omer," and the key ritual activity is sefirah ("counting"), since the primary obligation is the literal counting of days leading up to the festival of Shavuot. The sages interpret, "You shall count for yourselves" (סְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם) to mean that each person should count each day of the omer out loud (usually at the conclusion of the daily evening prayer service). The formulaic blessing is: "Blessed are You, LORD our God, Master of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to count the omer: Tonight is the xx night of the Omer."
The period of the omer ends after counting seven weeks, or seven times seven days from Passover to Shavuot. The symmetry of the count (7 x 7) suggests perfection and completion. The "Jubilee" of Shavuot is a climax - first of the revelation given at Sinai, and later with the greater revelation given at Zion. This is why the sages say that the end of the redemption process, which began at Passover, will be completed at Shavuot. "For the Messiah is the goal (τέλος) of the law for righteousness for all who believe" (Rom. 10:4).
In the written Torah, Shavuot is not directly connected to the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, though later Jewish tradition made such a connection. After the destruction of the Temple, the sages essentially divested the agricultural aspects of the holiday and made Shavuot commemorate mattan Torah (מַתָּן תּוֹרָה), the giving of the Torah. Later still, the Kabbalists viewed the 49 days of counting as a sort of "mystical journey" back to Sinai, or rather a journey through the human soul. Each day of the count is thought to be associated with one of the "sefirot of God's emanations" and therefore affords an occasion to engage in moral and spiritual purification required before experiencing the dizzying heights of Sinai. According to these mystics, just as Israel "ascended" from 49 levels of impurity before being made worthy of the revelation given at Sinai, so we too should make special efforts to grow during these 49 days of teshuvah. Each day of the sefirah is thought to correspond to a specific area for spiritual growth (i.e., one of the divine attributes that are "mirrored" in the soul can become "unplugged" from obstruction), and by meditation, repentance, and other means the soul may merit being able to "rechannel" the divine energy of the universe to behold miracles, etc.
In this connection we note that Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the omer count, is regarded as a mystical holiday in Judaism, because on this date (i.e. Iyyar 18) the Kabbalah is claimed to have been revealed to Israel -- in a manner not unlike the revelation given at Sinai. The mitzvah of the omer is likened to a "build up" to Kabbalat HaTorah - the receiving of the Torah, and each day is thought to represent an additional "level" for obtaining greater clarity of its inner meaning. Hence many siddurim (prayerbooks) include the following concluding paragraph after describing the ritual for counting the omer for the day:
"Master of the Universe, You commanded us through Moses Your servant to count the Omer in order to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations, as You have written in Your Torah, so that the souls of Your people Israel be cleansed of their contamination. Therefore, may it be Your will, God, our God and the God of our Forefathers, that in the merit of the Omer-Count that I have counted today, that there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefirah. May I be cleansed and sanctified with the holiness of Above, and through this may abundant bounty flow in all the worlds. And may it correct our lives, spirits, and souls from all sediment and blemish; may it cleanse us and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness. Amen."
Note the Kabbalistic cosmology expressed in this closing paragraph of the traditional omer count formula. The kellipot, or "encrustations," block the hidden divine light within us which causes an "imbalance" in the emanations (sefirot) of God's attributes. We can influence God's disposition toward the world through our actions of repentance. Our responsibility is to "clean out the pipes" so that the divine light/energy can freely flow down to us. If we mirror the positive attributes of God, the divine light will be increased; on the other hand, if we indulge in laziness or indifference, the divine light will be decreased. The Omer period, then, is a time of revelation, or a time to move from the concealment of God's hand to a time of disclosure.
Contrary to such claims of Kabbalah, Yeshua never taught His disciples to remove "encrustations" from the soul. On the contrary, He taught that human beings were slaves to sin in need of radical deliverance and spiritual rebirth (John 8:24; 44; John 3:3-10). And though He preached teshuvah (repentance), Yeshua never suggested that people were "shattered vessels" that needed to be reabsorbed into a greater World Soul (i.e., pantheism). Likewise, Yeshua never taught that God's hidden essence was revealed through ten sefirot (attributes), or that human nature was "parallel" to the sefirotic structure of the universe. And surely Yeshua would have objected to the claim that human beings have power to influence God or to "affect His disposition" by performing various religious rites or rituals (Mark 7:5-9). No, Yeshua was apocalyptic in his eschatology and never taught the idea of tikkun olam (repair of the world) through self-effort. He plainly taught that He alone was the Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם), and that salvation, spiritual life, and the ultimate healing of the world would come solely through Him...
Recently I read an article from a large Messianic ministry (that will go unnamed) that extolled the omer count and recommended its practice for Christians. Unfortunately, the article assumed a Kabbalistic understanding of the omer and did not mention the hidden assumptions at work behind the idea of spiritual "elevation" or "works righteousness." Let me repeat here something I've written about elsewhere, and that's that Kabbalah is fundamentally opposed to the idea of salvation through Yeshua alone. Kabbalah claims that human nature is essentially a "part of god" and that "salvation" is to become like god through removing of the "kellipot." This is obviously not the salvation message that Yeshua came to bring, nor does it elevate the sacrifice of Yeshua as the means for obtaining eternal kapparah (atonement) and healing with the Father. Since Kabbalah teaches a false system of salvation, it needs to be exposed to Christians who are tempted to dabble in its doctrines.
How should followers of the Messiah "count the omer"? Well, the point of the omer count was to foretell of the giving of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) and to confirm the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was indeed completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" is the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the whole world. Though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (Lev. 2:11), prophetically the waving of shtei ha-lechem pictures the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) before the altar of the LORD (Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the revelation of Torah given at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Yeshua removes our tumah and makes us tahor by His sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb upon the Cross; Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Him. "Counting the Omer" is about being clothed with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!
Mem B'Omer (the 40th Day of the Omer):
Ascension of Mashiach
[ The following topic is related to the 40th day of the omer count, which occurs on Sunday, May 9th this year... ]
04.29.10 (Iyyar 15, 5770) We are in the midst of the 49 day "countdown" that runs from the second day of Passover until the holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost"). This seven week period is called "Counting the Omer" (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר) in Jewish tradition (Lev. 23:15-16). During the Temple period, on each of these days an appointed priest would wave a sheaf (omer) of barley before the LORD as a symbolic gesture of dedicating the coming harvest to Him. This ceremony was called tenufat ha-omer ("waving of the sheaf"). On the 50th day, however, a sample of the first crop of the wheat harvest was baked into two loaves of leavened bread (called "Shtei Ha-Lechem," שְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם) and waved before the altar as the climactic rite of the season (Lev. 23:15-20). Notice that this was the only time that otherwise forbidden chametz (leaven) was used by the priests for the avodah (see Lev. 2:11).
The 49 days between Passover and Shavuot is the chain that links the two festivals together, and indeed Shavuot is regarded as the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the "Conclusion of Passover." Just as the redemption by the blood of the lambs led to Israel's deliverance and the giving of the Torah at Sinai, so the redemption by the blood of Yeshua led to the world's deliverance and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Zion... And just as the covenant at Sinai created the nation of Israel, so the covenant at Zion created the worldwide people of God, redeemed from "every tribe and tongue" (Rev. 5:9). The waving of the "two loaves" of leavened bread therefore prophesied the creation of the "one new man," both Jew and Gentile, that would "firstfruits" of the Kingdom of God. Ultimately there will be one flock, and one Shepherd (John 10:16).
Since the resurrection of Yeshua occurred during the first day of the omer (i.e., on Reshit Katzir), and the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples 50 days later on Shavuot (Pentecost), all of Yeshua's post-resurrection appearances occurred during the days of the Omer count.
Some of these appearances were as follows: On the first day of the Omer, Yeshua appeared to Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:16-18), some other women (Matt. 28:5-10), and then to Simon Peter (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5). On the second day, He appeared to the two on the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32) and later that evening to the twelve disciples (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:33-39; John 20:19). A week later, He appeared to the Twelve again (John 20:26) and eight days later appeared to Thomas (John 20:24-29). Some time later, He appeared the third time to the disciples as they went back to their fishing jobs (John 21:1-14).
Still later Yeshua appeared to 500 (1 Cor. 15:6) and then to James, the half-brother of Yeshua (1 Cor. 15:7). On the 40th day of the Omer (Iyyar 25), Yeshua ascended into heaven from Bethany and commanded His followers not to leave Jerusalem until the promise of the Father was fulfilled during Shavuot (Luke 24:44-53; Acts 1:9-12).
In some Christian traditions, the "ascension of the Messiah" is celebrated 40 days after Yeshua's resurrection from the dead, about a week before the appointed time of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost"), that is, on the 40th day of the Omer Count (on Iyyar 25). This year, Iyyar 25 occurs on Sunday, May 9th.
The ascension of Yeshua was foreshadowed by Moses and the receiving of the Torah at Sinai: Just as Moses had waited 40 days before the Torah was given to Israel, so the disciples waited 40 days before the promise of the Holy Spirit was given (Exod. 24:18; John 16:7, Acts 2:1-4). In both cases, at the appointed time revelation was given -- first in the form of "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" at Sinai (Deut. 5:26), and later in the form of "tongues of fire" given in glory and power. Yeshua's Voice is now heard from the midst of the fire given at Zion...
The resurrection and ascension make us "alive together" with the Messiah. Because of Yeshua, we are able to live on a different level of reality, free from the "law of sin and death" (Rom. 7:4, 8:2). We now have a new and living relationship with God - based on the freedom and intimate revelation given by the Holy Spirit - all because of our ascended Lord Yeshua, blessed be He.
04.28.10 (Iyyar 14, 5770) I am looking for an office space so that I can do my work away from home (we live in a small house and I have a makeshift office in a bedroom). As things are, I usually do most of my work late at night, after the children are asleep (usually from about 9 pm to 7 am). Obtaining an office will constitute a step of faith in this ministry and its future. We are trusting that God will provide the financial means for us to do this.
Regardless, I feel heavily burdened to write and share more, though lately it's been harder than usual. The Scriptures are so full of treasure and blessing -- yet there is so little time to do the work, especially in these "last days." I really hope to add to the Hebrew Grammar Pages over the next year, too. Time is surely short, chaverim. It seems the evil one attempts to thwart our efforts on so many levels, but we understand that "greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4). We are pressing on, with God's help...
Thank you again, chaverim, for standing with us. This ministry could not exist without your prayers and help. We thank the LORD God of Israel for each one of you.
The Climax of Passover
04.28.10 (Iyyar 14, 5770) The climactic holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks" or "Pentecost") occurs on Wednesday, May 19th this year (for those who live outside of Israel, it is celebrated for an additional day on the 20th). Technically speaking, since the Jewish day begins at sundown, we begin our celebration on the evening of Tuesday, May 18th (called Erev Shavuot).
In traditional Judaism, the festival of Shavuot marks the culmination of the experience of redemption, sometimes called Atzaret Pesach, the "Conclusion of Passover." Since the great Exodus from Egypt was intended to lead to the revelation of Sinai, the goal of Passover is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. God took the Jews out of Egypt so that they would be His own treasured people, holy and separated from the pagan cultures around them. Understood in this light, all of the mo'edim (holidays) are directly connected with this event, including the fall festivals of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
According to the sages: The new moon of Nisan marks the start of sacred time, Passover remembers the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, the first day of Unleavened Bread remembers the Exodus from Egypt, the seventh day of Unleavened Bread remembers the crossing of the Red Sea, the counting of the Omer recalls the days before the giving of the Torah at Sinai, and Shavuot remembers the giving of the Torah exactly seven weeks after the Exodus (on Sivan 6). Indeed, Shavuot at Mount Sinai is sometimes considered the day on which Israel was born:
When the Jews began to settle in the Promised Land, the meaning of Shavuot was transformed into an agricultural holiday that celebrated the LORD's provision for His people. In the final book of Torah, Moses reviewed the history and the laws given to the Jews and reminded them to faithfully observe Passover (Deut. 16:1-7), Unleavened Bread (Deut 16:8), the Counting of the Omer, and Shavuot:
You shall count seven weeks. Begin to count the seven weeks from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain. Then you shall keep the Feast of Weeks to the LORD your God with the tribute of a freewill offering from your hand, which you shall give as the LORD your God blesses you. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God. (Deut. 16:9-11)
Beginning from the second day of Passover we "count an omer" each evening in anticipation of the special day that occurs 49 days later... The formulaic blessing is: "Blessed are You, LORD our God, Master of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to count the omer: Tonight is the xx night of the Omer."
After the Temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the agricultural aspect of Shavuot could no longer be observed, and the Talmudic sages later re-connected this festival with the giving of the Torah at Sinai during the month of Sivan (Ex. 19:1). Shavuot came to be called z'man mattan torateinu, "the Season of the Giving of the Torah" (i.e., the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai). During Shavuot we remember the revelation given at Sinai by spiritually reenacting kabbalat ha-Torah (the receiving of the Torah) -- as if we were present at Sinai ourselves (Deut. 4:9). This is regarded as a sort of "wedding day" when God betrothed Israel as His own people, separate from all others. The goal of Passover redemption was to set Israel free to become God's own treasured people (עַם סְגֻלָּה, am segulah), a light to the nations: ambassadors for Heaven's voice. In modern Judaism, confirmation ceremonies are often held at the synagogue for young adults to recommit themselves to the Jewish lifestyle and to pursue Talmud Torah (the study of Torah).
