December 2010 Updates
Yeshua / YHVH
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Va'era). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. Note that this is "work in progress," chaverim: Please skip this entry if you do not find it helpful...]
12.30.10 (Tevet 23, 5771) This week's Torah portion (Va'era) begins with the puzzling statement that God appeared (va'era) to the patriarchs as El Shaddai, though He never made the name YHVH (יהוה) known to them:
"God (i.e., Elohim: אֱלהִים) spoke to Moses and said to him, 'I am the LORD (i.e., YHVH: יהוה). I appeared (וָאֵרָא) to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai (אל שׁדּי), but by My Name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:2-3).
This verse is potentially confusing because the Torah clearly states that each of the patriarchs (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) had indeed called upon the Name of the LORD (e.g., see Gen. 12:7-8, 26:25; 28:16, 32:9, 49:18, etc.). So what could this verse mean, then, when it states that God did not make His Name YHVH known (לא נוֹדַעְתִּי) to the patriarchs? Does the Torah contradict itself, as some "higher critics" of the Scriptures allege? Should we accept liberal scholarship that claims that the narratives were "pieced together" by a series of later editors (i.e., the JEDP theory)? Not so fast. Instead of making the dubious inference that the different Names of God imply different authors of the Torah, it is better to regard the Scriptures as divinely inspired, with each word and phrase carefully preserved by the hand of God for its intended purpose. After all, Yeshua regarded the Torah this way (Matt. 5:18; John 10:33), as He did the rest of the Jewish Scriptures (Luke 24:44). Jewish tradition likewise maintains that the Torah has been meticulously preserved from the time of Moses to this day (comparing the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls with the current Masoretic text of the Hebrew Scriptures validates this claim). If we reject the liberal assumption that the Torah was "redacted" by different editors (i.e., that it contradicts itself), we must assume that this verse is intended to teach us something...
We must remember that the Scriptures speak from an omniscient, "third person" perspective. When we read, for example, "In the beginning, God (אֱלהִים) created the heavens and the earth," we must ask who is speaking? Who is the narrator of the Torah? Jewish tradition maintains that Moses received the Torah by direct revelation from God while at Sinai, and that revelation included the infallible accounts of the lives of the early patriarchs. The New Testament elaborates that "all Scripture is inspired by God..." and is therefore the outworking of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21, etc.).
The traditional Jewish commentators have said that God's statement (i.e., "I did not make my Name known to them") was actually a form of rebuke of Moses' request to know God's Name.... They connect this statement with the end of the last Torah portion, when Moses complained to God that He has made the situation of the Israelites worse (Exod. 5:22-23). The Talmud comments on the connection: "Many times I revealed myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; but they did not question my ways, nor did they say to me, 'What is Your name?' You, on the other hand, asked from the start, 'What is Your name?' and now you are saying to me, 'You have not saved your people!' (Sanhedrin 111a). Rashi agrees with the Talmud's opinion: "You questioned my ways; unlike Abraham, to whom I said, 'Isaac shall be considered your seed' and then I said to him, 'Raise him up to me as an offering,' and yet despite all this he never questioned me." Similarly Nachmanides stated that the patriarchs were content to know God as El Shaddai, realizing that they could never fathom His essence, but Moses wanted to know the secrets of God and therefore asked for His Name.
There are two places in the Torah when God explicitly revealed the meaning of the name YHVH to Moses. Both occurred at Sinai. The first occurred at the outset of Moses' ministry (at the burning bush), and the second occurred after incident of the Golden Calf.
When God initially commissioned Moses to be Israel's liberator during the vision of the burning bush, he explicitly asked for "God's Name" in order to authenticate his message to the children of Israel. In response God answered, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה / "ehyeh asher ehyeh" (Exod. 3:14). This phrase, often rendered as "I AM THAT I AM" in English, derives from the Hebrew verb hayah ("to be") and therefore indicates that God is the Source of all of life. In other words, the name YHVH appears to be a "play" on the verb "to be," and implies that God is hayah, hoveh, ve'yiyeh (הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה), "the One who was, the One who is, and the One who always shall be," namely, the Master of the Universe. YHVH is the Source of all being and has life (being) inherent in Himself (i.e., He is necessary Being). Everything else is contingent being that derives existence from Him.
וַיּאמֶר אֱלהִים אֶל־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה
וַיּאמֶר כּה תאמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶהְיֶה שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם
va·yo·mer E·lo·him el Mo·she: eh·yeh a·sher eh·yeh
va·yo·mer ko to·mar liv·nei Yis·ra·el: eh·yeh she·la·cha·ni a·ley·khem
"God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM."
And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
(Download Study Card)
Later, after Moses led the people back to Sinai, he ascended the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments and other details of the Torah. Before Moses reappeared from the mountain top, however, the people talked Aaron into making a molten calf (egel maseikhah) which they began to worship (Exod. 32:1-6). After the Jews had committed this grievous sin, Moses despaired of the Jews ever being able to find favor in God's eyes again. After a period of intercession and teshuvah, the LORD finally instructed Moses to carve a new set of tablets and to meet him again at a place (i.e., makom: מָקוֹם) on the top of Sinai, where He would descend in the cloud to "declare His Name" (Exod. 33:17-34:7). This dramatic experience of revelation was later called middot ha-rachamim, or the revelation of the attributes of God's mercy, and was considered a divine addendum to the original covenant terms (Exod. 34:6-7).
יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת
Adonai Adonai El ra·chum ve·chan·nun
e·rekh a·pa·yim ve·rav che·sed ve·e·met
"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"
(Download Study Card)
What are some of these attributes? Notice first that the LORD calls himself rachum v'chanun (רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן), often translated "merciful and gracious." The noun rechem (רֶחֶם) means "womb" in Hebrew, indicating that God's compassion is like a mother's deep love for her child. The word chanun (חַנּוּן) comes from the word for grace or favor (i.e., chen: חֵן), and indicates that God is a graceful giver who is favorably disposed to help those in need. God is compassionate and favorable to those who call upon Him. The curious phrase erekh apayim (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם) literally means "long of nose," an idiom used to describe someone who is patient and slow to anger, i.e., "longsuffering" (Prov. 14:29). The word chesed (חֶסֶד), is often translated as "lovingkindess" or "steadfast love," and implies devotion and fidelity. God describes Himself as rav chesed v'emet (רַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת), that is abundant in His kindness and faithful love. Based on God's Compassion, this is the meaning of the Name YHVH...
It is fascinating to see that this revelation prefigures the New Covenant that was given to Israel. Just as the first set of tablets, based as they were on the justice and holiness of God, were broken, so a second set was given based on the middot (attributes) of the LORD's mercy and grace. Indeed, Yeshua was broken on behalf of the law but was raised again so that all who trust in Him can truly understand that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in stedfast love and truth" (Exod. 34:6, Psalm 86:15, 103:8).
It can be argued that the second revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) was a "gospel" moment for Israel. The episode of the Golden Calf revealed that the Jews were unable to keep the law, even though they personally experienced the power of God's deliverance from Egypt and His ongoing care on the way to Sinai. Despite the judgments brought upon Egypt, despite the overthrow of Pharaoh and his armies in the sea, despite the bitter waters made sweet, despite the manna from heaven, despite the miraculous well of Miriam, despite the awesome revelation at Sinai, and despite the pledge of the Israelites: kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh v'nishma, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" (Exod. 19:8; 24:7), the Sin of the Golden Calf revealed that something more was needed, and that the law itself was insufficient to change the inner heart of man. The intercession of Moses on behalf of Israel revealed the heart of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) of the LORD, the deeper revelation of the LORD's character of mercy and grace. Apart from God's gracious love and compassion, the law by itself rendered only the righteous sentence of death for Israel.
All that has been said so far was intended to explore some reasons why the revelation of the Name YHVH was unique in the case of Moses, but what are we to make about the statement that patriarchs only knew God as El Shaddai?
First it should be noted that El Shaddai is a compound name that includes the (singular construct form of the) Name Elohim (אֱלהִים). It is certain that Abram understood that God was the Creator of the universe (הַבּוֹרֵא) even though he did not have a copy of the written Torah to read: "In the beginning, God (Elohim) created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1). For example, after he arrived in Canaan, he settled in Hebron and separated from his nephew Lot. He later fought against the four kings who had abducted his nephew and thereafter encountered Malki-Tzedek, the "priest of God Most High," in the city of Salem. There Malki-Tzedek blessed him in the name of "El Elyon (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן), the Owner of heaven and earth (קנֵה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ)," and there Abram swore a corresponding vow "to the LORD, God Most High, the Owner of heaven and earth" (Gen. 14:19,22). It is clear, then, that he understood God as the Creator and Master of the universe....