For the Messianic Jew (or Christian), Shavuot is the time of celebrating the birth of kallat Mashiach - the Bride of the Messiah (or Church), since the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) was poured out to the believers in Jerusalem during this festival (Acts 1:8; 2). In other words, the great redemption of Passover was accomplished so that we would be filled with the Ruach HaKodesh and made free as God's restored children, no longer subject to slavery and fear, but given holy access to the Divine Presence Himself. For more information about Shavuot, click here.
K'ish Echad, b'lev Echad
[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost"), which begins Tuesday May 18th at sundown this year... ]
04.27.10 (Iyyar 13, 5770) Salvation (יְשׁוּעָה) is always corporately understood. We are one "body," and when one member hurts, we all are affected (1 Cor. 12:26). This is summed up with the saying, kol yisrael arevim zeh la-zeh (כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲרֵבִים זֶה לָזֶה): "All Israel is responsible for one another." The sages reasoned that since the various commandments of the Torah cannot be literally fulfilled by any single person (e.g., the commandments given to the Kohanim (priests) do not apply to the Levites, the commandments given to men do not apply to women, and so on), all Jews taken together are considered a single person. This is why the Ten Commandments are formulated in the singular: "I am the LORD your (singular) God"; "you (singular) shall have no other gods before Me," and so on.
When we live our lives "as one man with one heart" (כּאישׁ אחד בּלב אחד), we are better equipped to love others as ourselves (Lev. 19:18). Each of us - and this is especially true and vital for those who belong to Yeshua the Mashiach - are connected to one another as ish-echad chadash (אישׁ־אחד חדשׁ) "one new man" (Eph. 2:15). Our welfare, blessing, and ultimate salvation is bound up with one another. Just as the midrash says that each soul is linked to a letter of the Torah, so each of us is linked to the LORD Yeshua who gave Himself up for us in order to reconcile us to God. Each child of God is part of the message of Yeshua's life and love in this world.
A Long Discipline...
[ The following is related to the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., "Pentecost"), which begins May 18th at sundown this year... ]
04.27.10 (Iyyar 13, 5770) "Hashem created the world in six days - but He spent forty days teaching the Torah to Moshe Rabbeinu on Har Sinai" (Nezirus Shimshon). Imparting the truth - even to one such as Moses - was nearly seven times more time-consuming for the LORD than the actual creation of the universe itself, demonstrating once again how intractable our human nature is and how difficult it is for us to turn to God in teshuvah....
And not only once, but twice did the LORD speak to Moses for forty days upon the fiery mount. The second time, you recall, occurred when God graciously permitted Moses to return after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf. Over the brokenness of tablets God spoke yet again - and there revealed to us the secret of His Name YHVH. Only after we understand God as rachum v'chanun is the breach restored and the covenant renewed.
This makes it all the more puzzling that traditional Judaism often considers itself a "meritocracy" wherein a person is rewarded for his or her own personal sanctity and righteousness. The tzaddik, the righteous man, is the one who walks in obedience to Torah and seeks tikkun olam (the repair of the world), but the Torah itself teaches that this is realized only after we accept our broken condition and confess our need for God's redemptive love. And that is really the message of Shavuot, after all, since it represents the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit given to those who trust in Yeshua for life. Passover leads directly to the culmination of Shavuot. We are redeemed in order to walk in newness of life, imparted to us by the love and compassion of God Himself.
Parashat Emor - פרשת אמור
[ The following explores some themes found in this week's Torah reading (Emor). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
04.25.10 (Iyyar 11, 5770) The Torah reading for this week is parashat Emor ("say"), which begins with a warning to the priests not to defile themselves through contact with the dead and concludes with an outline of the mo'edim (Jewish holidays) celebrated throughout the year. It is a fascinating and very rich portion of Torah, chaverim.
Who were the priests of Israel?
Jacob, of course, had 12 sons, who became the founders of the twelve tribes (shevatim) of Israel. His son Levi had three sons: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (Gen. 46:11; Ex. 6:16-26) who became heads of the clans of the Levites. However, God exclusively chose Levi's great grandson Aaron and his descendants from among all the Levites to be His priests (Num. 17:1-10). The other descendants of Levi were assigned roles to assist in the maintenance of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), such as carrying various vessels, assembling it when the LORD moved the camp, and so on, but only the direct male descendants of Aaron were authorized to perform avodah and offer sacrifices on behalf of the people.
The Jewish people are therefore composed of three "classes:"
- Levi'im (לְוִיִּם) - Levites (i.e., descendants of the patriarch Levi).
- Kohanim (כּהנִים) - A subset of the Levites (i.e., the male descendants of Aaron) who were assigned the role of priests. An individual descendant is called a kohen (כּהן). The Kohen Gadol was a priest singled out to perform special functions such as the Yom Kippur ritual and other sacrifices. Note that both the Leviim and the Kohanim were supported by the gifts given by the rest of Israel.
- Yisraelim (יִשְׂרְאֵלִים) - Israelites (i.e., a Jew or convert in general)
Note that while every Levite is an Israelite (a descendant of Israel), not every Levite (descendant of Levi) is a Kohen (descendant of Aaron).
This class distinction is one of the few remnants of Temple-era Jewish society still in force today, with special roles assigned at synagogue services. For example, it is customary to call a kohen for the first Torah reading (aliyah), a Levite for the second reading, and members of any other tribe of Israel to the remaining readings. A kohen is also called for performing the priestly blessing (called nesiat Kapayim - "raising the hands") during the service. Among orthodox Jews, a kohen is symbolically given money during the Pidyon HaBen ceremony ("redemption of the first born).
Based on the Torah's prohibition that a priest refrain from contact with the dead (Lev. 21:11), Jewish law decreed that a Kohen cannot be within six feet of a dead body and may not be in the same room where a dead body is at rest. This means that Kohanim cannot attend a Jewish funeral (except for those of his immediate family) or must stay in a "Kohanim room" outside of the main chapel area. In order to further protect them from coming into contact with the dead, many Jewish cemeteries designate a separate burial ground for Kohanim so that the sons of deceased kohanim can visit their fathers' graves without becoming defiled. Kohens are also careful not to be in a hospital, morgue, etc. where dead bodies might be present.
The Sacred Calendar - appointed times of the LORD
The second part of parashat Emor lists the eight main mo'edim -- the "appointed times" of the LORD given in the Jewish Scriptures. These are also referred to as yamim tovim (Jewish holidays). Note that this is the first time that the Torah reveals a comprehensive description of the festivals of the year, including the following special times:
- The Sabbath - weekly observance of Shabbat that commemorates God as the Creator of the world. According to the sages, Shabbat is the most important of the appointed times, even more important than Yom Kippur and the Ten Days of Awe.
- Pesach (Nisan 14), also called Passover
- Unleavened Bread (Nisan 15-22); note that the Counting of the Omer is first mentioned in this section of Torah (Lev. 23:9-16)
- Firstfruits (Nisan 16), also called Reishit Katzir
- Shavuot (Sivan 6), also called Pentecost
- Yom Teru'ah (Tishri 1), also called Rosh Hashanah (note that this is the first time this is revealed in Torah)
- Yom Kippur (Tishri 10) also called the Day of Atonement
- Sukkot (Tishri 15-22) also called Tabernacles (note that this is the first time the commandment to dwell in sukkas and the waving of the arba minim (four species) are mentioned in the Torah)
In addition, Moses was instructed to keep the menorah in the Holy Place of the Mishkan burning continually (ner tamid) and to provide weekly "showbread," or twelve loaves of bread on the shulchan inside the Holy Place. The Jewish sages say these allude to the holidays of Chanukah and Purim, respectively (Chanukah because of the oil; Purim because of the lechem ha-panim ("showbread") that alludes to the hester panim - or "hiding of face" and nes nistar (hidden miracle) of the Esther story).
Note: On a personal note, this ministry sincerely needs your prayers... It's been difficult lately financially, emotionally, etc., and the enemy attempts to discourage us in many ways. Thank you for standing with us, chaverim. We couldn't be doing this work without you...
Anniverary of Kabbalah
[ Sunday, May 2nd is the 33rd day of the Omer Count, or "Lag B'Omer." Lag B'Omer is generally recognized as a mystical holiday in Judaism. ]
04.24.10 (Iyyar 10, 5770) Sunday, May 2nd marks Lag B'Omer (ל״ג בעומר), a mystical holiday that commemorates the death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (i.e, Rashbi: רשב"י), the purported author of the Zohar, a key text of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). According to tradition, on the day of his death, Rabbi Shimon revealed the deepest secrets of the Kabbalah to his followers and insisted that they celebrate the anniversary of his death (Yahrzeit) with joy and happiness. His followers then associated his death on Iyyar 18 with the anniversary of the revelation of Kabbalah (Torat Ha-Nistar) to Israel. Among Kabbalists, Lag B'Omer celebrates the giving of the "mystical Torah" to Israel just as the holiday of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the written Torah. Today special Lag B'Omer celebrations are held in the village of Meron (near Safed, Israel) where the Rashbi is buried.
Lag B'Omer also commemorates the reprieve of a plague that caused the death of thousands of Rabbi Akiva's students during the last of the Jewish-Roman wars (called the Bar Kochba Revolt (מרד בר כוכבא), c.132-135 AD). Since Jewish tradition assumed that the Messiah would be a military leader who would deliver the Jews and usher in world peace, Rabbi Akiva (incorrectly) surmised that Shimon bar Kochba, the leader of the Jewish resistance, was the Jewish Messiah -- based on an esoteric reading of Numbers 24:17: כּוֹכָב מִיַּעֲקב - "A star shall come out of Jacob" ("Bar Kokhba" means "son of a star" in Aramaic). His tragic endorsement led to death of countless Jews and further alienated the Messianic Jewish community from Israel. The eventual defeat of the Jews by Emperor Hadrian marked the decisive beginning of the Jewish Diaspora from the Promised Land. The province of Judaea was then renamed "Palestine" and Jerusalem was called Aelia Capitolina.
According to Jewish tradition, all of Akiva's students died during the time of the Omer Count, but Akiva "started over" with a new batch of just five students. Of these, his most famous student was Shimon bar Yochai. The Talmud (Yevamot 62b) recalls the tragedy of Bar Kochba and commemorates it as a "Scholar's Festival," in honor of Rabbi Akiva.
It should be clear that Lag B'Omer is not a Christian/Messianic Jewish holiday, but on the contrary celebrates occultic speculations that further separate many Jewish people from the liberating truth of Yeshua the Messiah. During this time of "countdown," chaverim, let us pray that the eyes of many Jews will soon be opened to see that Yeshua is indeed the Messiah and Savior of Israel.
New Hebrew Meditation
The City of the Great King - קִרְיַת מֶלֶךְ רָב
04.22.10 (Iyyar 8, 5770) I wrote a new Hebrew Meditation (City of the Great King) to help us remember the centrality of Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלָםִ) in the plans and purposes of the LORD God of Israel. I hope you find it encouraging, chaverim.
On a personal note, this ministry sincerely needs your prayers... It's been difficult lately, and the enemy attempts to discourage us in many ways. Thank you for standing with us, chaverim. We couldn't be doing this work without you...
Happy Independence Day to Israel!
04.20.10 (Iyyar 6, 5770) Shalom Chaverim. Today is Israel's Independence Day, called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (yohm ha-atz-ma-OOT) in Hebrew (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת). The word atzma'ut (independence) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם). The name reminds us of the LORD God's promise to revive the "dry bones" of Israel (עֲצָמוֹת) by bringing the Jews back from their long exile (Ezek. 37:4-6).
But why should Christians care about ethnic Israel? After all, many Christian denominations advocate some version of "Replacement Theology" and regard the promises God made to the Jewish people as belonging exclusively to their church... The existence of the modern State of Israel therefore evokes little thanks to God from these groups, and some of their ranks even regard Israel's revived presence on the world stage as an embarrassment to their typically "liberal" theology. Hence we see the (remarkably bad) phenomena of so-called "Christian" church denominations that express anti-Israel sentiment, even asking their followers to divest investments in Israel on behalf of the "Palestinians," etc.
Briefly, we should care about Israel because the existence of Jewish people - and of the nation of Israel in particular - demonstrates that God is faithful to the covenant promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21). The perpetuity of the Jewish people - despite so much worldwide and satanic hatred over the millennia - is an awesome testimony of God's faithful love (Jer. 31:35-37). עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is a sign of the "sure mercies of David" (חַסְדֵי דָוִד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים) that are revealed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 55:1-6). Moreover, the New Covenant itself, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promises the perpetuity of the Jewish people thoughout the ages (Jer. 31:31-37):
Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."
Thus says the LORD (יהוה), who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת) is his name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation (גּוֹי) before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jer. 31:35-36
According to this theologically critical passage, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" -- i.e., zera Yisrael -- is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament") that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned... It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah.