The name El Shaddai first occurs in the Torah when God said to Abram: "I am El Shaddai. Walk before me and be perfect. I will make my covenant between me and you, and I will increase your numbers greatly" (Gen. 17:1-2). Most English translations render El Shaddai as "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Torah) thought Shaddai came from a root verb (shadad) that means "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty." It is more likely, however, that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim (שָׁדַיִם) the Hebrew word for "breasts," indicating sufficiency and nourishment. Indeed, the compound name (El Shaddai) is regularly connected with fruitfulness and fertility of the original families of Israel. For example: "May El Shaddai bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers" (Gen. 28:3); "I am El Shaddai: be fruitful and increase in number" (Gen. 35:11); "El Shaddai will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts (shadayim) and of the womb" (Gen. 49:25). Understood in this light, the Name might derive from the contraction of sha ("who") and dai ("enough") to indicate God's complete sufficiency to nurture the families to become as "numerous as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seashore." In fact, the Name first appears when God refers to multiplying Abraham's offspring (Gen. 17:2) and is used almost exclusively in reference to the three great patriarchs of Israel.
Furthermore, when Abram later interceded on behalf of Sodom, he appealed to the LORD as "the Judge of all the earth" / הֲשׁפֵט כָּל־הָאָרֶץ (Gen. 18:25). Abram surely understood El Shaddai to be the Most High God - Creator, Sustainer, and Judge. So it is evident that the patriarchs' theology centered on the Almighty Creator (Elohim) and His promise to sustain and multiply their offspring (El- Shaddai) to become a great nation and a blessing to all the families of the earth. God "appeared" to them as El Shaddai, but he was not "known" as YHVH at that time...
Finally, it is important to understand that the meaning of God's Name is linked to His actions in the created order. The very first occurrence of the Name YHVH in the Torah occurs in Genesis 2, where the name appears compounded with the name Elohim (i.e., YHVH-Elohim): "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God (יהוה אֱלהִים) made the earth and the heavens" (Gen. 2:4). The Torah goes on to describe how the LORD God imparted to man a divinely given soul: "Then the LORD God formed (יֵצֶר) the man of dust from the ground and breathed (נָפַח) into his nostrils the breath of life (i.e., nishmat chayim: נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), and the man became a living soul (i.e., nefesh chayah: נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה)." The word yetzer ("formed") refers to something shaped, like pottery fashioned by the hand of a potter. Just as a potter purposes a shape before forming an object, so God intended the image of man. Regarding the impartation of the soul, the sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as a glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the "breath of God" (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) becomes spirit (רוּחַ) to form the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). The Targum states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. The very first creative act of YHVH-Elohim, then, was to impart the "image" of God to mankind. Interesting, it is only after the rebellion in Eden that the Name YHVH first appears by itself, suggesting a separation of the attributes of God's justice and God's mercy. (The return to Eden, i.e., salvation, ultimately means the restoration of the original image of YHVH-Elohim within mankind. This is why the Scriptures teach that we are being conformed to the image of Yeshua, who is YHVH in the flesh.) But notice something important here. The first explanation of the meaning of the Name YHVH concerns God's actions based on redemptive love.
The name Elohim first appears creating the heavens and the earth and therefore denotes God's transcendent power and glory as Creator and Judge, whereas YHVH denotes God's immanent love and compassion. When the Scripture therefore states, "Elohim...said: 'I am YHVH'" (Exod. 6:2), it is identifying the God of Justice with the God of Mercy: God the Creator is also the God the Redeemer... There is only one God, of course, as the Shema testifies: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD (יהוה) is our God (אֱלהִים), the LORD is one" (Deut. 6:4), but the one true God is both perfectly just and also perfectly compassionate. Unlike various forms of dualism which separate God's justice and mercy, the LORD God (יהוה אֱלהִים) unites both of these attributes into a unity, and this unity is most clearly demonstrated in the power of His redemptive love and salvation. Therefore we see the judgments revealed to polytheistic Egypt but the mercy shown to monotheistic Israel. Egypt needed to understand there is one God who is Creator and Judge, whereas Israel needed to understand that God is also the compassionate Redeemer and Savior. But notice that in either case escape from the "Angel of Death" (the symbol of God's justice and vengeance) would only come through faith in the shed blood of the Passover lamb. This, of course, foreshadowed the greater work of redemption given through Yeshua our Messiah, the sacrificial "Lamb of God." Yeshua reconciles God's justice and mercy so that may it be proclaimed: חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ - "love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). At the cross we see both God's wrath for sin as well as God's awesome love for us. The God of Israel is both "just and the justifier of those who believe" (Rom. 3:26). Putting your faith in God's redemption given through Yeshua means that you trust that His love for you is greater than his judgment against you. Your faith in His shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" you...
When God said to Moses "but with my Name YHVH I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:3), he was stating that the patriarchs had not witnessed His mastery over creation through the signs and wonders He would perform as Israel's Redeemer. The patriarchs understood God as El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדָּי), the all-sufficient "Promise Maker" who nurtured the fledgling nation and who foretold of Israel's future, but Moses (and the Israelites) would now understand God's attributes of covenantal faithfulness (chesed) as the "Promise Keeper" by directly witnessing his revelation and saving acts. Rashi further states that the Name YHVH implies that there is no power that can prevent God from keeping His word and fulfilling His promise of redemption. God is the Lord of lords and King of kings, and therefore His word can never fail (Deut. 10:17; Dan. 2:47). אֵין עוֹד מִלְבַדּו / ein od milvado: "there is no power apart from Him" (Deut. 4:35,9; 1 Kings 8:60).
The LORD alone is Israel's Savior and Redeemer (Isa. 43:3, 44:6), and therefore Yeshua Himself is none other than the LORD (Eph. 1:7-8; Col. 1:13-20; Isa. 45:23, Phil. 2:10). Yeshua was the Angel of the LORD who spoke to Moses from the midst of the burning bush (Exod. 3:2-15), just as he later spoke to all of Israel from the midst of the fire at Sinai. The New Testament describes Yeshua as the "Aleph and the Tav, who is and who was and who is to come, God Almighty" (Rev. 1:8; cp. Rev. 2:8, 21:6, Isa. 44:6, etc.). For additional proof that the Scriptures teach that Yeshua is none other than YHVH "in the flesh," see the article entitled "Yeshua is Adonai."
אֲנִי הָאָלֶף וְהַתָּו ראשׁ וָסוֹף נְאֻם יהוה אֱלהִים
אֲשֶׁר הוּא הַוֶה הָיָה וָבָא אֱלהֵי צְבָאוֹת
a·ni ha·a·lef ve·ha·tav, rosh va·sof, ne·um Adonai E·lo·him
a·sher hu ho·veh, ha·yah, va·va: E·lo·hei Tze·va·ot
Εγώ εἰμι τὸ ῎Αλφα καὶ τὸ ῏Ω, λέγει κύριος ὁ θεός,
ὁ ὢν καὶ ὁ ἦν καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος, ὁ παντοκράτωρ
"I am the Aleph and Tav, the first and the last, saith the LORD God,
the One who was, and is, and is to come: The God of hosts"
(Download Study Card)
There are literally hundreds of Names and Titles of God given in the Scriptures, though surely the Name YHVH is the most profound and most powerful. Traditional Jewish theology calls God Ein Sof (אין סוף), "the Infinite" or "Boundless" (the Hebrew word ein means "there is not" and refers to "no-thingness," and the word sof refers to an end or limit, so the term "Ein Sof" suggests God's absolute transcendence from all forms of finite being). In other words, God is beyond all our predications, descriptions, and apprehension. God's "inner essence" or nature is concealed from us and is therefore unknowable. This is similar to other forms of "negative theology," where we can only say what God is not, rather than what God is. Thus to say "God is omnipotent" means that God is not powerless; to say "God is omniscient" means that God is not ignorant, and so on. God's "attributes of action," on the other hand, represent His self-revelation. These include the attributes of Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of life, etc. To affirm that "God is Creator" is therefore to affirm the revelation of God's actions (namely, Scripture and creation itself); to say "God is Redeemer" is to affirm His saving acts in history (i.e., the Exodus and the Cross of Yeshua). Most of the Names and Titles of God are therefore descriptions of God's attributes of action, though the Name YHVH is regarded as the sole exception.
It would be nice to read the words of YHVH printed in red in our Bibles, just as the words of Yeshua are sometimes so printed in the New Testament. Whenever we read YHVH's words in the Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament"), it is important to remember that it is Yeshua, the Word or Voice of the LORD God Almighty, who is speaking.... Yeshua delivered Israel from Egypt; Yeshua gave the Torah to Israel at Sinai; Yeshua sheltered the Israelites in the wilderness, and so on. Yeshua is Israel's Savior and Redeemer. He is the One who died as the "Lamb of God" for Israel's ultimate redemption, and indeed for the redemption of the entire world. Indeed, Yeshua is YHVH is Melekh Ha-Kavod (מֶלֶךְ הַכָּבוֹד), "the King of Glory"!
מִי עָלָה־שָׁמַיִם וַיֵּרַד
מִי אָסַף־רוּחַ בְּחָפְנָיו
מִי צָרַר־מַיִם בַּשִּׂמְלָה
מִי הֵקִים כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
מַה־שְּׁמוֹ וּמַה־שֶּׁם־בְּנוֹ כִּי תֵדָע
mi a·lah sha·ma·yim va·ye·rad?
mi a·saf ru·ach be·chof·nav?
mi tza·rar ma·yim ba·sim·lah?
mi he·kim kol af·sei a·retz?
mah she·mo u·mah shem be·no, ki tei·da?
"Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son's name? Surely you know!"
New Shabbat "Table Talk" Guide
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Va'era). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.28.10 (Tevet 21, 5771) It is encouraging and edifying to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family and friends during the Friday night Sabbath meal. To make it a little easier to discuss some topics, I created a new Shabbat "Table Talk" guide for parashat Va'era. The guide includes a brief summary of the Torah portion, a few questions (with answers), and some additional topics for discussion. Hopefully this material will prompt some interesting (and enjoyable) discussion around your Sabbath table, chaverim. You can download the table talk page here.
Note: I have completely updated the Vay'era summary as well, adding new content about Passover, the Ten Plagues of Egypt, and other material. Please take a look!
The Spirit of Hope...
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Va'era). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.27.10 (Tevet 20, 5771) When Moses proclaimed the good news of God's forthcoming redemption for Israel, the Torah states that the people could not listen because they were "short of breath" (Exod. 6:9). Interestingly, this phrase (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ) can also mean "lacking in spirit," as if in a paralyzed state of hopelessness. But how did the people become so downhearted? Had they forgotten the promise given to Abraham (Gen. 15:12-14)? Had they disregarded Joseph's final words (Gen. 50:24-25)?
According to some of the sages, part of the reason for their "shortness of breath" (besides the cruel bondage and hard labor imposed on them) was that the Israelites miscalculated the duration of their 400 year exile, and therefore they began to lose hope. When members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to escape from Egypt some 30 years before the time of the redemption, they were all killed by the Philistines, and many of the Israelites began to believe that they would remain as perpetual slaves (Shemot Rabbah, 20:11). They became "short of breath" and could no longer receive the message of the Holy Spirit...
Life in this evil world can make us likewise feel "short of breath." Though we are not subject to the oppression of a malicious Pharaoh, we are still subject to the "princes of this age" who spurn the message of the Messiah's redemption and love. We are still subjected to cruel bondage imposed by taskmasters who defy the LORD and who seek to enslave us by means of lies, propaganda, and threats of violence... The devil is still at work in the hearts and minds of many of his "little Pharaohs" that govern the world system... The Scriptures make it clear that we are engaged in genuine spiritual warfare: "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12).
It is evident that one of the central purposes of God's redemption is to bestow freedom and dignity upon his people. As the story of Pharaoh reveals, God does not take kindly to oppressors, dictators, and other megalomaniacal world leaders who deny the truth and who therefore seek to enslave (or kill) human beings created in His image and likeness. Just as God judged Egypt for its oppression and violence, so He will one day break the "rulers of this world" with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel (Psalm 2:9-10).
To help us "catch our breath" during this time of waiting, it is important to remember that the LORD redeems us so that we may become His children and therefore be clothed with everlasting dignity... Our redemption makes us heirs of the Kingdom of God and citizens of heaven. We must never regard ourselves as slaves - not to the State, not to the bankers, not to fear, and not to religion (Gal. 5:1). God gave up His Son for us so that we could be made free to live with honor as his dearly loved children.... All the threats of the world system - economic, political, religious, social, etc. - are ultimately made empty and vain by the glorious redemption promised to us in Yeshua our Savior.
There is an old story of the Maggid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Maggid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to humiliate him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.' Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...
The Scriptures declare that "we are saved by hope" (ελπιδι εσωθημεν), that is, we are saved through an earnest expectation of good to come on account of the promises of the LORD God of Israel. The LORD is called "The God of Hope" (אֱלהֵי הַתִּקְוָה), indicating that He is its Author and its End (Rom. 15:13). God both gives birth to our hope (tikvah) and is the satisfaction of our heart's deepest longings. For those with God-given hope, gam zu l'tovah – all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28).
Many of us can quote that we are "saved by grace through faith" (Eph. 2:8), yet we are also clearly told that we are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). In light of God's promises, hope is the one "work" that we are called to vigorously perform: "What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?" Yeshua answered, "This is the work of God, that you trust (i.e. hope) in the one whom He sent" (John 6:28-29).
Don't let the world system destroy or impugn your hope, chaverim... If the devil can't seduce you with illusory hope or counterfeit joy, he will attempt to oppress you with fear and doubt. Fight the good fight of faith and refuse to succumb to despair. Run the race before you with endurance (Heb. 12:1). Look up, for the time of your deliverance draws near... God redeems us for the sake of His love and honor... It is the "breath of God" that gives us life and courage to face this dark and perverse world (John 20:22). May you be filled with the hope and strength that comes from the Holy Spirit.
אֵלֶיךָ יְהוָה נַפְשִׁי אֶשָּׂא׃ אֱלהַי בְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי
אַל־אֵבוֹשָׁה אַל־יַעַלְצוּ איְבַי לִי׃
e·ley·kha A·do·nai naf·shi es·sa, E·lo·hai be·kha va·tach·ti,
al–e·vo·shah, al–ya·al·tzu oy·vai li
"Unto thee, O LORD, do I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in thee:
let me not be ashamed, let not mine enemies triumph over me."
(Download Study Card)
Parashat Va'era - וארא
12.26.10 (Tevet 19, 5771) The Torah reading for this week is parashat Va'era, the second portion of the Book of Exodus. In a Sefer Torah (Torah scroll), this portion contains exactly 121 verses (p'sukim), 1748 words, and 6,701 letters.
The reading begins:
God (אֱלהִים) spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD (יהוה). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai (אל שׁדּי), but by My Name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:2-3).
This is a puzzling verse, especially since it is apparent that each of the avot (i.e., the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) called upon the Name of the LORD (see Gen. 12:7-8, 26:25; 28:16, 32:9, 49:18, etc.). Traditionally understood, the sacred Name (YHVH) reveals God's attributes of compassion and immanence, whereas the name Elohim reveals God's attributes of justice and transcendence. According to most of the sages, the Name YHVH is directly revealed in God's compassionate redemptive activity, especially as it relates to Exodus from Egypt (for more on this, see "The Revelation of the Name YHVH").
The Hebrew word Va'era (וארא) means "I appeared" and has a numerical value of 208, the same value as the name Yitzchak (יצחק). This suggests a connection between the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) and the redemption (גְּאֻלָּה) of YHVH that culminated in the original Passover ritual given in Egypt. The ultimate Passover sacrifice given through Yeshua, the "Lamb of God" finally and forever reconciled the attributes of God as Elohim (justice, holiness, transcendence) and God as YHVH (mercy, love, compassion). Only at the Cross of Yeshua may it be said: חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ - "mercy and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10).
Note: I hope to add some additional commentary regarding this portion later this week, chaverim. Thank you for praying for this ministry!
The Call of Moses...
[ Shabbat Shalom and Happy holidays, chaverim! The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Shemot). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.24.10 (Tevet 17, 5771) We know very little about Moses' early life in Pharaoh's palace, though it is likely that he believed from an early age that he was destined to lead the Jewish people. After all, his sister Miriam was a prophetess who had foreseen that he would one day be the deliverer of Israel, and his mother Yocheved undoubtedly regarded his miraculous rescue and adoption by the Pharaoh's daughter to portend great things for her son. Indeed, since Yocheved served as Moses' nurse before he was formally adopted by the princess, it is possible that she (and her family) had some sort of relationship with her son even after he became a "prince of Egypt."
The Scriptures, of course, are silent about Moses' early years as a prince of Egypt. Directly after mentioning the occasion of his official adoption (and naming) by the princess, the Torah jumps ahead to present him as a full-grown man ready to deliver the Israelites (Exod. 2:10-11). Moses is described as "going out to his people and looking on their burdens" during the time of Pharaoh's forced slavery of Israel. When he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite slave, his moral indignation was so stirred that he rose up and killed the man and hid his body in the sand. If Moses had hoped to became the "rebel leader" of the Israelites at this time, however, his hope was soon dashed. The Torah relates that the following day he "went out again" and sought to reconcile two Israelites who were fighting. The one in the wrong objected: "Who made you a prince and judge (שַׂר וְשׁפֵט) over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" Upon hearing this Moses understood that the time was not right for political rebellion and therefore fled to Midian to escape being tried for treason (Exod. 2:13-15).