In this connection, let me ask you a simple question. If the King of the Jews is our hope and lives inside our hearts by faith, and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt 5:35), then it only makes sense that we would heed King David's admonition to "ask for the peace of Jerusalem..."
שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ
sha·a·lu · she·lom · ye·ru·sha·la·yim, · yish·la·yu · o·ha·va·yikh
"Ask for the well-being of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace" (Psalm 122:6).
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King David was a great prophet. Note that the phrase "sha'alu shalom Yerushalayim" actually reveals truth about our Savior Yeshua the Messiah. The word sha'alu actually means "ask" (as in ask a sheilah, a question). Shalom is a Name of Yeshua, since He indeed is Sar Shalom (the Prince of Peace). The word Jerusalem means "teaching of peace" (the "Jeru" at the beginning of the word comes from the same root as the word Torah, which means teaching), so the phrase could be construed as "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." Yeshua is indeed the rightful King of Jerusalem who is coming soon to reign over all the earth. מָרַן אֲתָא יְשׁוּעַ / Maranatha Yeshua! "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done" (Rev. 22:12).
Parashat Acharei Mot & Kedoshim
[ The following explores some themes found in this week's Torah reading (Acharei Mot - Kedoshim). Please read these Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]
04.18.10 (Iyyar 4, 5770) This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim, both of which focus on holiness. In response to the recent death of Aaron's sons for offering "strange fire" in the Tabernacle, Acharei Mot ("after the death") explains the holiness code for the kohanim (priests) of Israel -- and in particular gives the laws for the Yom Kippur service. Parashat Kedoshim, on the other hand, concerns the holiness code for the entire congregation of Israel.
The followers of the LORD God of Israel are to be holy. In Hebrew, the word kedushah (from the root k-d-sh) means sanctity or "set-apartness" (other Hebrew words that use this root include kadosh (holy), Kiddush (sanctifying the wine), Kaddish (sanctifying the Name), kiddushin (the ring ceremony at a marriage), and so on). Kadosh connotes the sphere of the sacred that is radically separate from all that is sinful and profane. As such, it is lofty and elevated (Isa. 57:15), beyond all comparison and utterly unique (Isa. 40:25), entirely righteous (Isa. 5:16), glorious and awesome (Psalm 99:3), full of light and power (Isa. 10:7), and is chosen and favored as God's own (Ezek. 22:26). Indeed, holiness is a synonym for the LORD Himself (Hakadosh barukh hu - The Holy One, blessed be He).
The idea of the holy (kadosh) therefore implies differentiation: the realm of the holy is entirely set apart from the common, the habitual, or the profane. The holy is singular, awe-inspiring, even "terrible" or dreadful (see Neh. 1:5; Psalm 68:35). As the Holy One (hakadosh), God is utterly unique, distinct, sacred, and "set apart" as the only One of its kind. He alone is worthy of true worship and adoration, since He alone is peerless, without rival, and stands in relation to the world as Creator and Lord. Yes, only the Lord is infinitely and eternally Other -- known to Himself as "I AM THAT I AM" (Exod. 3:15).
Holiness, then, implies more than an abstract or indifferent "metaphysical" separation (as is suggested by various forms of dualism), but rather separation from that which is mundane (chullin), banal, common, or evil. In other words, holiness implies absolute moral goodness and perfection. It is impossible that the Holy One could condone sin, since this would negate the distinction between the sacred and profane and thereby undermine the nature of holiness itself. The Holy is in opposition to the profane and therefore the LORD must hate and oppose that which violates the sacred.
Various practical mitzvot are given in this Torah portion through which a Jew is sanctified, or set apart to be kadosh - holy - and therefore fit for relationship with God. God is not only "wholly Other" (i.e., transcendent) but also pervades all of creation (i.e., "immanent"), and those who are called into His Presence must therefore be holy themselves. Such practical holiness results in sanctification obtained through the observance of commandments (mitzvot). These commandments include both mitzvot aseh (commandments to do something) and mitzvot lo ta'aseh (commandments to refrain from doing something). In addition, chukkim, or "statutes" are given that further separate the Jew from the customs and profanity of the surrounding nations.
For example, though it is inevitable (and psychologically necessary) that we make judgments about other people, the Torah states, b'tzedek tishpot 'amitekha, "in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor" (see also John 7:24), which implies that we must be forgiving and good when we think of other people.
The focal point and the very heart of what holiness represents is stated as v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Note that the direct object of the verb (ahav - to love) is your neighbor. But who, exactly, is my neighbor? Some have claimed that the word rea (neighbor) refers only to one's fellow Jew - not to others at large in the world. However this is obviously false, since the "stranger" (ger) is explicitly identified to be an object of our love (Lev 19:34). And note that Yeshua the Mashiach answered this question by turning it around. Instead of attempting to find someone worthy of neighborly love, I am asked to be a worthy and loving neighbor myself (Luke 10:29-37).
The phrase v'ahavta l're'akha kamokha (Lev. 19:18) is considered the most comprehensive rule of conduct toward others found in the entire Torah. Thus Hillel, a contemporary of the Yeshua, commented regarding this phrase: "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary." Yeshua likewise said "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets" (Matt 7:12). The apostle Paul also wrote "Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (see Rom. 13:10, Gal. 5:14).
The mystery of holiness is that it is bound up in true love...
Atonement and Blood
[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah (Tazria-Metzora).... Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
04.15.10 (Iyyar 1, 5770) Though the creation of human life (i.e., birth) is regarded as one of the greatest events in the world, the Torah states that it begins in impurity (טֻמְאָה), indicating that natural life by itself is insufficient for attaining spiritual life (John 3:7). Hence we read in our Torah portion that the birth of a child results in impurity for the mother that required blood atonement (Lev. 12:2, 7). A new mother is treated as a nidah (a menstruent woman) and is considered impure (i.e., tamei, טָמֵא) for 40 days (if a boy) or 80 days (if a girl). Only after making an offering of blood (a lamb, a young pigeon, or a turtledove) was she declared "clean" (טָהֵר). This was also true of Miriam (i.e., Mary, the mother of Yeshua) who fulfilled her "days of purification" and offered the prescribed sacrifices according to the law (Luke 2:22-24).
The Torah makes it clear that blood (דָּם) is used as a means of consecration as well as a means of obtaining atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God. Blood was used on the doorposts of the houses in Egypt to ward off judgment and was later used to ratify the covenant given at Sinai (Exod. 24:8). All the elements of Mishkan (Tabernacle) were likewise "separated" by its use: The altar, the various furnishings of the Temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the priests themselves were sanctified by blood (Exod. 29:20-21, Heb. 9:21). But ultimately blood was used to "make atonement" for the soul upon the altar. 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)." Blood is therefore connected to the holiness of life through sacrificial death....
The Scriptures teach that the "wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23, 1 Cor. 15:22) and the soul that sins shall die (Gen. 2:17, 3:19, Ezek. 18:4, 20). Sin is a source of lethal spiritual contamination or defilement. The holiness and justice of God requires that sin be punished by death, and death is represented by the shedding of blood. However, the system of animal sacrifices and blood rituals provided in the Mishkan was meant to "atone" for sin (i.e., restore the broken relationship with God) by means of identifying with the death of a vicarious substitute. With regard to the chatat ("sin offering") or asham ("guilt offering"), the worshipper would bring a kosher animal (korban) to the entrance of the Mishkan and place both his hands on the animal's head, leaning on it to identify it with himself (Lev. 4:29). This act of "semikhah" (סְמִיכָה) symbolically transferred sins to the sacrificial animal. Then, the offerer himself would slay the animal and confess that his sin caused the innocent victim to be slain in his place (Menachot 110a). This is the "life-for-life" principle: God accepted the sacrificial substitute in place of the offender based on his faith..
In our Torah portion, a person who was declared a metzora (i.e., a "leper," or one suffering from tzara'at) must be sent "outside the camp." He was an outcast and treated like one who had been sentenced to death. He would tear his clothes, cover his face, and cry out, Unclean! Unclean!" so that no one would be defiled through contact with him (Lev. 13:45-46). For the metzora to become purified, he likewise had to undergo examination outside the camp and then undergo a ritual that bears some resemblance with the Yom Kippur ritual performed on behalf of the nation (the scapegoat bird, the scarlet thread). In a way, the purification of the metzora was like that of anointing the priests: blood from the asham (guilt) offering would be sprinkled on his earlobe, thumb and foot (Lev. 14:14). The shaving of his hair and his immersion in water (mikveh) was like being reborn or brought back from the dead (Lev. 14:9). Both blood and water are symbols of cleansing in the Torah, just as they are in the New Covenant of Yeshua (John 19:34).
The Bible is described as a "book of blood and a bloody book." In the Torah, just as in the New Testament, sacrificial blood is connected to atonement and the forgiveness of sin (Heb. 9:22). Blood is the means by which spiritual uncleaness - the defilement caused by sin and death - is removed from us. However, unlike the blood rituals of the Tabernacle which functioned as "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (Heb. 8:5), the sacrifice of Yeshua has "perfected for all time" those who are being sanctified (Heb. 10:4, 11-14). All the sacrifices offered in the Mishkan (and Temple) anticipated the greater sacrifice of Yeshua Himself (Heb. 9:23-26). We go "outside the camp" to the Cross and there confess our sin, understanding that we are "spiritual lepers" under sentence of death. By faith we "lean our hands" upon the head of Yeshua, acccepting that He is our sacrificial substitute before the Father. We trust in the divine "life-for-life" principle of Yehua's life given for us... We "lean into Him," meaning we trust in His sacrifice and abandon our sins with Him...
"Come now and reason with the LORD. Though your sins are as scarlet, they can be made white as snow..." (Isa. 1:18). The blood of bulls and goats could never fully remove our sins since they did not represent the very life of God poured out on our behalf (Heb. 10:4). God chose the ultimate "cleansing agent" for sin by shedding the precious blood of His own Son for the sake of our atonement (1 Cor. 15:3-4; Rom. 5:11). The blood of Yeshua truly cleanses us from the stain of our sins (Heb. 10:12-14). We make "spiritual contact" with the sacrificial blood of Yeshua through faith -- by being "baptized into His death" and identifying with Him as our Sin-Bearer before God. We then are delivered from the law's verdict against us and accepted into the Kingdom of God (Rom. 4:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Col. 1:13-14, 2:10-15).
"The law made nothing perfect, but through a better hope we now draw near to God" (Heb. 7:19). The blood of our Messiah Yeshua is called the "the blood of the everlasting covenant" (דַם בְּרִית עוֹלָם) that cleanses us from our sins (Heb. 13:20, 1 John 1:7). The Cross represents the "Mercy Seat" (Kapporet) that covered the ark in the Holy of Holies made without hands. It is interesting to note that the word used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word kapporet ("cover") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον). The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood." In other words, the sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself.
Because of Yeshua, we now have access before the Throne of God Himself (Heb. 4:16). All glory be to Yeshua our Savior, "the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To Him who loves us, and released us from our sins by His blood" (Rev. 1:5). "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God" (Rev. 5:6-9).
Healing the Outcast
[ The following is related to this week's Torah (Tazria-Metzora).... Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
04.13.10 (Nisan 29, 5770) How was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean (Matt. 8:1-4)? Only because He Himself is the LORD, the Healer (יהוה רפְאֶךָ). Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what those under the Levitical system of worship could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) - a Leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD. As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Mashiach:
He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6)
The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death. Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.
בְּדַעְתּוֹ יַצְדִּיק צַדִּיק עַבְדִּי לָרַבִּים וַעֲוֹנתָם הוּא יִסְבּל
bedato yatzdik tzadik avdi la-rabim, va'avonotam hu yisbol
"By his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities" (Isa. 53:11)
Yom Ha'atzmaut - Israeli Independence Day
Mon-Tues April 19-20th, 2010
04.12.10 (Nisan 28, 5770) After the Jewish people had suffered for nearly 2,000 years of exile as foretold by Moses (Lev. 26:38, 44; Deut. 28:64-64) and the Hebrew prophets (Isa. 43:5-6; Jer. 30:11; Joel 3:2; Ezek. 36:8-10; Hos. 9:1-10, etc.), Israel was miraculously reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708). Today Jews across the world celebrate Iyyar 5 as Israel Independence Day.
Note that Yom Ha'atzma'ut may be moved earlier or postponed if observance of the holiday (or Yom HaZikaron, which always preceeds it) would conflict with Shabbat. There are some other reasons (of which I am uncertain) that states that if Iyyar 5 falls on a Monday, the holiday is postponed until Tuesday... This year, Yom Ha'atzma'ut is postponed one day to be observed on Iyyar 6.
עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" The nation of Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37).
Yom HaZikaron - Israeli Memorial Day
Sun-Mon April 18-19th, 2010
04.12.10 (Nisan 28, 5770) Zakhar is the Hebrew word for "remember," and zikaron is the word for memorial. Yom HaZikaron (יום הזכרון), then, is the Day of Memorial, or Memorial Day. The Israeli Knesset established Iyyar 4 (the day before Israel's Independence Day) as a Memorial Day for soldiers who gave up their lives in battle for the creation and defense of the State of Israel. This year, Yom Zikaron is observed on Sunday, April 18th at sundown.