According to the New Testament, Moses was 40 years old at this time and "had supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand" (Acts 7:23-25). Apparently Moses believed that he was indeed destined to be a "prince and judge" (שַׂר וְשׁפֵט) over the Israelites, and he may even have envisioned himself to be another "Joseph" whom God providentially raised up to deliver the Jewish people. Whatever he was thinking at the time, however, it is clear that Moses became a "failed Messiah" by trying to effect deliverance by means of his own zeal and design. After all, how could he have begun his career as the deliverer of Israel by means of an act of murder? It would take another 40 years in the wilderness for him to "unlearn" the ways of corrupt Egypt (something the Israelites later would experience for themselves after the Exodus). The way of true spiritual ascent always requires descent - the stripping of the ego and its illusions so that Voice of God can be heard. Moses needed to experience genuine brokenness before he could meet the Angel of the LORD, the true Messiah and Deliverer of Israel.
After Moses dejectedly fled to the land of Midian, he met and married Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite (i.e., Gentile) priest named Yitro (Exod. 2:16-21). They had a son named Gershom (from ger (גֵּר), "stranger" and sham (שָׁם), "there"), and Moses then spent the next 40 years as a "stranger there" tending his father-in-law's sheep (Acts 7:30). The glory of his former days as a "prince of the world" began to fade. Moses surely began to rethink his assumptions as he listened to the godly counsel of his father-in-law (the Midianites were descendants of Abraham and Keturah and therefore Moses' distant cousins [1 Chron. 1:32]). Over time he undoubtedly began to realize that mere human zeal was insufficient to bring about deliverance, and that something far greater was therefore needed. A midrash says that Moses (like King David after him) eventually realized the importance of God's love and compassion as he worked as a shepherd. While he was tending the flock in the wilderness, a little kid escaped from him. He ran after it until he found it in a shady place, where he saw a pool of water from which the kid had stopped to drink. When Moses approached it, he said: 'I did not know that you ran away because of thirst; you must be weary.' So he placed the kid on his shoulders and carried it back to rejoin the flock. Thereupon God said: "Because you showed compassion while caring for the flock of mortal sheep, you will assuredly tend my flock Israel" (Shemot Rabbah 2:2).
One day, nearly 40 years after he first fled to the wilderness of Midian, Moses led his flock toward Mount Chorev (synonymous with Mount Sinai), where he noticed a strange apparition: a thorn bush was burning but was not consumed by the fire. When Moses turned aside to take a closer look, God suddenly began to speak to him: "Moses, Moses... do not come nearer; take your shoes off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground" (Exod. 3:4-5).
During this fantastic encounter, God's first words to Moses may seem somewhat disappointing. After all, this was going to be the defining moment of Moses' life - the moment when he would be commissioned to become "God's prince" rather than a mere prince of Egypt. This was the dream of Moses' heart, his lifelong hope... Everything about Moses' life somehow led to this meeting with God, but God's first spoken words were simply: "Do not come nearer... take off your shoes."
God's first words to Moses puzzled the sages and the later commentators. Why didn't God begin, for instance, by introducing himself, as He did in the following verse ("I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob")? Why did He begin with the commandments, "Do not come nearer... take off your shoes"?
The Jewish philosopher Maimonides (1135-1204) stated that Moses' first meeting with God was intended to reveal his spiritual development as a prophet. At the beginning of his calling, Moses was commanded not to come near, but later (after the Exodus) Moses was able to "approach the thick darkness where God was" (Exod. 20:18). In other words, Moses' ability to approach the Divine Presence developed over the course of his journey with the Lord, and this episode is intended to reveal the contrast between the early and later Moses...
The medieval mystic Rabbi Bachya ben Asher (c. 1300's) wrote that the removal of Moses' shoes was a symbol of the need to "remove" the earthly aspects of life that impede the gift of prophecy. God's first words to Moses thus represent a call to leave the realm of the physical in order to enter the spiritual realm. In other words, Moses simply could not "come nearer" to God until he first divested himself of the earthly, symbolized by his shoes...
Rabbi Samson Hirsch (1808-1888), on the other hand, stated that the burning bush represented the ineffable attributes of God - that is, God as Ein Sof (the Infinite), since the bush defied human rationality and logical comprehension. God's first words to Moses ("Do not come nearer... take off your shoes") therefore meant that he must accept his place in the world and sanctify the ground upon which he is standing (i.e., malkhut). Encountering the Divine Presence implies reverently "backing away" from the inscrutable as something that surpasses you in every way, and then surrendering yourself to the place where you find yourself in the present moment... "Do not come nearer" therefore means "do not search for me in visions of a burning bush." God's Voice speaks in human language from the midst of the fire so that we can meet Him in our present state of finitude. The commandment to "take off your shoes" therefore means to "accept your limitations and the realm of your existence." The first words spoken to Moses, then, essentially are "let God be God." Sanctify this time and place and understand that God speaks to you....
In many synagogues there is a powerful phrase displayed on the doors of Aron Ha-Kodesh (the holy ark in which are kept the Torah scrolls) that says, "Know before whom you stand" (in Hebrew: דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד - da lifnei mi attah omed). This phrase is intended to remind us that we are to have a reverent and focused attitude while we are at services. Note, however, that such a distinction between the sacred and the profane is somewhat artificial, since we are always in the Presence of God (Acts 17:28) and the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isa. 6:3). But taken as a general principle of life, da lifnei mi attah omed enjoins us to be aware that everything we say, think, or do is before the divine audience of the Living God (אֵל־חָי) Himself.
Since the LORD is infinite, the distinctions we make (as finite creatures) in terms of time and space do not apply to Him. God infinitely transcends all of creation and He alone is holy (Isa. 42:8, 28:11). But understand that God's infinite Presence also means He fills the heavens and the earth (Isa. 6:3). The whole earth is lit up with God's Glory, and every bush is aflame before us, if we have eyes to see...
Though God is infinitely above us, He is not "remote" from us, nor are the very angels in heaven any "closer" to Him than you are right now. As the One who Emptied Himself said, "your Heavenly Father knows the number of hairs upon your head" (Matt. 10:30). We can draw close to Him by opening our eyes of faith.
Finally, some of the sages of the Talmud state that God instructed Moses to remove his shoes as an object lesson. Moses' sandals insulated him from the thorns and rocks of the path of life, just as he had been insulated from the suffering of the Hebrews while he lived as a prince of Egypt. God wanted Moses to remember the pains that his people were experiencing back in Egypt while he was speaking with him. He wanted Moses to empathize with the Jewish people and to feel their suffering as if it were his own. As A.W Tozer once wrote, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He's hurt him deeply," and that certainly applies to the case of Moses as the prophet of God.
The Exodus is perhaps the most fundamental event of Jewish history. In addition to being commemorated every year during Passover (Exod. 12:24-27; Num. 9:2-3; Deut. 16:1), it is explicitly mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2), and it is recalled every Sabbath (Deut. 5:12-15). The festivals of Shavuot and Sukkot likewise derive from it (the former recalling the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the latter recalling God's care as the Exodus generation journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land). Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah (including the laws of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system) may be traced back to the story of the Exodus. Most importantly, the Exodus prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the Jews and the Lamb of God.
As important as Moses was to the Exodus story, it is important to remember that only God may be called the Deliverer or Redeemer of Israel (Isa. 44:6). God - not Moses - is rightly the focus of the story of the Exodus (indeed, the traditional text of the Passover haggadah does not even mention Moses' name). When Moses acted in his own strength, he was a "failed Messiah" of sorts. Moses needed to be humbled in the desert before he could learn to recognize the Divine Presence.... It was only after meeting Yeshua - the "Angel of the LORD speaking out of the midst of the fire" - that he was enabled to function as God's servant and mediator.
Note: For some more discussion about the rise of Moses as Israel's leader, see the article entitled, "The Advent of Moses."
Gematria and Midwifery
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Shemot). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.23.10 (Tevet 16, 5771) Recently someone asked me a question about Hebrew gematria. For those of you unacquainted with the subject, gematria is an esoteric method of finding relationships between words (and phrases) in the Hebrew text. The basic idea is that since Hebrew letters can be viewed as numbers (Aleph=1, Bet=2, and so on), and since words are obviously formed from the combination of these letters, each Hebrew word can be thought of as a number, and therefore (here's the inferential step) words that share the same numerical value are somehow related.