04.12.10 (Nisan 28, 5770) This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: Tazria and Metzora. This "double portion" deals primarily with the relationship between the sin of lashon hara ("the evil tongue") and the divinely imparted affliction of tzara'at, sometimes (inaccurately) translated as "leprosy."
I used to think lashon hara concerned cases of obvious abuse of the tongue, for example, slandering another person or using profanity. Now while these are certainly cases of lashon hara, the concept is larger than that, and includes saying something bad about another person even if it happens to be true. In other words, lashon hara is gossip, spreading evil (even if true) reports, or expressing a negative or critical spirit about others. Such behavior is explicitly forbidden in Lev. 19:16.
The penalty for lashon hara was tzara'at, a skin condition that could only be diagnosed by a kohen (priest), not a doctor. In other words, it was a spiritual malady that required spiritual discernment to treat. If someone was diagnosed with tzara'at, they were forced to leave society and undergo a period of mourning and teshuvah (repentance).
In traditional Jewish thinking, lashon hara is one of the worst of sins, and God is said to punish those who speak such with middah-keneged-middah -- "measure for measure" justice. Since spreading evil reports divided others and caused isolation and loneliness, the metzora shall be afflicted (with tzuris, troubles) and separated from the fellowship of Israel. Indeed, some of the sages point out that the word metzora (one afflicted with tzara'at) is related to the phrase, motzi ra (one who speaks evil), and thereby conclude that evil speech is the principal cause of the disease itself. Obviously we should flee from the sin of lashon hara! May God help each of us to always "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15, 25).
Yeshua told us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34), and further warned us about the unthinking use of our words: "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall account for in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by you words you shall be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Note, however, that this does not mean that we are excused from making righteous judgments (John 7:24). Sometimes it is the mark of a coward to refrain from speaking the truth. As Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing." We must "speak the truth in love," even if that means sometimes offending those who wish to excuse or overlook evil behavior...
A midrash states that when the children of Israel first heard the laws of tzara'at, they despaired and became very afraid. Moses reassured them by telling them that tzara'at was a sign from God that they were indeed a holy nation, since it is His way of encouraging them to do teshuvah in order to be in fellowship with Him. Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Mashiach," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).
In the Brit Chadashah, we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? Ah, this is a good sheilah (question), but it is directly answered when we apprehend that Yeshua is none other than YHVH who came in the flesh. For remember, it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God. Blessed be His Name forever.
One final note of hope: Many of us are in various states of denial regarding our own sinful condition and need for deliverance, which can be illustrated by the case of the metzora and its progression in the life of the afflicted.
A doctor friend of mine once reminded me that tzara'at was an infectious condition. As long as the affliction was spreading across the body, the person was metzora and therefore tamei (unclean), but if the tzara'at (finally) covered the person from head to toe, he was to be considered "clean" (Lev. 13:12-13). In other words, in some cases the metzora needed to be entirely covered with their affliction before they were set free, and this further reminds me of our need to be fully identified with the death of Yeshua in order to experience the resurrection life! It is only by understanding how radical the need for our deliverance that Yeshua's healing touch can be manifest.
Rabbis who Deny Blood Atonement
04.11.10 (Nisan 27, 5770) Someone wrote today asking me what I thought of certain "anti-missionary" websites that dispute that Yeshua could have died for our sins because 1) the law forbade human sacrifice, and 2) God would never allow an innocent man to stand in the place of a guilty one.
Let me first state that when such people refer to the "law" in this matter, they are referring to the subset of the Torah called Sefer Ha-Brit (סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית) that defined the various ethical, social, and ritual obligations given in the Sinai Covenant (Exod. 24:7-8). They are clearly not referring to the first five books of the written "Torah" in general. Indeed the "Torah of Moses" (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה) reveals that the very first "priest" (i.e., kohen: כּהֵן) was neither a Jew nor a Levite nor a descendant of Aaron, but rather Someone who is said to have "neither beginning of days nor end of life" but is made like (ἀφωμοιωμένος) the Son of God, a priest continually (Heb. 7:3). This, of course, was Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), the King of Salem (מֶלֶךְ שָׁלֵם) to whom Abraham offered tithes after his victory over the kings (Gen. 14:18). The author of the Book of Hebrews makes the point that the priesthood of Malki-Tzedek is greater than the Levitical priesthood and is therefore superior to the rites and services of the Tabernacle (Heb. 7:10). It was to Malki-Tzedek that Abram (and by extension, the Levitical system instituted by his descendant Moses) gave tithes and homage -- and rightly so, since Yeshua is the great High Priest of the better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). Indeed, Yeshua is Himself the Promised Seed of Abraham who saves the world from the kelalah (curse) caused by Adam's transgression (Gen. 3:15). It is profoundly prophetic how Abraham was met by the Coming One as the Priest of the Most High God in the City of Zion, and how he gave him the tokens of bread and wine - the very commemorative emblems Yeshua gave to His disciples as a witness of His mediation for their sins (1 Cor. 11:23-26). It is also highly prophetic that Abraham himself was commanded by the LORD to offer human sacrifice when he bound his "only begotten son" Isaac upon the altar at Moriah (see The Gospel of Moses). Many midrashim state that Isaac actually WAS killed but came back to life, and that agrees with the Book of Hebrews description that Abraham expected the resurrection of his son (Heb. 11:17-19). It is incorrect, then, to claim that the Torah caegorically forbade human sacrifice. On the contrary, it was proclaimed to Adam and Eve, prefigured in the Akedah, and later spoken about directly by the prophets:
He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not. Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6)
The priesthood of Yeshua is said to be after the "order of Malki-Tzedek," based on a direct oath from God, that predates the operation of the Levitical priesthood (for more information about the role of Yeshua as our High Priest, see the article "Yom Kippur and the Gospel"). This is not unlike the King/Priest office that Moses held when he commanded the sacrifice of the Passover lambs during the Exodus. The korban pesach (sacrifice of Passover) was not originally instituted through the Levitical priesthood (i.e., the Mishkan), but rather predated the giving of the law to the priests. It is no coincidence that Yeshua explicitly referred to this (pre-Levitical priesthood) event to speak of His role as Seh Elohim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 3:1-12).
Indeed, the Levitical priesthood "made nothing perfect" and therefore a "new priesthood" was required to finally reconcile us back to God (Psalm 110:4). "For when there is a change (μετατιθεμένης) in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change (μετάθεσις) in the law as well" (Heb. 7:12). The word translated "change" here comes from the verb μετατίθημι (from meta, "after" + tithemi, to "set") which would be better translated as "transposed." The idea is the priesthood reverted back to the original priesthood of Zion and therefore required a corresponding "transfer" of authority (μετάθεσις) to the original kingship as well (Heb. 7:12). Yeshua is our great Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20; 7:1-28), just as He is our King and the final authority of the Torah. Those who follow Him are called to be mamlekhet kohanim v'goy kadosh, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" forever (Exod. 19:6, 1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6, 5:10). Followers of Yeshua have an altar "from which those who serve in the Tabernacle are not permitted to eat" (Heb. 13:10).
In the older covenant, the role of the priest was primarily to help someone offer sacrifice, or present "korban" (קָרְבָּן) to God. This Hebrew word comes from a root (קרב) that means to "come close," specifically, to draw near to God. The offering was intended to bring someone who was far away near to God once again. In other words, the primary function of a priest was to help "mediate" the presence of God by means of vicarious sacrifice. This was the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that implied hearing a confession of guilt and pronouncing forgiveness. The ENTIRE sacrificial system of the Torah (Mishkan/Temple) was predicated exclusively upon this. Only those who radically reinterpret the Torah and disregard over 40% of the mitzvot could claim that ritual sacrifice -- by the blood of an innocent victim -- is not expressly taught in the Torah. The life of the flesh is in the blood -- given to make "atonement" upon the altar (Lev. 17:11). The entire system was set up to "point to" the coming sacrifice of the Messiah Himself of whom the prophets foretold (Isa. 53, Psalm 22, Zech. 12:10, etc.).
Under the terms of the Sinai covenant, the kohen served as a facilitator, a helper, a comforter for those who wanted to draw near the LORD. The offering of a sacrifice served as a "symbol and expression of man's desire to purify himself and become reconciled to God" (Leibowitz, Vayikra). A related function of the priest was to serve as a healer, or someone who would pronounce the unclean as "clean." The metzora ("leper") first needed to be covered with his condition before he could be pronounced clean. This was metaphorical of the sinner's complete identification with his sin. The pronouncement of being "clean" meant restoration to the community and renewed fellowship. In each of these cases we find that priesthood of Yeshua is a greater than all the sacrifices made at the Temple. Indeed, He is greater than the Temple itself, which was merely a "shadow" of His Reality and Substance (Matt. 12:6; Heb. 10:1).
When the Second Temple was destroyed in fulfillment of Yeshua's prophecy (Mark 13:1-2, Luke 19:44), "Judaism without a Temple" was born, and that meant (among other things), that the role of the sage replaced that of the priest. Indeed, despite the Council of Yavne and its legacy (i.e., Mishnah/Talmud), there simply is no Torah-based Judaism apart from the Holy Temple. Over 40% (247) of the 613 mitzvot (Torah commandments) concern the ceremonial laws of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Book of Leviticus is the central book of the Torah, and blood atonement by an innocent, sacrificial victim is at the heart of the law given to the priests of Israel.
Finally it should be noted that the proclamation of the Cross of Yeshua as the sole means of atonement with God is inherently offensive to the idea of "meritocracy" taught in traditional Judaism (and in other religions). Faith in Yeshua's work and human merit are antithetical ideas, so the underlying issue has to do with the question about how a person obtains righteousness before the LORD God of Israel... Is it through completely trusting in God's forgiveness and salvation given in the Messiah, or is it through performing enough mitzvot (good dees) and hoping for the best? The symbol of faith for followers of Yeshua is the Cross, not the scales.
Can we trust the Greek New Testament?
04.11.10 (Nisan 27, 5770) Today someone wrote to tell me that I am teaching error because I state that the New Testament was originally written in Koine Greek rather than in first century Hebrew. After all, Jesus and his disciples all spoke Hebrew, so it is only natural that the New Testament would be written in Hebrew as well, right?
In response, first it should be understood that there is a long history of "Hellenism" among the Jewish people, both in ancient Alexandria as well as in the Promised Land itself. Ossuaries dating from the Second Temple period indicate Greek artwork and Greek versions of Hebrew names. In Biblical Archaeological Review, Pieter W. Van Der Horst writes, "One of the most surprising facts about funerary inscriptions [extant from ancient Palestine dating from 300 B.C. to 500 A.D] is that most of them are in Greek - approximately 70 percent; about 12 percent are in Latin; and only 18 percent are in Hebrew or Aramaic." Furthermore, since the time of Alexander the Great (c. 330 B.C), many of the Jewish High Priests had become "Hellenists" which led to the rejection of the Temple by the Essene Community and eventually to the later Maccabean revolts. Even the Dead Sea Scrolls include Greek texts among the Hebrew and Aramaic. So it's clear that Hellenistic culture and Greek language were pervasive influences in Israel both before, during, and after the time when Yeshua lived in ancient Israel.
It is certain that Yeshua himself spoke Greek (as well as Aramaic, Hebrew and perhaps Latin). Greek was well understood in "Galilee of the Gentiles," the region where Yeshua grew up as a child. Moreover, Yeshua lived just four miles from the city of Sepphoris (Tzipori), a cosmopolitan and Hellenistic city mentioned by Josephus as "the ornament of all Galilee." Greek-speaking Jews were common during the days of Yeshua, and even many of Yeshua's disciples had characteristically Greek names (e.g., Andrew, Philip, etc.). The New Testament records that Yeshua spoke to a Greek-speaking woman (Mark 7:26) and it is likely that he likewise spoke to Pilate in Greek (Mark 15:2-5; Matt. 27:11-14; Luke 23:3; John 18:33-38). In Acts 6:1 we read about how the "Hellenists" (῾Ελληνιστής) complained that many of their widows were being overlooked in preference to the Hebrew widows in the daily tzedakah. Note that these Hellenists were Greek-speaking Jewish believers in Yeshua -- not Gentiles. Moreover, the Apostle Paul chose to write in Greek because it was the lingua franca of the ancient world, and he regarded himself as "Apostle to the nations." Paul certainly knew Hebrew (see Acts 21:40, 26:14), but he consciously chose to write in Greek and reached out first to the Hellenistic synagogues during his missionary journeys.
Moreover, all of the ancient textual evidence for the New Testament is in Koine Greek, and scholars have not found a single manuscript in Aramaic or Hebrew that predates the Greek. The New Testament is by far the best-attested (and best preserved) literature of antiquity, with manuscript evidence dating back to the first century. For example, the Magdalen Fragments are written in a style of Koine Greek that was current in the 1st Century A.D. during the very lives of the apostles. Indeed, ancient papyrus expert Carsten Thiede and other scholars regard certain fragments from the Gospel of Matthew to be an eyewitness account.