Here's an example of how gematria works. In this week's Torah reading (Shemot), recall how the Hebrew midwives disobeyed the Pharaoh's evil decree to murder any Israelite boys they helped deliver. When the Pharaoh later asked them why they continued to let the Israelite boys be born, the midwives replied, "because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them" (Exod. 1:19). In the Torah, the phrase "before the midwife comes to them" contains a textual oddity: the word אֲלֵהֶן ("to them") is usually spelled אלהין, and the Talmud (Sotah 11b) suggests that the missing Yod in this word indicates that God Himself functioned as a Midwife to the Israelite women. How do they reach this conclusion? Well first of all Yod represents the Divine Presence (recall how this letter was added to Abram and Sarai's names, among others). Next, using gematria, the value of אֲלֵהֶן is discovered to equal 86 (1+30+5+50) -- the same value as the word אלהים, the word Elohim (God). Now the Hebrew Name Elohim is traditionally thought to represent God in His attribute of justice, and the sages surmised that God directly intervened (as a Midwife) to save the Hebrew babies from the unjust decree of Pharaoh. One implication of this interpretation, by the way, is that the midwives did not, in fact, lie to the Pharaoh. Though they detested his evil policies, they told the truth when they said that that the Israelite women gave birth before they came to them. What they didn't mention, and of course would have made no difference to the wicked Pharaoh, was that God Himself - Elohim - was intervening in this situation as the Creator and Judge of all the earth to deliver the baby boys. Ultimately, of course, this Pharaoh would come to realize this, but not before first experiencing the strong arm of God expressed in the ten plagues upon Egypt. The last plague (i.e., makkat bechorot, the death of the firstborn), you will recall, was divine recompense for the attempted genocide of the Jewish people....
So what are we to make of gematria as a method of interpretation? Well first of all it needs to be stressed that it must always cohere with the pshat (plain reading) of Scripture. In other words, gematria cannot stand alone as an interpretative method. For instance, you will never find in valid gematria some sort of "code" that suggests that there is more than one God, that the ark of the covenant was a radio transmitter, that the Israelites came from another planet, etc. In the example cited from this week's Torah reading, we see that the use of gematria passes this test: it indeed coheres with the truth that God is the righteous Judge who would deliver the Israelites from genocide and slavery... The idea that God was the Midwife of the Israelites -- particularly as it relates to the overall context of the story of the birth of Moses -- likewise agrees with the greater narrative found in the Book of Exodus.
Second, while it is indeed interesting (and sometimes even enlightening) to consider non-linear ways of reading the texts, gematria can never be used as a substitute for the study of the Scriptures in their historical (and literary) context. In Jewish tradition, gematria is considered as a "spice" or additional "seasoning" to the regular study of Torah. The Jewish sages were well aware that heresy often came from those who read the Scriptures out of context... This is part of the reason that the Jewish scholar Rashi -- who stayed close to the text and did not wander off into speculation -- is highly regarded in Jewish tradition.
The best approach is to read the Torah and study the texts in a traditional manner. Check Mishnah/Talmud and other commentaries if you are puzzled. Be sure to read related passages in the New Testament as well, especially those that feature the words of Yeshua our Mashiach. Only after you are clear about the grammatical-historical meaning of a passage should (tentative) exploration be made into other ways of reading the texts. Above all, we must call upon the LORD and ask Him for ruach ha-kodesh to give us His enlightenment. If you ask the Father for bread, He won't give you a stone (Matt. 7:8-11).
Shemot "Table Talk" Page
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Shemot). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.22.10 (Tevet 15, 5771) It is customary to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family (and friends) during the Friday night Sabbath meal (i.e., erev Shabbat). To make it a little easier to discuss some of the topics, I created a new "Shabbat Table Talk" page for parashat Shemot. Hopefully this page will generate some interesting discussion around your Sabbath table, chaverim. You can download the table talk page here.
Here is a sample discussion question. In this week's reading the LORD described His Name to Moses as "I AM WHO I AM" (i.e., ehyeh asher ehyeh: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה). God then went on to further denote the meaning of His Name through a series of relationships: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יהוה), [namely] the God of your fathers, [namely] the God of Abraham (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), [namely] the God of Isaac (אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק), and [namely] the God of Jacob (ואלהֵי יַעֲקב), has sent me to you.' This is my name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעוֹלָם), and this is how I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:14-15). How does the fact that the LORD (יהוה) repeatedly identifies Himself as "the God of Israel" (אלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) affect your understanding of who God is?
בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
מֵהָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם אָמֵן וְאָמֵן
ba·rukh A·do·nai E·lo·hei Yis·ra·el
me·ha·o·lam ve·ad ha·o·lam: Amen v'amen
"Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from eternity past to eternity future! Amen and Amen."
(Download Study Card)
Note: As I've mentioned before, what we believe about Israel will affect ALL other areas of our theology. "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel (אלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) who alone does wondrous things" (Psalm 72:18).
בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֱלהִים אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עשֵׂה נִפְלָאוֹת לְבַדּוֹ׃
וּבָרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹדוֹ לְעוֹלָם וְיִמָּלֵא כְבוֹדוֹ אֶת־כּל הָאָרֶץ
ba·rukh A·do·nai E·lo·him E·lo·hei Yis·ra·el o·seh nif·la·ot le·va·do.
u·va·rukh shem ke·vo·do le·o·lam, ve·yi·ma·lei khe·vo·do et-kol ha·a·retz:
"Blessed is the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things;
and blessed is his glorious name forever; may the whole earth
be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!"
(Download Study Card)
12.21.10 (Tevet 14, 5771) Last night there was a rare lunar eclipse that also ushered in the shortest day of the solar year (i.e., the winter solstice). Because this symbolically represented a period of protracted darkness, I thought it would be good to remember that God gives peace (שָׁלוֹם) and light to those who are trusting in Him:
יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ תִּצּר שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם כִּי בְךָ בָּטוּחַ
ye·tzer sa·much ti·tzor sha·lom sha·lom ki ve·kha ba·tu·ach
"The steadfast of mind You keep in perfect peace,
because he is trusting in You"
(Download Study Card)
Notice that the subject of the main verb in this verse (i.e., "you will keep") is yetzer samuch (יֵצֶר סָמוּךְ), a term that could be defined as "the [one of] resolute mind." God gives perfect peace to those who have "made up their minds" to trust in Him. Therefore let us be resolved to trust in Him, despite whatever circumstances of life attend our way...
The Holy Spirit appeals for us to understand that the Lord is Tzur Olamim - the "Rock of Ages" - the very foundation of all possible worlds and the eternal Source of existence.
בִּטְחוּ בַיהוה עֲדֵי־עַד כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים
bit·chu va·A·do·nai a·dei-ad, ki ba·Yah A·do·nai tzur o·la·mim
"Trust in the LORD forever, for in Yah the LORD we have the Rock of Ages"
(Download Study Card)
He was born to die...
12.19.10 (Tevet 12, 5771) As I've mentioned elsewhere on this site, if Yeshua was born in the fall during the festival of Sukkot (i.e., "Tabernacles"), then his miraculous conception (i.e., incarnation) would have occurred nine months earlier, sometime around Chanukah. Put the other way, if Yeshua were conceived in late Kislev (Nov/Dec), he would have been born 40 weeks later during Sukkot. For more information about this subject, please see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?"
Regardless of your particular custom surrounding the birth of Yeshua, the crucial point is that He was indeed born -- and that He was born to die (Heb. 10:5-7). The story of his birth is only significant in relation to His sacrificial death (Mark 8:27-33). The "manger" scene leads directly to the Cross at Moriah. That's the miracle of the Gospel story itself: "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). This is of "first importance": Yeshua was born to die for our sins, to make us right with God, and was raised from the dead to vindicate the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 15:3-5). His birth (or rather His incarnation) was the "first step" toward His sacrifice for our deliverance (Heb. 2:9-18).
(Download Study Card)
Yeshua came to earth and emptied himself (κένωσις) of His regal glory and power in order to be our High Priest of the New Covenant. The life he lived in complete surrender to the Father was meant to demonstrate that He alone is the efficacious Healer and High Priest (Mediator) of us all: "But [He] made himself nothing (εκενωσεν), taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men; and being found in human form, he brought himself low by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8). "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:1-4).
Though Christmas is customarily the time that many people observe the birth of the Messiah and Savior, it is surely appropriate to celebrate Yeshua's glory as our risen King and Lord every day of our lives.... Therefore I sincerely wish each and every one of you a wonderful Christmas Season. May we all take time to reflect upon the profound gift of the One who was so great that He emptied Himself (κένωσις) of all His regal glory and power to be clothed in human flesh in order to die as our sin offering before the Father.