We have some anecdotal evidence of a "Q" gospel that underlies the others gospel accounts, and it is undoubtedly true that there are some "Semitisms" found in the Greek text of the Gospels (Mark 5:41, 15:34, John 1:41, etc.), but it is clear -- both from history and from the textual evidence we have - that the Holy Spirit chose to use Koine (i.e., "common") Greek as the language to reach out to the world. This is true, incidentally, of the Torah and Nakh, which were also translated into Koine Greek (i.e., the Septuagint, or LXX). Many of the oldest Biblical fragments among the Dead Sea Scrolls correspond more closely with the LXX than with the (later) Masoretic text, and indeed we have evidence of Koine Greek manuscripts that were discovered in the Qumran caves themselves...
None of this is to imply that Paul and Yeshua did not speak Hebrew, of course, for it is certain they did (Acts 21:40, 26:14, etc.). Hebrew was clearly the language of religious Jews during the Second Temple period (just as it is to this day). However, the Greek text has been accepted by Yeshua's followers as far back as we can determine, and there is more and better textual evidence for this text than ALL other texts of antiquity -- INCLUDING the Hebrew text of the Torah itself!
We must be careful here. If you imply that the Greek New Testament is inaccurate, or that it "really" is some translation of some "lost Hebrew Gospel," etc., the authority of the Greek New Testament itself will be undermined. The same point can be made, incidentally, regarding the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. If you imply that the text of the Torah is inaccurate or that it is "really" a translation from pictograms that predate the "jots and tittles" of the Torah (Matt. 5:18), the authority of the Hebrew text will be similarly undermined...
Beware of those who attempt to "teach" you to distrust your Bible by suggesting that the Scriptures we have today are really faulty interpretations of some other "lost" texts. No, the only "lost texts" are those that will cause you become lost yourself by questioning the revealed Word of Truth (John 17:17; Eph. 1:13; 2 Tim. 2:15; James 1:18). Beloved, God's word will never fail (Psalm 12:6-7, Prov. 30:5-6; Mark 13:31).
Shavuot and Yeshua:
God Speaks "in Son"
[ Shavuot begins on Sivan 6 on the Jewish calendar, which occurs sundown on May 18th this year. Like other holidays, Jews living outside of Israel celebrate Shavuot for an extra day. ]
04.10.10 (Nisan 26, 5770) We are in the midst of the countdown to the holiday of Shavuot ("weeks" or "Pentecost"), considered the climax or goal of the Passover Season. From the second day of Passover we count 49 days - seven weeks of seven days - until we arrive at the 50th day, the "Jubilee" of the Season. Shavuot is traditionally recognized as Z'man mattan torateinu, "the season of the giving of the Torah," though it was precisely at this time that the promised Holy Spirit was given to the followers of Yeshua the Messiah in fulfillment of the promise of the New Covenant of Zion (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4).
Apart from the waving of the two leavened loaves before the altar at the Temple (a picture of the "one new man" in the Messiah), the sages note that there are no specific mitzvot (commandments) assigned to this holiday. However, since Jewish tradition associates the giving of the Torah with this time, one mitzvah is thought to especially apply during this time:
"Only take care and keep your soul diligently (רַק הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ וּשְׁמר נַפְשְׁךָ), lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children -- how on that day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb..." (Deut. 4:9-10).
The Torah regards the day of the revelation at Sinai (חרֵב) as one of the most important events since the creation of the Universe itself:
"For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth (בּרָא אֱלהִים אָדָם עַל־הָאָרֶץ), and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? (Deut. 4:32-33).
The ancient Aramaic Targums (Onkelos and Pseudo Yonatan) translate "the voice of God" (קוֹל אֱלהִים) as "the voice of the Word of the Lord" (קָל מֵימְרָא) in this verse. The Jewish Encylopedia defines memra (מֵמְרָא) as ".. the logos (ὁ λόγος) - the Word, in the sense of the creative or directive word or speech of God manifesting His power in the world of matter or mind; a term used especially in the Targum as a substitute for "the Lord" when an anthropomorphic expression is to be avoided." In short, Memra is the Personification of the Word of the LORD - the Voice of God Himself. This Divine Voice was none other than that of Yeshua our Mashiach, the Divine Word of the LORD (John 1:1). Yeshua, the Living Torah, was the one who spoke out of the midst of the fire at Sinai -- just as He spoke to Moses from the midst of the burning bush (Exod. 3:4) -- and just as He later spoke to Israel as a human being with the fire of the Holy Spirit within Him. This same fire was likewise placed on the heads of Yeshua's followers during the Shavuot celebration following His resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:1-4).
The author of the Book of Hebrews states that, "in these last days God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Heb 1:2). The Greek construction for the phrase translated, "by his son" is ἐλάλησεν ἡμῖν ἐν υἱῷ, which literally means "he spoke to us in son" -- that is, in the language or voice of the Son of God Himself... God now speaks in the language "of Son" from the midst of the fire revealed at Zion... Ultimately, then, Shavuot is a message of the New Covenant itself -- and God's salvation through His Son Yeshua our Messiah, blessed be He.
The School of Suffering
04.10.10 (Nisan 26, 5770) Suffering is an enigma for many people. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) is reported to have said, "if we have our own "why" of life, we can bear almost any "how." The heart seeks an answer to "Why?" in order to endure the inevitable pathways of pain and trouble, but suffering that is apparently purposeless is maddening and vexatious.
I am amazed that pagans cling to the idea that their lives have real value despite their rejection of transcendent worth and beauty and goodness as revealed in the Jewish Scriptures. Their everyday assumptions are stolen from the Judeo-Christian tradition, yet their underlying logical and semantic foundation is quite simply an illusion. I'd like to listen to them justify the reason for getting out of bed in the morning using just the language that is entailed by their metaphysical assumptions. If seriously questioned, especially in light of the traction of their own personal heartache and disappointments, it is doubtless that they, like Nietzsche, would find themselves going insane as they attempt to (re)define the most meaningful aspects of life.
This is not about "language games" or other "head trips." I am talking about reality here. People love to pretend that they are sophisticated and have a meaningful way of dealing with suffering, but often they are merely trifling with life.
Some people flatter themselves that they can traffic in the realm "beyond good and evil," thinking these are but social conventions, etc., but they show their true colors once real suffering touches their lives. For example, put these pretenders face to face with someone who tried to murder their child and you'll hear them involuntarily making appeal to justice and a transcendent basis for morality.
Soren Kierkegaard seems to consider suffering as a "soul-building" enterprise, the means of which we can be unified and educated for eternity:
Only when a person suffers and wills to learn from what he suffers does he come to know something about himself and about his relationship to God. This is the sign that he is being educated for eternity.
Through suffering a person can come to know a great deal about the world – how deceitful and treacherous it is – but all this knowledge is not the schooling of suffering. No, just as we speak of a child being weaned from his mother's breast, so also, in the most profound sense, a person must be weaned by suffering, weaned from the things of this world, from loving it and from being embittered by it, in order to learn for eternity.
For this reason, the school of suffering consists in a dying to – a dying to the world and to yourself. This is the key to finding rest in your suffering.
There is only one way in which rest is to be found: to let God rule in everything. Whatever else you might come to learn only pertains to how God has willed to rule. But as soon as unrest begins, the cause for it is due to your unwillingness to obey, your unwillingness to surrender yourself to God.
When there is suffering, but also obedience in suffering, then you are being educated for eternity. Then there will be no impatient hankering in your soul, no restlessness, neither of sin nor of sorrow.
If you will but let it, suffering is the guardian angel who keeps you from slipping out into the fragmentariness of the world; the fragmentariness that seeks to rip apart the soul. And for this reason, suffering keeps you in school – this dangerous schooling – so that you may be properly educated for eternity.
It is tragic to see people attempt to deny suffering, denying its solemn role and acting as if it were not part of the "warp and woof" of life. Only God has the wisdom to use it for good ends. Our task is not to squelch the inner groaning but to give it voice in the confession of trust. May God help each of us surrender to Him.
The Offense of the Cross - מִכְשׁוֹל הַצְּלִיב
[ The following entry continues yesterday's reflections on the role of "offense" (σκάνδαλον), though this time I focus on the "offense of the cross." ]
04.09.10 (Nisan 25, 5770) I mentioned recently that Yeshua repeatedly took the role of a "stumbling block" to test people's response to his ministry and message. Most people were offended at Him, of course, and in the end Yeshua was crucified for the sake of their offenses. After His death, the cross itself became the scandal of faith. The Apostle Paul referred to "the offense of the cross" (τὸ σκάνδαλον τοῦ σταυροῦ) which he did not want removed (Gal. 5:11). But what is the "offense" of the cross? Or as Paul put it in another place, why is the proclamation of the crucified Messiah a scandal (σκάνδαλον) to Jews and foolishness (μωρία) to the Greeks (1 Cor. 1:23)?
First of all, the cross of the Messiah (צְלַב הַמָּשִׁיחַ) represents barbarity and cruelty. In the 1999 movie The Green Mile, there is a horrific scene of a prisoner who was slowly fried to death in the electric chair at the hands of a cruel guard. We watch in horror as the prisoner is terribly burned and thrashes back and forth until his body is disfigured into charred remains. As offensive as this scene is, it is really no comparison to the shame, agony and torturous death suffered during a Roman crucifixion. Part of the offense of the cross, then, was that God had anything to do with such torture and cruelty. To the Gentiles, the image of a crucified man was a symbol of shame, weakness, and disgrace. The Greek mind esteemed learning, virtue, aesthetics and strength as the path of attaining wisdom, and therefore regarded the idea of "a god dying on a cross" as the utmost in "foolishness" (1 Cor.1:23). Furthermore, the Greek mind gloried in the autonomous use of reason to discern a world of order and perfection. God was understood as "Divine Mind," an "Unmoved Mover," and a philosophical construct that gave order and purpose to the universe. The very thought that the Creator would require the torture of an innocent man to atone for the sins of others was regarded as immoral, indecent, and ultimately as preposterous.
The Jewish mind, on the other hand, regarded anyone "hung on a tree" as irrevocably cursed by God (Deut. 21:23). The Law of Moses permitted that someone who was to be executed could be hung (or impaled) and exposed, presumably as a warning others. According to the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 6:4), a pole with a horizontal beam was erected and the dead man's hands were bound and slung over the beam, leaving the body suspended. The ancient Greek translation of the Torah (i.e., the LXX or Septuagint) inverted the word order and translated this as "hang him on wood so that he dies," which later was used to justify the Roman practice of crucifixion (see Y. Yadim, Megillat Hamikdash). It was required by law that the exposed body be buried before sundown on the day of execution. Besides the shame and degradation of this manner of death, the executed person would be unable to fall to their knees as a final act of repentance before God, thereby implying that they were under the irrevocable curse of God.
To the Jew, the idea that Yeshua had to die a death cursed by the law of Moses is regarded as entirely repugnant to the fundamental meritocracy of the Jewish faith. How could the Messiah - the anointed one of God - ever be truly cursed? On the contrary, the Messiah would be blessed by God to reign as King of Israel who would usher in worldwide peace (Dan. 7:27)! Despite various prophecies in the Tanakh (e.g., Isa. 53, Psalm 22, Zech. 12:10, etc.) of a "suffering servant" for Israel's sins, Yeshua was rejected as the Messianic expectation of Israel. Indeed, the entire concept that the Messiah was made sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and made a curse (Gal. 3:13) to redeem us from the "curse of the law" is regarded as offensive to Jewish religion to this day.... To Jewish religious sensibilities, Yeshua simply had "no form or comlineness": לא־תאַר לוֹ וְלא הָדָר / lo-to'ar lo, v'lo hadar (Isa. 53:2).
Second, the message of the cross offends because it reveals the unvarnished truth about our spiritual condition. The "real Jesus" offends us and deflates our pride. God's way of salvation is an affront, a scandal, an insult, and ultimately a verdict about the insufficiency of human effort to attain righteousness before a Holy God. Human "works" or merits are useless before God. The truth about the human condition is offensive. It is not flattering to say we are twisted and broken and helpless. No, the world wants the image of beauty, strength, capability, power, etc. The world wants us to worship idealized man (or woman), whereas God wants us confess our inner bankruptcy and need for Him.
The message of the cross -- the gospel -- is offensive to fallen human nature that seeks to justify its life here on earth. The gospel message implies that our sinful condition is so profound that it literally took the death of Yeshua to satisfy God's wrath for us. The cross implies that we are both helpless to save ourselves and hopelessly lost in sin. La'Adonai Yeshuah (לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה): "Salvation is of the LORD." We can do nothing to save ourselves. This is an affront to human pride that wants to add something of its own doing to "perfect" God's work of deliverance.
The message of the cross implies that humanity is sinful and under the sentence of divine wrath, and therefore the cross is an offense because it represents condemnation of the world. Contrary to the romantic notions of optimists, New Age thinkers, and progressive liberals, "the whole world lies in the wickedness" (1 John 5:19). Human nature is not inherently good. The cross declares that all of the religiosity and moral attempts of mankind are entirely incapable of pleasing God, and that humanity itself is unable to attain genuine revelation about ultimate reality. The cross reveals that we are lost... Apart from God's intervention and saving grace, all people are doomed.