Glory to God in the Highest!
כָּבוֹד לֵאלהִים בַּמְּרוֹמִים
וְשָׁלוֹם עֲלֵי־אֲדָמוֹת בִּקֵרֵב אַנִשֵׁי רְצוֹנוֹ
ka·vod le·lo·him ba·me·ro·mim,
ve·sha·lom a·lei-a·da·mot bi·ke·rev a·ni·shei re·tzo·no
"Glory to God in the highest
and peace among those with whom he is pleased"
(Download Study Card)
By putting our trust in Yeshua, we partake in His chayei olam - eternal life - sharing in His invincible love. He is faithful and true, our Prince of Peace and Beloved Savior. Yehi Shem Adonai mevorakh: יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
Note: For a brief Hebrew meditation on Isaiah 9:6 ("Unto us a child is born"), see "Promised Child and Son."
Parashat Shemot - שמות
[ Note that Shabbat this week falls on Christmas Day, chaverim... ]
12.19.10 (Tevet 12, 5771) The Torah reading for this week is the very first of the Book of Exodus, called parashat Shemot (שְׁמוֹת). This portion begins directly where the narrative in the Book of Genesis left off, namely by listing the "names" of the descendants of Jacob who came to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen. The Book of Exodus tells the story of how the family of Jacob became the great nation of Israel.
In English the word "Exodus" ("going out") comes from the title of the Greek translation of the sages' name of the second book of Moses, Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). Hence the Greek word ἔξοδος became "Exodus" in Latin which later was adopted into English. In the Hebrew Bible this book is called Shemot ("names"), following the custom of naming a book according to its first significant word.
Some of the greatest narratives of all the Scriptures are found in the Book of Exodus, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD. The ordinance of Passover is given and Moses then leads the people out of Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds. The Jewish people arrive at Mount Sinai, where they receive the Torah. While Moses is on the mountain, the people worship a Golden Calf, and a period of repentance occurs until the covenant is reestablished. The remainder of the book describes the details and construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
There are forty chapters in the Book of Exodus (16,723 words, 63,529 letters), divided into eleven weekly readings.
Note: If it pleases God I will add some additional commentary to Exodus later this week. Shalom for now, chaverim.
Kiddush: Lifting the Cup of Salvation
[ The following concerns a ceremony called "Kiddush" that is performed to sanctify the Sabbath on Friday nights.... For more information, see the Shabbat pages. ]
12.17.10 (Tevet 10, 5771) Before we sit down to eat our Friday night meal, it is customary to sanctify the time by reciting Kiddush ("sanctification"), a special ceremony performed at the beginning of the Sabbath (and on other holidays). Normally Kiddush is recited by the father of the household while holding a cup of wine. The ceremony has two distinct parts. First Genesis 1:31-2:3 is read and then a Hebrew blessing is recited that sanctifies the occasion and thanks God for the gift of the Sabbath day.
During the first part of Kiddush the leader reads (or sometimes sings) the first few verses from Genesis chapter two, which speak about God's completion of the creation of the heavens and the earth and of His resting from the work of creation. Note that before reading Genesis 2:1, the leader recites the last part of Genesis 1:31 in an undertone until he reaches the last two words of the verse ("Yom Ha-shishi"), which he then clearly reads. This is intended to connect the words "Yom Ha-shishi" with the following two words of Genesis 2:1 (i.e., Vaikhulu Ha-shamayim") to form an acronym for the sacred Name of God (i.e., YHVH).
The second part of kiddush immediately follows. It begins by reciting the traditional blessing for the wine (i.e., "borei peri ha-gafen") and then continues as follows: "Blessed are You LORD, King of the Universe, who made us holy with his commandments and favored us, and gave us His holy Sabbath, in love and favor, to be our heritage, as a reminder of the Creation. It is the foremost day of the holy festivals marking the Exodus from Egypt. For out of all the nations You chose us and made us holy, and You gave us Your holy Sabbath, in love and favor, as our heritage. Blessed are you LORD, Who sanctifies the Sabbath" (for Hebrew text and audio, see the Kiddush page).
In Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is regarded as the first and most important of the holy days, since it is both a memorial of God's work of creation (Exod. 20:11; 31:17) and of the redemption from Egypt by the blood of the lamb (Deut. 5:15). It is "the foremost day of the holy festivals marking the Exodus from Egypt." For Messianic believers, Yeshua is the Lamb of God who embodies the Substance of all that the Sabbath day foreshadows (for more on this, see "Yeshua our Sabbath Rest").
Since the Sabbath ultimately centers on the person of Yeshua the Messiah (as our Creator and Redeemer), we consciously seek ways to honor him during this ceremony. For instance, we recall His promise: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (Matt. 18:20), and therefore we consciously acknowledge His Presence at our Sabbath table. We welcome His Presence in by asking for the Shekhinah Glory of God (the Holy Spirit) to fill our hearts and to give us a sense of genuine communion. Moreover, before we drink from the cup we acknowledge that Yeshua is the vine (הַגֶּפֶן) and we are branches (John 15:1,5), and that therefore our lives are entirely dependent upon Him as our Lord and Savior. We sanctify the kiddush cup by understanding that it symbolizes the "Cup of Salvation" that Yeshua offers to those who are trusting in Him...
When King David asked, "What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me," he glorified the LORD for the wonder of his salvation and said, "I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD" (Psalm 116:13):
כּוֹס־יְשׁוּעוֹת אֶשָּׂא וּבְשֵׁם יְהוָה אֶקְרָא
kos ye·shu·ot es·sa, uv·shem Adonai ek·ra
"I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the LORD"
(Download Study Card)
The "cup of salvation" that King David lifted up prefigured the third cup of the Passover Seder (called the "Cup of Redemption") which was customarily partaken after the Afikomen ceremony at the end of the meal. It is worth remembering that this was the cup that Yeshua sanctified to commemorate the "blood of the new covenant" which He poured out for the remission of our sins (Luke 22:20; Matt. 26:28).
Because of this glorious truth, it may be helpful to recite the following verses before partaking of the Sabbath kiddush cup:
"Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.... What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD" (Psalm 116:7-9, 12-13).
Thanking God for Shabbat
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָנוּ חַגִּים, חֻקּוֹת, וּמוֹעֲדִים לְשִׂמְחָה
לִכְבוֹד יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אֲדוֹנֵינוּ, אוֹר הָעוֹלָם
ba·rukh at·tah Adonai E·lo·he·nu Me·lekh ha·o·lam,
a·sher na·tan la·nu chag·gim, chuk·kot, u·mo·a·dim le·sim·chah,
likh·vod Ye·shu·a ha·ma·shi·ach A·do·ne·nu, or ha·o·lam
"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has given to us holidays, customs, and seasons of happiness,
for the glory of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the light of the world."
(Download Study Card)
Note: Of course Kiddush is only ONE part of a typical Shabbat Seder. The other parts include:
- Preparing your heart for Shabbat by studying the weekly Torah portion
- Preparing your home for a Shabbat meal
- Giving tzedakah for those in need
- Singing Sabbath songs (e.g., Shalom Aleichem, Eshet Chayil, etc.)
- Lighting the Shabbat Candles
- Blessing the Children
- Reciting Kiddush
- Blessing the bread
- Eating the meal and discussing the weekly Torah portion
- Grace after the meal (prayer)
- Thanking God for Salvation in Yeshua (prayer, praise, hymns)
- (after Shabbat) The Havdalah Ceremony
Finally, whenever the subject of "Sabbath Observance" is brought up, there is always the question whether Christians are obligated to do these things. I think it is helpful to consider Shabbat as more of an opportunity (or privilege) than it is a burden. It should be observed with joy - or not at all.... Above all it is crucial to remember that Yeshua is the Lord of the Sabbath. He alone is the meaning and purpose of our Sabbath Rest. Shalom chaverim...
Based on what I wrote here, someone asked me if I associated kiddush with the Christian practice of the "Lord's Table" and, if so, how that might relate to Passover (i.e., the third cup after the Afikomen). After all, didn't the ritual practice of "communion" grow out of the original Passover Seder that Yeshua observed with his disciples?
Of course it must be said that we recognize the blessing of the third cup ("the cup of redemption") of the Passover Seder as "the" cup that Yeshua associated with the blood of the new covenant. Nonetheless, since Sabbath commemorates God as our Creator and our Redeemer, it seems odd to "make kiddush" without reference to Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross.... After all, if we disassociate Yeshua's role as our redeemer from this cup, how should we regard it? Should we regard it as a cup of "life"? But Yeshua is the way, the truth, the life (John 14:6)... As a cup of joy? But Yeshua is our joy and salvation. As a cup of remembering the Exodus from Egypt? But Yeshua is the fulfillment of all our redemption (Luke 22:20)... As a cup to demarcate appointed times? But Yeshua is the substance of all the that the appointed times foretells (Col. 2:16-17)...
In this matter, I think we should simply say, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5, 1 Cor. 10:31). As in other matters of doctrine, our guiding principle should always be love. May Yeshua have the preeminence in everything (Col. 1:16-20).
New Hebrew Meditation
12.15.10 (Tevet 8, 5771) I wrote a new Hebrew Meditation ("The Plea of Empathy") based on Psalm 116:1, "I love the LORD because he hears my voice and my supplications." Like a true friend, God "knows where we hurt" and offers us remedy. But if we take comfort in God's empathy, do we reciprocate by listening to the voice of his supplications?
God graciously "delivers our soul from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from stumbling" (Psalm 116:8) so that we are enabled to express his compassionate love to others in our lives... "For as we share abundantly in Messiah's sufferings, so we share abundantly in consolation (παράκλησις) of the Messiah, too" (1 Cor. 1:5). Therefore we can say, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Note that Paul links our present suffering (πάθος, pathos) with a divinely imparted comfort (παράκλησις, "paraklesis"), which he regards as a state of blessedness. God Himself "calls us to His side" (from παρά + καλέω) in the midst of our afflictions and pain.... The Greek text reads, ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, and might be better rendered as, "The one calling to us [to His side] in all our tribulations" (2 Cor. 1:4). God invites us to come to His side for comfort so that we might offer his comfort to a lost and pain-riddled world.
Anxiety and Healing...
12.15.10 (Tevet 8, 5771) Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. We bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly fragmented - in order to receive God's care for us.
הַשְׁלֵךְ עַל־יְהוָה יְהָבְךָ וְהוּא יְכַלְכְּלֶךָ
לא־יִתֵּן לְעוֹלָם מוֹט לַצַּדִּיק
hash·lekh al-Adonai ye·hav·kha, ve·hu ye·khal·ke·le·kha
lo-yit·ten le·o·lam mot la·tzad·dik
"Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you;
he will never permit the righteous to be moved." (Psalm 55:22)
(Download Study Card)
Interestingly, the word translated "burden" in this verse (i.e., יְהָב) comes from a verb meaning "to give," which suggests that our burden is "that which is given to us," that is, the "lot" or circumstances of our lives. Figuratively speaking, we "cast our lot" upon the LORD and trust that he will sustain us...
The ancient Greek translation (i.e., LXX / Septuagint) translates the Hebrew word (יְהָב) as merimna (μέριμνα), meaning "anxiety" or "care," which is the Greek word Peter used when he quoted this verse in his epistle (1 Pet. 5:7). Since the happenstances of life are often beyond our control, we are naturally tempted to yield to anxiety or worry about the future. The Lord reassures us in light of future uncertainty: "Throw upon the Lord everything in your life that tempts you to fear. God will hold you up and sustain your way. He will never allow the righteous to be shaken apart....
Shabbat "Table Talk" Page - Vayechi
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayechi). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.14.10 (Tevet 7, 5771) It is customary to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family (and friends) during the Friday night Sabbath meal (i.e., erev Shabbat). To make it a little easier to discuss some of the topics, I created a new "Shabbat Table Talk" page for parashat Vayechi. Hopefully this page will generate some interesting discussion around your Sabbath table, chaverim. You can download the table talk page here.
Personal Update: I have been weary the last couple weeks battling various forms of attacks from the enemy of our souls. We know we have the victory in Yeshua, but sometimes it's just plain hard to keep going... Thank you for keeping this work in your prayers... Shalom!
Exploring this Week's Torah
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayechi). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.14.10 (Tevet 7, 5771) We have come a long way in our study of the Torah over the last 12 weeks. If you have been studying along with us this year, upon completing parashat Vayechi you will have completed the entire Book of Genesis (i.e., sefer Bereshit). Yasher Koach and Chazak! Since this marks a milestone in our weekly Torah reading, it is worth lingering here a bit, especially since this portion serves to link everything we've studied so far with what will follow in the Book of Exodus....
Quick Summary of Vayechi:
Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years when he fell ill and realized he would soon die. In preparation for his death, he asked Joseph to solemnly promise to bury him in the land of Canaan (at the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron) and not to bury him in Egypt. Joseph vowed to honor his father's request. As Jacob's condition worsened, however, Joseph brought his two sons (Manasseh and Ephraim) to visit his ailing father. Jacob strengthened himself and blessed the boys, adopting them as his own sons and giving them the status of full tribes of Israel. As he gave them his blessing, however, Jacob prophetically crossed his hands so that the younger brother received the blessing of the older. After this, Jacob summoned all his sons to hear his final words before he died. Among other things, he foretold that from the line of Judah the Messiah would come and affirmed that the descendants of Joseph would be blessed beyond all the other tribes. Jacob then died (at age 147) and was mourned in the land of Egypt for 70 days. A great Egyptian procession accompanied Joseph and his brothers back to the land of Canaan where they observed a seven-day period of mourning (shiva). After the burial at the Cave of Machpelah, the family returned to Egypt, and the brothers began to fear that Joseph would now take revenge against them for having sold him into slavery. Joseph reassured them that they had no reason to fear him and reminded them that God had overruled their earlier intent by intending him to be a blessing to the whole world. The book of Genesis ends with the account of Joseph's death at age 110. Like his father, Joseph asked to have his bones taken to Canaan for burial when the Jews finally left Egypt.
- The famine in Canaan lasted seven years. Jacob arrived in Egypt after the second year of famine (at age 130) and remained until his death at age 147. Why did Jacob stay in Egypt for 12 years after the famine had ended? Indeed, why did he essentially immigrate to Egypt from the Promised Land? (Hint: Gen. 15:13)
- Before he died, Jacob "adopted" Joseph's sons and gave them a blessing that elevated their status to be equal with his own sons. Some commentators suggest that Jacob did this because Rachel, who had died an untimely death, would have bore him more children. At any rate, Joseph's wife (Asenath) was a Gentile, so technically speaking Ephraim and Manasseh were not ethnic Jews. Indeed, when Jacob saw the boys arrayed in Egyptian dress, he asked, "Who are these?" (Gen. 48:8). What implication does this have regarding the question of Jewish identity?
- When Joseph "lined up" his sons for Jacob's blessing, he placed Manasseh facing the right of Jacob and Ephraim facing his left. Jacob, however, crossed his hands and placed his right hand on Ephraim and his left on Manasseh. When Joseph protested, his father reassured him that he knew what he was doing. Discuss how this "exchange" of the blessing might have mirrored or "corrected" Jacob's own experience with his father Isaac and his brother Esau.
- In the Tanakh there is no "tribe of Joseph." Instead, there are two tribes named for his sons Ephraim and Manasseh (sometimes called the "House of Joseph"). Is there any significance to the fact that Jacob blessed Ephraim before Manasseh (the firstborn)? Can you think of other examples where the younger son is favored over the firstborn? In light of these other examples, why does the Torah later state a law that the portion of the firstborn is not to be disregarded (Deut. 21:15-17)?
- Even today we bless our sons saying, יְשִׂמְךָ אֱלהִים כְּאֶפְרַיִם וְכִמְנַשֶּׁה / ve'simkha Elohim ke'efraim ve'khimnasheh: "May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh." Did Jacob's blessing of the younger over the elder perpetuate family rivalries or was it intended to impugn the custom of the firstborn? Do you think Joseph felt threatened, honored, or perhaps something else by his father's blessing?
- Jacob stated that though Manasseh would become a great tribe, Ephraim would become greater still: וְזַרְעוֹ יִהְיֶה מְלא־הַגּוֹיִם / "his offspring shall become a multitude of nations" (Gen. 48:19). If you look at a map of the ancient tribal inheritances, you will see Ephraim located north of Judah, in the center of the Promised Land.
Indeed, Joshua first settled the Ark of Covenant in Ephraim (Josh. 1:18), and the ancient city of Shiloh became the religious capital of Israel for 369 years (Zevachim 118). After the Ark was recovered from the Philistines, it was relocated in Gibeon until King David later brought it to Jerusalem, which undoubtedly caused inter-tribal tensions. Later, after the kingdom was divided, Ephraim became synonymous with the northern tribes (i.e., Northern Kingdom or "Israel"), though this term was never used to refer collectively to a multitude of nations. When the LORD said, "I am Israel's father and Ephraim is my firstborn son" (Jer. 31:9), Ephraim is thought to refer to something more than an eponym for the northern tribes, and this has led some to regard "spiritual Ephraim" as a picture of the Church, composed of followers of Yeshua from "every tribe and tongue." In other words, Ephraim represents those among the nations who are grafted in to Israel by means of Yeshua, whereas Judah represents those ethnic Jews who will one day be restored to the covenantal blessings at the end of the age. As the prophet Ezekiel's vision of the "two sticks" suggests, one day the House of Judah and the House of Joseph will be joined together to become "one stick" (read Ezek. 37:15-28). Do you agree or disagree with the analogy that the church represents spiritual Ephraim? Why?