Third, the message of the cross is offensive because it requires the death of the ego. A Hebrew (עִבְרִי) is one who has "passed over" to the other side. Crucifixion with Yeshua is the ultimate "going over." The history of the fallen human race was finished with the cross of Yeshua at Moriah (2 Cor. 5:14-15). We are now a new creation (briah chadashah). The "flesh" (i.e., the principle of ego and self-sufficiency) is crucified with Messiah, and that means all our ideals and our former identity (Jew, Gentile, male, female) are inapplicable under the new covenant (2 Cor. 5:16). The "old nature" has been crucified with Messiah, which means that the ego is "dead to rights" regarding our new identity. In Jewish terms, the cross is an offense because it eliminates the hallowed "mark of circumcision" - the token that something man can add is needed to be right with God (Gal 5:16).
The devil advises using the world's methods for the promotion of the "gospel" and is ready to promote to prominence those who rely on the "flesh" to "do God's work." The world's standard for "success" is always contrary to the Spirit of Messiah, and therefore another aspect of the offense of the cross is paradox. "I have been crucified with the Messiah, therefore I no longer live but the Messiah lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:50). We die with Him in order to live with Him. We "reckon ourselves" dead to the flesh (Rom. 6:11) and thereby "put away" its deeds (Col. 3:5). Through teshuvah (repentance) we turn our back forever on the principle of the flesh (i.e., the "rule" of the ego and its demands). We take up our cross daily and follow the Master (Luke 9:23).
The message of the cross is offensive because it deflates human pride and condemns the "works of religion." As Paul put it, we cannot be made "perfect by the flesh" (Gal.3:3). In traditional Judaism, ritual circumcision is symbolic of being a Jew. Circumcision is regarded as a "rite of passage" into covenant relationship with the LORD, a type of "giving birth" to a member of Israel. But the cross is an offense because it states that circumcision does not make you a true heir of salvation (1 Cor. 7:19). Indeed, ritual circumcision implies an agreement to abide by the terms of the old covenant and therefore makes you its debtor. The two covenants are mutually exclusive on this point. Works righteousness is antithetical to the grace of God given in the Messiah (Gal. 5:2-4). The divide of the Cross represents an absolute break with traditional Judaism. We are justified by trusting in the LORD and not by the deeds of the Torah (Rom. 3:20; Titus 3:5-6; Eph. 2:8-10, etc.). Followers of Yeshua put no confidence "in the flesh" (Phil. 3:3). A counterfeit gospel always adds something more to the finished work of Yeshua for our salvation (Gal. 1:6).
(The flip side of this idea is that while religiously observant people were offended by Yeshua and his message, those estranged from religious and moral observance were intrigued and attracted to him. Jesus scandalized the religious, the self-assured, the smug, the self-righteous, the philosopher, and the "intellectual," but He was receptive to the outcast and the humble (Matt. 9:12-13; 21:31; Luke 15:31-32; 9:10). Yeshua makes the burden of salvation "easy" for those who are broken and in need of a physician (Matt. 11:28; Luke 9:12, Mark 2:17). He resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.)
The Cross of Yeshua implies that the ceremonial expression of the Torah - the Mishkan/Temple - has forever become obsolete (Heb. 7:12; 8:13). When Yeshua, our great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (the very first priest/king to whom Abraham/Levi offered obeisance) cried out, "It is finished," the parochet in the Temple was rent asunder and "the way into the holiest of all" was now opened for all (Heb. 9:8). All of the ritual law of the Torah - the sacrifices and elaborate Yom Kippur ritual - was done away, and we now have an Intercessor of indestructible life as our Advocate. To the Jew, this means the end of traditional Judaism, and this is yet another source of offense. Yeshua is truly a "Stone of stumbling and a Rock of offense" (Isa. 8:14; Matt. 21:44; Rom. 9:32; 1 Cor. 1:23; 1 Pet. 2:7-8).
Fourth, the message of the cross is offensive because it is exclusivist. The cross is an offense because it declares that faith in the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua is the ONLY way to be forgiven by God. There is no other name than the Name of Yeshua for the salvation of human beings (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 1:23; 1 John 2:23). Many church growth experts offer up an "inoffensive" gospel that appeals to the "felt needs" of seekers (i.e., pagans). Although good works are commendable, there is no offense in promoting social justice in the world today, just as there is no offense in seeking to alleviate the suffering of the world's poor and downtrodden. However there is considerable offense by proclaiming that Yeshua is the ONLY way of salvation, and there is offense by stating that His sacrifice upon the cross (alone) is the ONLY thing that makes us right with God. That kind of talk will be regarded as offensive -- intolerant and even hateful -- to those who attempt to justify themselves apart from God. The pragmatist is willing to overlook the offense of the gospel for the sake of "unity" that brings the people of the world together. Ecumenicism is therefore the "holy grail" of the organized church. However, there is NO model for this approach given in Scripture, and especially not in the teaching and ministry of Yeshua our Messiah.
Fifth, the message of the cross is offensive because of Yeshua, the "Skandalon of God." The Man who was regarded as a criminal was really the King; the powerless one became LORD over all; the one who could not save Himself became the Savior; the one who was killed became Victor over death itself. Indeed, as Kierkegaard pointed out, Yeshua is the Absolute Paradox (God in Messiah; God on the Cross). The eternal, essential truth has entered into time; the infinite has been joined to the finite, the necessary has been joined with the contingent. "The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up, has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being." To the natural mind, the mind that seeks "objective truth" and rational comprehension, this is an offense as well. "Christianity claims to be the eternal, essential truth that has come into existence in time. It proclaims itself as the paradox and thus requires the inwardness of faith - that which is an offense to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks, and an absurdity to the understanding."
The offense of the cross is inextricably part of the proclamation of the message of salvation itself. This is an offense that never was intended to cease (Gal. 5:11). "Take up your cross and follow me!" We are called to forsake everything we know -- family, friends, culture, traditions, a sense of identity as a Jew -- to experience the miracle of newness of life. "Paul never glamorized the gospel. It is not success, but sacrifice! It's not a glamorous gospel, but a bloody gospel, a gory gospel, and a sacrificial gospel! Five minutes inside eternity and we will wish that we had sacrificed more, wept more, bled more, grieved more, loved more, prayed more, given more" (Leonard Ravenhill). The cross is a death sentence to this world but a "crossing over" to the world to come. And while it is scandalous to worldly wisdom and human reason, it is of inestimable worth, a "pearl of great price," the true treasure of the heart, a joy unspeakable and full of God's glory.
May the LORD God of Israel help us take up the offense of the cross and gladly, courageously, and to joyfully follow after Him! Don't lose heart as you walk, chaverim. Chazak ve'ematz (חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ), be strong and resolute! Amen.
Faith and Offense
[ The following entry reflects on the role of "offense" (σκάνδαλον) surrounding the identity and ministry of Yeshua. Tomorrow I hope to add an entry on the "offense of the cross" as well. Meanwhile I hope you will find this helpful, chaverim. ]
04.08.10 (Nisan 24, 5770) Some people attempt to share the gospel message by making a "sales pitch" for Jesus... The temptation in evangelism is to make the message seem as attractive as possible and to minimize the difficulties involved in making a genuine decision to walk with the Messiah. Often the appeal is made along the lines of the ego's self-interest. Jesus is put forth as a solution to life's problems, a panacea for the worries of life, a blessing for your love life, etc. "Believe in Jesus -- because it works for you! You'll be amazed by the results! God will bless you and you'll find happiness and contentment at last!"
Unless we are are careful, using an approach like this can make a subtle appeal to the flesh, to the all-too-human desire for personal satisfaction, happiness, and even pride. But Yeshua never made a "cheap sale" of His message and mission. He never appealed to the flesh as a reason for following him. On the contrary, he repeatedly stated the cost of discipleship and warned of being hated for his sake. "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard (i.e., τεθλιμμένη, "oppressive") that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt. 7:14). Indeed, Yeshua often intentionally offended people when they encountered him. Far from making it easy to believe, Yeshua regularly put up stumbling blocks when people approached him. He never was a "people pleaser" and he never apologized for speaking the truth, just as he never sought the crowd's approval nor sought a "market" for his mission. Even less did Yeshua seek the approval of the status quo, that is, the religious establishment of the Jews or the political establishment of Rome.
In short, Yeshua's life was scandalous to human beings and their various conceits. Encounters with him were always "tests" that evoked one of two responses: offense or faith. For example, Yeshua scandalized his family (Matt. 12:48), his community (Matt. 13:54-57, John 6:42), the gawking crowd (John 6:26-30), various religious seekers (Mark 10:17-22), the religious establishment (Matt. 15:12), the political establishment (Luke 13:32), and even his own followers (John 6:61). His question is always, "Who do you say that I am?" People either were offended at him or accepted him, but Yeshua made it impossible for them to be indifferent about who he was.
For instance, when a delegation of scribes and Pharisees came up from Jerusalem to meet with him, they immediately asked Yeshua why his followers did not adhere to the "tradition of the elders" by not washing their hands before they ate bread (Matt. 15:2). Yeshua turned the tables on his critics by asking them why the elders transgress the commandment of God by adhering to tradition. God commanded kibbud av ve'em, "Honor father and mother," but the sages decreed that a gift given to the Temple would preempt this obligation, even if the parents were in great need. Yeshua rejected their reasoning as sacrilege and went on to lambast them as hypocrites who put on a show of religion (Matt. 15:8-9). Yeshua then called the crowd over to contradict a prevailing religious dogma of the day: "It's not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but rather what comes out." After this, the disciples approached Yeshua and said, "Did you know that the Pharisees were offended (i.e., scandalized) when they heard you say this?" Yeshua answered, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted shall be uprooted. Let them alone: they are blind leaders of the blind, and if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch" (Matt. 15:13-14). When the religious gatekeepers encountered Yeshua, they were offended because they did not believe. They tripped over the "Stone of Stumbling" (אֶבֶן נֶגֶף) when they encountered the "Rock of Hindrance" (Isa. 8:14, Matt. 21:44, 1 Pet. 2:8). As Yeshua later stated, "whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whomsoever it falls will be ground to powder" (Matt. 21:44).
The encounter with the Pharisees contrasts with the following one, in which a Canaanite woman begged Yeshua to heal her daughter (Matt. 15:21-28). Unlike the Pharisees, this woman came recognizing the identity and authority of Yeshua as the "Lord, Son of David," and believed in His power as healer and deliverer. Despite her repeated appeals, however, Yeshua "did not answer her a word," and finally his exasperated disciples begged him to send her away (Matt. 15:23). The woman finally drew close to Yeshua and prostrated herself before him, saying, "Lord, help me." Yeshua finally answered her directly by saying, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." Here is another case of possible offense. When she agreed with his words and chose not to be personally offended, however, Yeshua praised her faith and healed her daughter as she requested.
The underlying issue in these two narratives is not about personal hygiene or defilement, nor even of Yeshua's mission to the house of Israel as opposed to the Gentiles, but rather offense verses faith. As David McCraken wrote, "The opposite of offense is faith, but the only way to faith is through offense" (The Scandal of the Gospels, 19). The "clean" and pious Pharisees lacked faith, whereas the "unclean" Gentile dog showed great faith. As Yeshua reassured John the Baptist: אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לא־יִכָּשֵׁל בִּי / "Blessed are those who take no offense at me" (Matt. 11:6).
Contrary to modern church growth theorists, Yeshua often deliberately delivered his message in the most offensive way possible. For instance, when Yeshua came to his home town of Nazareth and attended a synagogue service, he was called to recite the Haftarah from Isaiah (Isa. 61:1-2). After the reading, he sat down and said, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:16-21). The people were shocked, scandalized, and offended at such audacity, and asked, "Is this not Joseph's son?" (cp. Matt. 13:55-57). Yeshua then warned them to look beyond their natural expectations (i.e., offense) in order to see the truth: "No prophet is accepted in his own hometown."
Instead of appealing to the people to consider his claims, Yeshua further scandalized their sense of ethnic pride by offering his commentary on the Haftarah reading. First he reminded the congregants that in the time of Elijah the prophet, many widows of Israel suffered during the famine, but God only sent the prophet to a Gentile woman of Sidon (1 Kings 17:9-24). He then continued this theme by reminding them that though there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet, none of them were cleansed except the Na'aman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-16). When the synagogue members heard these words, they were enraged. Their ethnic pride was offended and their sense of identity as God's favored people was threatened. Who is this man to say such things to us? So intense was their outrage that the congregation rose up to murder Yeshua by throwing him over a cliff (a prophetic picture of the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur ritual). Yeshua, however, miraculously "passed through the midst of them" and made his way back to Capernaum (Luke 4:28-31).
Other scandals surrounding the identity and authority of Yeshua are given in the New Testament, such as his claim to be "Lord of the Sabbath," to be able to forgive other people's sins, to be the Voice of YHVH concerning the intent of the Ten Commandments, to be the Judge of the world, to be honored as God, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer of Israel, the Holy One of God, the Good Shepherd, the Way and the Truth and the Life, the First and the Last, the true Light, the Great I AM, the LORD of Glory, and on and on.... In every case of disclosure, the possibility of offense or faith is given.
Undoubtedly the greatest offense of all, however, concerned Yeshua's claim to be none other than YHVH in the flesh. In John's Gospel, following the story of how Yeshua forgave the woman taken in adultery, he announced, "I am the Light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). The Pharisees objected that his testimony was invalid since it was based solely on his own authority. When Yeshua appealed to the testimony of his Father, the Pharisees hinted to the crowd that Yeshua might be a bastard (John 8:19). Yeshua was unfazed by their slander and simply stated that they "did not know his Father." He then went on to say, "I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.. Unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins" (John 8:21-24). Finally, the all-important question is addressed to him: "Who are you?" (this question is in direct response to Yeshua's earlier question, "Who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29)). In reply Yeshua said, "Just what I have been telling you from the beginning..." While he was speaking, many believed in Him, and Yeshua then said to them, "If you remain in my word, you are my disciples indeed, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32). When these new "believers" objected that they were never in bondage to anyone, Yeshua told them they were slaves to the power of sin and therefore children of the devil, separated from God (John 8:33-47). Yeshua's words again caused offense, and the people began to say he was crazy, a "Samaritan," and possessed by a demon. Yeshua said on the contrary, he honored God, but they were dishonoring him, and that was certainly characteristic of the devil. He continued to preach, "Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death" (John 8:51). This apparently was the last straw, the final offense regarding Yeshua's identity. "Who do you think you are? Abraham died as did the prophets. Who do you make yourself out to be?" Yeshua continued, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." Then the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" Yeshua said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58). When they heard this, the outraged crowd began gathering rocks to stone Yeshua for blasphemy. They understood that Yeshua was claiming to be none other than YHVH in the flesh - a scandal and an outrage to both religious sentiment and to human reason. As Kierkegaard said, this is the "Absolute Paradox," the point at which offense and faith entirely collide. Behold the man! Here was none other than God Himself standing among them clothed in flesh and blood....
The eternal, essential Truth has entered into time; the Infinite Source of life has been joined to the finite, the necessary has been joined with the contingent. "The absurd is that the eternal truth has come into existence in time, that God has come into existence, has been born, has grown up, has come into existence exactly as an individual human being, indistinguishable from any other human being." To the natural mind, the mind that seeks "objective truth" and rational comprehension, this is an impossible offense as well.
Yeshua regularly offended those whom He encountered, including his own followers. When he said that he was the bread of life, and that this "bread" was his flesh given for the life of the world, his followers asked, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Yeshua then amped up his rhetoric by saying, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:51-59). When his disciples later complained that this teaching was "difficult" (e.g., kosher law forbade the drinking of blood), Yeshua directly asked them, "Does this offend (scandalize) you? It is the Spirit that gives life to His words; human reasoning will not help (John 6:63). Here again the "test" evoked one of two responses: offense or faith. The measure of the offense corresponded with the measure of their faith. The greater the offense, the less faith, and conversely. His question is always, "Who do you say that I am?" Some of his followers could not answer this question and therefore "turned back and no longer walked with him" (John 6:66). (offense at the teaching of Yeshua always provides an opportunity for us to discover where we need to exercise faith. If we find ourselves resisting or rationalizing some of the words of our Lord, we are presented with a decision point in our walk with Him.... So where is it with you? Personal suffering? Selling everything you have to follow Him? Taking up the cross and being willing to die for Him? Loving your enemies? Plucking out your eye if it causes you to sin? Nothing less than complete trust is the goal, of course, though often we must wrestle through to the place of surrender in our hearts. Where are you inwardly resisting the message of Yeshua in your life?)
Many "evangelical" churches focus on entertainment, on getting "results," and being "seeker sensitive" in the attempt to "spread the gospel" message. This so-called "gospel" focuses on meeting people's practical needs rather than heeding the message of the Kingdom of Heaven and salvation. The way of Yeshua, however, is anything but pragmatic. His focus entirely turns us around. To be great you must be a slave; to live you must first die to yourself; theology is far more important than mere humanism; you must love your enemies and pray for those who abuse you; you must count the cost before becoming a disciple; you must give up everything in order to follow Him; you must be willing to suffer and even die for the sake of His truth. Indeed, Yeshua taught us that our duty to love God is simply nonnegotiable. After all, though He was offered all the kingdoms of the world with all their "glory" in exchange for merely a "compromise" in His theology, Yeshua adamantly refused (Matt. 4:8-10; Deut. 6:13; 10:20). Yeshua's rebuke of the devil is a rebuke to all idolatrous pragmatists who likewise reason that the end justifies the means.
Indeed, the devil is the ultimate pragmatist, appealing to people to abandon the idea of unchanging truth for the sake of expediency (i.e., "consensus," "tolerance," "ecumenicism," "church growth," "results," "tithes," and so on). Satan is the ultimate liar, the ultimate propagandist, and the ultimate con artist. He is a master at seducing and enslaving people. Yeshua, on the other hand, brings OFFENSE. There is NO GOSPEL MESSAGE apart from offense - first, the offense of the ego's deflation (i.e., being convicted as a law breaker deserving of Hell), and second, the offense of the Cross (i.e., that no human merit can effect the salvation given through Yeshua ALONE). The offense of the gospel is the proclamation that there is no other way to heaven than through the Cross of Yeshua, and there is no other Name than the Name of Yeshua for the salvation of human beings (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Cor. 1:23; 1 John 2:23). Pragmatists offer up an "inoffensive" gospel that appeals to the "felt needs" of seekers (i.e., pagans). Although good works are commendable, there is no offense in promoting social justice in the world today, just as there no offense in seeking to alleviate the suffering of the world's poor and downtrodden. However there is considerable offense by proclaiming that Yeshua is the ONLY way of salvation, and by stating that His sacrifice upon the cross (alone) is what makes us right with God. That kind of talk will be regarded as closed minded, intolerant, and even as hateful to people who attempt to justify themselves apart from God. The pragmatist is willing to overlook the offense of the gospel for the sake of "unity" that brings the people of the world together. Ecumenicism is therefore the holy grail of the organized church. However, there is NO model for this approach given in Scripture, and especially not in the teaching and ministry of Yeshua our Messiah...
Pragmatists within the organized "church" regard big numbers, big events, big money, "big deals" to be the measure of the success of the Gospel. Nonsense. There is more power in the lowly faithfulness of one surrendered soul working in the vineyard than in a throng of 10,000 Christian dabblers. Drawing a crowd never resulted in large-scale conversions in Yeshua's ministry. On the contrary, Yeshua called individuals to take up the Cross and follow Him. He knew the nature of the crowd, the mob, the power of "groupthink" (John 2:23-25). The fickle crowd that once hailed Him as King of Israel later chanted "crucify him! crucify him!"
Pragmatism and the theology of Yeshua are POLES APART on the continuum of truth. Church leaders who seek to grow the church by pragmatic means are in serious error, since they want to justify sinful means (i.e., manipulation, deception) to promote what they believe to be a greater good (i.e., the perpetuation of "Christian" culture, the growth of the institutionalized church, etc.). However, we know that the LORD God of Israel does not promote or endorse sin, regardless of any supposed benefit given to the world at large. The end never justifies the means. God is not a pragmatist, and there are no "noble lies" for sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. The failure to communicate the truth about the cost of discipleship can lead to disillusionment and despair among those who are seeking the truth. If we do not ground people in true Gospel message, they will become scandalized when they face inevitable difficulties or encounter suffering in their lives (Mark 4:16-17).
Postscript: It ought to be mentioned that though Yeshua was indeed a "Stone of stumbling" and "Rock of Offense," we are commanded to avoid needlessly offending others (Rom. 12:18; 1 Cor. 10:32; 2 Cor. 6:3). "Follow peace with all men and holiness" (Heb. 12:14). However, in some cases standing up for our Lord will cause others to be offended. Those who live godly lives will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). When we share the message of salvation, for example, the conscience of others may incite them to anger. We do not need to apologize on behalf of the truth, though of course we must also be careful to speak the truth in humility and genuine love (Eph. 4:15).
April 10th - Never Forget!
[ Please note that Yom HaShoah (יום השואה), or Holocaust Remembrance Day, begins immediately after Shabbat on April 10th at sundown this year... ]
04.06.10 (Nisan 22, 5770) Don't think that it could never happen again. It could. Easily. In fact, one of the greatest threats now facing the United States (as well as the whole world) is full-blown fascism masquerading as "national security" and political correctness...
We must remain vigilant. We must never forget that every generation runs its risk of another Hitler coming to power... Holocaust Remembrance Day is therefore not only a solemn memorial to the six million Jews that were systematically murdered by the Nazis during World War II, but it's also a time to renew our commitment to stand for justice and truth for all peoples of the world. Indeed, we are commanded by God to do so: tzedek, tzedek tirdof (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall purse" (Deut. 16:20).
Holocaust Remembrance Day was established as a national holiday by the Israeli Knesset on August 19, 1953. During this day, in Israel, a morning siren sounds, all activity stops, and people stand in honor of those who died. Jews around the world hold memorials and vigils, often lighting six candles in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. Many hold name-reading ceremonies to memorialize those who were murdered.
Again, we must never forget what happened to the Jewish people, just as we must always be vigilant for ANY political power that seeks to impose fascist control or that seeks to "scapegoat" other peoples for political purposes... We are all engaged in this spiritual war. We are all up against "the lords of the darkness of this world" and their schemes to enslave humanity (Eph. 6:12).
For additional information about the Holocaust, please visit Yad VaShem. For information about safeguarding Christian civil liberties, check out the Christian Anti-Defamation Commision, the Rutherford Institute, or the Alliance Defense Fund.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Israel and to all the Jewish victims of persecution throughout the millennia. You can recite Kaddish in memory of them here.
Note: Yom HaAtzma'ut (יום העצמאות), Israeli Independence Day, begins Monday, April 19th at sundown this year. Am Yisrael Chai!
Forty Nine Days of Teshuvah
March 31st - May 18th, 2010
04.05.10 (Nisan 21, 5770) Sefirat Ha-Omer (the "Counting of the Omer") is the 49 day countdown that runs from Nisan 16 through Sivan 5. The first day of the "omer count" began on the second day of Passover, and the last day will occur the day before Shavuot ("Pentecost"). On our Gregorian calendars, these dates run from March 31 until May 18th this year. This is divinely given "countdown period" leading to the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the giving of the Holy Spirit to Yeshua's disciples...
Jewish legend says that the Israelites were foretold that the Torah would be given to them exactly 50 days after their Exodus from Egypt. The people were so eager for this revelation that after their deliverance they began counting the days: "Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah!" This midrash attempts to explain why the Torah commands that the days from Passover to Shavuot are to be counted by claiming that the it commemorates the eagerness with which the Torah was received by the Israelites.
According to Jewish mystics, the Omer count represents the way of teshuvah, one day for each of the 49 "levels of sin" that the Jewish people had degraded into while being slaves in Egypt. Just as there are 49 levels of spiritual impurity (i.e., tumah, טוּמְאָה), so there are said to be 49 levels spiritual of purity (i.e., tahora, טְהוֹרָה). Normally a meditation is given for each of the 49 days to help you purge a sinful condition from your life in order to attain higher levels of purity (this process is sometimes called madregot ha-tahara, "the stairs of purity").
Since Shavuot is the ultimate point of Passover (i.e., deliverance was given for the sake of the revelation of Torah), we are called to sanctify ourselves for personal revelation by engaging in these seven preceding weeks of repentance. Since God is holy and Shavuot is about the encounter with God, we can ready and sanctify ourselves by performing the Omer Count. Each day a blessing is recited in anticipation of the climactic day of Shavuot. Counting the omer, then, is a means of preparation for the giving of the Torah to Israel -- and for being restored to God.
As Shavuot later attained a more agricultural focus, the Omer Count was used to mark the 50th day (Jubilee) of the growing season. A special korban (offering) that involved waving of two loaves of bread (i.e., shtei ha-lechem, שְׁתֵּי הַלֶּחֶם) symbolized the occasion. Note that this was the only time leavened bread was used by the priests for the avodah.
Though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (Lev. 2:11), prophetically it is a picture of the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) before the altar of the LORD (Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the revelation of Torah given at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion. Yeshua removes our tumah and makes us tahor by His sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb upon the Cross; Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who trust in Him. "Counting the Omer" is about being clothed with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to encounter the resurrected LORD of Glory.
Zion is our mountain, chaverim -- not Sinai.
Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני
[ The following explores some themes found in this week's Torah reading (Shemini). Consider the first High Priest of Israel who was marked with the blood of sacrifice on his ear, hands, and feet and was anointed with oil in the sign of a cross upon his forehead... a clear picture of Yeshua as our ultimate High Priest.... Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
04.05.10 (Nisan 21, 5770) This week's Torah reading, Shemini ("eighth"), is a continuation of last week's reading (Tzav) where the seven-day inauguration ceremony for the Mishkan (Tabernacle) is described. This week's reading recounts what happened on the eighth day, when God's Shekhinah presence descended upon the Tabernacle. According to Jewish tradition, this eighth day fell on Rosh Chodesh Nisan (i.e., the Biblical New Year) in the second year after the Exodus from Egypt.
Rosh Chodesh Nisan is called the first day of creation (according to some of the sages). It marks the birthday of national Israel and the start of the Exodus from Egypt. Rosh Chodesh Nisan is also considered "the first day of divine service," since the first sacrifices were brought to the Mishkan and the Heavenly Fire (in the form of a lion) first burned the offerings on the mizbe'ach (altar). Rosh Chodesh Nisan is further called the "the first day of blessing" since it marked the first time that the Birkat Kohanim (i.e., the priestly blessing) was pronounced upon Israel. Regarding this famous blessing, note that the phrase, "May the LORD lift up (yisa) His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) provides a picture of God holding you up in His arms, as a delighted father might hold up his young child in joy.... God "lifts up His face" as He holds you up in divine joy!
Since the Mishkan was indwelt by the Divine Presence on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, some of the sages have said that God created the universe with the aim of establishing His dwelling place among mankind.
The Midrash of the White Ram
Aaron and his sons were anointed by the sacrificial blood of a ram, a sign of the coming Ram of God who takes away the sins of the world. Here's an amazing midrash concerning the mystical "white ram" that volunteered to be substituted for Isaac during Abraham's greatest test:
On the last day of creation, in the twilight of the first Sabbath, God made a beautiful white ram. God put the ram in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) and said, "Wait here until I call you." And there the ram waited and waited.
Meanwhile, Adam and Eve disobeyed the LORD and were exiled from the garden. They left the beauty of paradise, yet the ram stayed and waited.
The ages passed, and the other animals left the garden. Still the ram patiently waited.
Then one day God woke the ram and said, "Today is the day." The ram jumped up and began to run. He knew what he had to do.
The evil one appeared and said, "Stop! Don't leave this beautiful garden. It will mean your death!" But the ram said, "I must save the child!" and he ran out of Eden. He ran over rocks and boulders, he leapt over stony crags. He knew exactly where he was going.
The evil one next appeared disguised as a field of fresh green grass. "Stop here!" he cajoled. "Eat and rest. There's no need to hurry." But the ram replied, "I must save the child!" and ran even faster through the dusty desert. The evil one waited and then appeared as a sparkling fountain of water in the waste places. He cried out, "Ho, all who are thirsty, stop and drink! Rest -- there is no hurry!" But once again the ram replied, "I cannot stop! I must save the child!" Further still along the way, the evil one appeared as a hungry lion and roared, "Stop! Or I will rend you to pieces and devour you!" But the ram stoutly replied, "I must save the child" and leapt over the ferocious lion.
Finally the ram arrived at the sacred mountain (Moriah). At the top he saw a child tied and bound to an altar and a weeping man. "Wait!" cried the ram, running with all his strength. "I am here! Take me!" But the evil one, disguised as a bush of brambles, caught the ram's horns and said, "You shall go no further!" The ram struggled to get free, crying out, "Abraham! Here I am! Take me!" but Abraham did not hear.
The ram then heard the voice of God saying to Abraham, "Stop! I asked you to sacrifice your only son, Isaac, to test your love and trust in me. Now, instead of Isaac, sacrifice this ram. I made him in the twilight of the last day of creation for this very moment -- to take Isaac's place on the altar." Abraham then saw the ram and untied his son. After he freed the ram from the thicket of brambles, the ram bounded upon the altar.
"Abraham," said the ram, "when you blow through one of my horns, God will hear the sound and remember Isaac and me -- the white ram that took his place. And He will forgive the sins of Isaac, and the sins of his children, and his children's children, and so on, always, until the end of time."
Then the ram lay down on the altar and his soul flew away into God's hands. And from the ram's ashes the mortar for the altar of the Temple was said to be made; from his bones, the foundations of Jerusalem were laid, from his bowels, the strings of David's harp, and from his hide, the prophet Elijah made a cloak. And from his two horns were made two shofars: one was blown when Moses received the Ten Commandments, and the other will call the children of Israel home. And now, when we hear the sound of the shofar, we remember the sacrifice of the white ram for Isaac and his children.
(Adapted from Mordicai Gerstein's retelling of the famous midrash in his children's book, The White Ram)
The beautiful midrash has it partly right. Yeshua is indeed called the "lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8), though He was not created on the eve of the last day of creation, but rather was the Creator Himself -- the One whose glory is so expansive that it reaches both to the top of the highest heavens and to the lowest depths of Hell. His sacrificial love was not embodied in a mythical ram but rather with the frailty of real human flesh in order to suffer and die for our sins... His descent was for our ascent...
Consider how the sacrifice of Isaac (the Akedah) provides a prophetic picture of Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" (Seh haElohim) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Both Isaac and Yeshua were born miraculously; both were "only begotten sons"; both were to be sacrificed by their fathers at Mount Moriah; both were to be resurrected on the third day (Gen. 22:5, Heb. 11:17-19); both willingly took up the means of his execution; and both demonstrate that one life can be sacrificed for another - the ram for Isaac, and Yeshua for all of mankind. Indeed, the first occurrence of the word "love" in the Scriptures (ahavah) refers to a father's love for his "only" son who was offered as a sacrifice on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Yeshua, a clear reference to the gospel message itself (Gen. 22:2; John 3:16).
As believers in Yeshua, we too have been anointed with the blood from the Ram of Ordination -- Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better covenant! And we too have been anointed with the sacred shemen (oil) that symbolizes the presence and aroma of the LORD in our lives. As followers of Yeshua we are therefore truly "...a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9). May the LORD be pleased to help you serve Him in the truth. Amen.
Unleavened Bread and Humilty
04.02.10 (Nisan 18, 5770) The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who trust in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Baruch HaShem: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). Likewise, the Scriptures also reveal that the offering of the Firstfruits -- "the Waving of the Omer" -- is a picture of the resurrection of the Messiah -- as well as our own future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Rom. 8:23; James 1:18). These associations are gloriously stated in the New Testament and alluded to in the Jewish Scriptures. That said, what about the role of matzah and the "Feast of Unleavened Bread"? How are we to understand this as a fulfillment of Yeshua's ministry?
In Jewish tradition, of course, the eating of unleavened bread commemorates the original Exodus from Egypt. Since there wasn't enough time for the dough to rise when the Jews fled, the LORD memorialized the event with the commandment to eat only unleavened bread for seven days: "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction (לֶחֶם ענִי), for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste -- that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt" (Deut. 16:3).
To fulfill this commandment, we prepare for Passover by removing all traces of chametz (leaven) from our homes. Leaven (i.e., yeast) produces fermentation, especially in bread dough, and is the result of natural processes of decay. We therefore vacuum the house, wipe down cupboards, and physically remove all bread stuffs from our dwelling places. This is in obedience to the commandment to "remove all leaven from our dwellings" (Exod. 12:5, 13:7, Deut. 16:4). On the night before Passover, we perform a ceremony called "bedikat chametz," and symbolically remove the last vestiges of bread crumbs from our homes.
So what's the problem with leaven? Again, it is a symbol of death and decay. The "rise of dough" is only possible by means of the natural processes of decay. In other words, were it not for the curse of death (i.e., the Fall of Adam and Eve), there could be no leavened bread. The sages identify leaven with the yetzer hara, the evil impulse within us. When we purge the leaven from our homes, we are sanctifying ourselves by removing corrupting influences from our lives.
But what is the connection with Yeshua? First, unleavened bread is a picture of His holiness, purity and sinlessness. His life and sacrifice was "unleavened" -- without the taint of the curse of death, and therefore he was considered "a lamb without spot or blemish" for the ultimate Passover sacrifice (1 Pet. 1:19). Moreover, after He was buried, Yeshua did not suffer the natural process of corruption (i.e., decomposition of the body). His body did not "return to dust" -- the very curse given to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:19; Psalm 16:10). As the Second Adam (Adam haSheni), His death "killed the power of death" by putting away sin through the sacrifice of himself" (Heb. 9:26).
Some have suggested that Paul's comment that followers of Messiah should "purge out the old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:7-8) means that we are to live in purity and separation from the corrupting influence of sin in our lives. Since we are made "unleavened" (pure) by the sacrifice of Yeshua, our lives should reflect holiness and devotion to the LORD. We must strive to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" in order to be unhindered in our walk with God.
While this is certainly one application, I think it's also important to recall that unleavened bread is called the "bread of affliction" (i.e., lechem oni, literally, "bread of humiliation" or "bread of humility"). Does this mean that we are supposed to flagellate ourselves in repentance? No, partaking of this bread means humbly identifying with the suffering and afflictions that Yeshua performed on our behalf... As the prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah:
"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:4-5).
We do not become sanctified, in other words, by afflicting ourselves, but rather by sincerely trusting in the afflictions that Yeshua endured on our behalf. Just as we are saved by God's grace through faith, so are we sanctified. Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives just as miraculous as regeneration itself (1 Cor. 6:11). We do not earn merit before the LORD through performing "good deeds" (Titus 3:5-6), but rather by humbling ourselves and trusting in the Messiah for righteousness (John 6:28-29). Unleavened bread, then, signifies our identification with the Lord in his humility and afflictions, but it does not mean attempting to effect our own sanctity by means of self-styled affliction. We are sanctified by God's grace, not by outward shows of religiosity.
Let me make a few additional comments about unleavened bread. Unlike leavened bread that relies on an "outside" agency (i.e., yeast), unleavened bread is simple and pure: just add flour and water, mix and bake. Second, in ancient times, the leavening process usually involved adding a pinch of soured dough to the mix, but unleavened bread has no "history" that is brought into its creation. It's therefore a "new lump," not using material from the past.... It is free, in other words, from the effects of the curse of previous decay. Leavening therefore represents our connection with our past lives. Another way to say this is that unleavened bread represents an abrupt break with the past brought about through a lack of previous labor or human design.
After all, it was God's work that delivered the ancient Israelites, just as it was God's work that saved us from our sins. Eating unleavened bread -- the bread of affliction -- is therefore a memorial to our own powerlessness to effect righteousness. It is eaten in haste - not the result of human ingenuity or planning. It is a commemoration that salvation is of the LORD - rather than a work of our own.
The idea that we can merit our own righteousness before God -- that we are self-sufficient and do not need a Savior -- is something Yeshua regarded as a form of "spiritual leaven." It is only when the ego is deflated (i.e., "unleavened") that we are able to discern the truth of our inward condition.
Likewise Yeshua warned us about the "leaven" (i.e., doctrine - διδαχή) of the Pharisees, the Sadducees -- and even of the politicians of his day (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15). In Luke's Gospel, this leaven is defined as hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις): "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)." But what is hypocrisy? The word might come from the Greek prefix ὑπὸ (under) combined with the verb κρίνω (to judge), and hence refers to the inability to come to a decision and exercise genuine conviction. It is a state of being "double minded," duplicitous, and insincere... Later the word connoted playing a part, "putting on a show," feigning righteousness, acting with insincerity, reusing "canned answers" or repeating the party line. Hypocrisy is therefore a form of self-deception. It is institutionalized prejudice dressed up as religion; it is counterfeit thinking that cheats the truth; it is ethnocentric nonsense that despises others who are different, etc. The "leaven of the Pharisees" is like old sourdough added to the community -- it "puffs up" and is based on human pride. The way of Yeshua was radical -- far too radical for the religious establishment of His day. In His time, as in our own, the call to walk in sincerity and truth, to see beyond common distinctions by loving others, to regard the status of women, children, and the oppressed, to abide in the love and grace of God -- amounts to eating the "bread of affliction," especially in a world filled with self-righteous and proud religionists. Partaking of this "unleavened bread" is indeed a "bread of affliction."
Leaven is not always thought of as evil, however. Yeshua used the image of a woman adding leaven to a lump to signify the (invisible) spread of the Kingdom of God in the earth (Luke 13:20-21). Here leaven functions as an inward agent of change that is revealed when someone turns to the Lord in teshuvah (repentance). Likewise the presence of leaven actually signifies the culmination of the Spring festivals. Shavuot is the only festival when leavened bread was to be brought and waved before the LORD at the altar (Lev. 23:15-20) -- even though offering leaven was forbidden in Torah (Lev. 2:11). There is a "rise" in the Spirit as opposed to the "rise" of the flesh, chaverim; there is old wine; there is new wine...
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom Chaverim...
Why the Resurrection Matters
04.01.10 (Nisan 17, 5770) Today I wrote a short article listing many of the awesome reasons why the resurrection of the Messiah (תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is essential to our faith. I hope you find it encouraging, chaverim. You can read it here.
בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָנוּ תְּשׁוּעָה נִצַּחַת בְּיַד
יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אֲדנֵינוּ
barukh hu ha-Elohim asher natan-lanu teshuah nitzachat b'yad
Yeshua ha-Mashiach Adoneinu
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through
our Lord Yeshua the Messiah! (1 Cor. 15:57)
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הִנֵּה הוּא בָא עַד־מְהֵרָה / hinei hu va ad-maherah: "Behold, He comes quickly."
Personal Update: Our son Judah Abraham turned 1 year old last night at sundown! We had a small party with (chametz-free) sponge cake. Judah is a real treasure, very strong and sensitive! Both our boys could use your prayers, however... Please remember Josiah and Judah before our Heavenly Father. Thank you, chaverim!
Happy Birthday Judah!