- Jacob made Joseph swear a vow to bury him in the land of Canaan, not in Egypt. According to some commentators, Joseph did not want to assume this vow because it would minimize the mitzvah of freely honoring his father's will, plus it would invalidate the concept of chesed shel emet – performing an act of kindness on behalf of the dead. Despite the warning about taking vows found in the Scriptures – including Yeshua's own statements on the subject - do you think that making a sacred promise is ever justified?
- On his deathbed, Jacob summoned all his sons and gave them his final words about what would happen b'acharit ha-yamim, "in the later days." Jacob went from oldest son to youngest, foreshadowing the destiny of each tribe. First he chastised his firstborn son Reuben for being "reckless as water" (regarding the incident with Bilhah) and then proceeded to curse Simeon and Levi for their violence (regarding the destruction of Shechem). When Jacob reached his fourth son, however, the tone changed: "Judah, your brothers shall praise you... your father's sons shall bow down before you... The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him (שִׁילוֹ); and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples." Who (or what) is "Shiloh" and what does the Messianic ideal in Judaism represent? How does Judah's willingness to be sacrificed in exchange for his brother prefigure the ministry of Yeshua?
- When Jacob cursed Simeon and Levi, he said, "Let my soul come not into their council; O my glory, be not joined to their company" (Gen. 49:6). How are we to understand this curse (מְאֵרָה) in light of the fact that Moses and Aaron were both Levites whom God used to deliver Israel from Egypt?
- Jacob refers to Joseph as being attacked by archers who shot at him and harassed him severely, "yet his bow remained unmoved; his arms were made agile by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (אֲבִיר יַעֲקב), the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel" (Gen. 49:23-24). He then proceeded to bless Joseph in a remarkable way: "by the God of your father who will help you, by the Almighty (שַׁדַּי) who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that crouches beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb" (Gen. 49:25). Jacob stated that his blessing was more powerful than the blessing of his fathers, "extending to the farthest of the everlasting hills; they will be on the head of Joseph, on the crown of the head of the prince among his brothers" (Gen. 49:26). Notice that the phrase "prince among his brothers" (i.e., nazir achav: נְזִיר אֶחָיו) suggests that Joseph's spiritual legacy was distinct and separate from that of his other brothers. Do you see a connection between Joseph's legacy as a suffering servant and that of Yeshua here?
- After Jacob was buried in Canaan, the brothers returned to Egypt and sent a message to Joseph that read: "Your father gave this command before he died, 'Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.' And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father" (Gen. 50:17-18). Jewish tradition claims that the brothers never confessed their sin to Jacob, and likewise Joseph never told his father that his brothers betrayed him. If that is so, then it is likely that the brothers fabricated this message out of fear that Joseph had actually confided in his father at his deathbed. Do you think the brothers did the right thing by appealing to Joseph for peace in this situation?
- Where were Bilhah and Zilpah buried? Ellen Franken has them answer from the grave: "Like so many of our sisters, mothers, daughters, and countless other women in our lives, we lie buried in the white spaces of the holy scroll. And like Joseph's bones, we still wait for you to carry us home from Egypt" (The Five Books of Miriam, p. 89). Do you think that the Torah is essentially patriarchal in its orientation, and if so, how do you explain this? Moreover, why wasn't Dinah - Jacob's only daughter - mentioned in the blessing that Jacob gave to his sons?
- Joseph was buried in a "coffin," though the Hebrew word is actually aron (אֲרוֹן), a word used elsewhere in the Torah to refer exclusively to the Ark of the Covenant. Throughout all their wilderness wanderings, the Israelites therefore carried two arks – one that held the bones of Joseph and the other held the Ten Commandments. What relationship do you see between the reminder of Joseph's sacrifice for the Jewish people and the giving of the commandments at Sinai?
- Joseph's statement: pakod yifkod Elohim etkhem (פָּקד יִפְקד אֱלהִים אֶתְכֶם) "God will surely remember you," reveals his faith in Israel's eventual return to the Promised Land. When he asked to be buried in Israel, he was full of faith that he would be raised from the dead in the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Burial in the land of Israel has been the wish of many generations of Jews, since tradition states that the resurrection of the dead will take place first in the Holy Land. This has led to the custom of burying the body with a small sack of earth from Israel. How important is the land of Israel to your theology?
- Parashat Vayechi functions as a transition between the theme of key individuals (e.g., Adam, Noach, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, etc.) in the Book of Genesis and the theme of the "children of Israel" in the Book of Exodus. Explain the literary purpose of this portion and its relationship with the greater narrative of the Scriptures.
לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה
li·shu·a·te·kha ki·vi·ti Adonai
"I wait for your salvation, O LORD" (Gen. 49:18)
(Download Study Card)
I hope to add some additional commentary to this portion of Torah later, chaverim, though hopefully these questions will provoke you to reconsider some of the ideas presented in parashat Vayechi. Meanwhile, please know that we sincerely appreciate your prayers for this ministry. We couldn't be here without you....
Parashat Vayechi - ויחי
12.12.10 (Tevet 5, 5771) This week's Torah portion, called Vayechi ("and he lived"), is the final portion of sefer Bereshit (the Book of Genesis). This portion includes Birkhat Ya'akov - the prophetic "blessing of Jacob" over the tribes of Israel. When the time came for Jacob to die, he did not call the designated firstborn of the family (that would have been Reuben, who forfeited his status because of the incident with Bilhah), but rather Joseph, the firstborn of his beloved wife Rachel. Jacob asked Joseph to swear that his body be carried out of Egypt to be buried in the resting place of Abraham and Isaac (i.e., the Promised Land). As Joseph promised, Jacob "bowed his head" -- an indication that Joseph's dream that his brothers and even his father would bow down to him was fulfilled. (The eschatological promise is that Yeshua [mashiach ben Yosef] will carry the children of Jcacob from their exile to the promised land before the end of the age.)
Later, when Jacob convened all his sons together to bless them before his death, he prophesied that "the scepter (שֵׁבֶט) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh (שִׁילוֹ) comes; and to him shall be the obedience (יקְהָה) of the people" (Gen. 49:10). According to the early rabbis and Talmudic authorities, the "ruler's staff from between his (Judah's) feet" refers to the Messiah (Targum Onkelos, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and Targum Yerusahlmi) and the word "Shiloh" comes from she-lo, meaning "that is his." In other words, kingly authority would be vested in the tribe of Judah until the Messiah appears, at which time he would reign as the supreme leader of the people. Others have said that since shiloh has the final Hey with a mappiq as a prepositional function of "to" or "towards," it actually means toward Shiloh, the very first capital of Israel in the Promised Land. In either case, however, the idea has to do with the authority invested in Judah as divine regent until the Messiah appears.
Historically speaking, if we understand the "regency of Judah" to be invested in the Great Sanhedrin (after the last independent King of Judah [Tzedekiah] was deposed), the scepter (shevet) would have departed from Judah in AD 6-7 after the Romans installed a Roman procurator as the authority in Judea (thus replacing the Sanhedrin), and thus Jacob's prophecy of the Messiah would have failed. However, the prophecy did not fail, since the Mashiach had indeed come and was in their midst as Yeshua mi-netzeret (Jesus of Nazareth) at that time. In other words -- Yeshua is indeed the King of the Jews, though at present He is not physically reigning on David's throne (this will occur at His Second Coming when he returns to Jerusalem at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age) to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth).
Note: Jacob's prophecy that "the scepter will not depart from Judah... until Shiloh comes" includes all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet except for the letter Zayin, which is the Hebrew word for weapons, suggesting that when the Messiah comes, it will not be by means of arms or weapons, but rather by the ruach ha-kodesh.
The Fast of Tevet - עשרה בטבת
12.12.10 (Tevet 5, 5771) Asarah B'Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet) is a fast day (observed from sunrise to sunset) that marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon (in 587 BC) and the beginning of the battle that ultimately would destroy the Temple and send the Jews into the 70-year Babylonian Exile. This year Asarah B'Tevet occurs on Friday, December 17th.
In Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion recalls the story of the idolatry of the golden calf (Exod. 32:11-34:10).
Messianic Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote that an early Aramaic source document called "The Scroll of Fasts" (i.e., Megillat Ta'anit: מְגִילַת תַעֲנִית), which included addtional commentary in medieval Hebrew (called scholium), may refer to the 9th of Tevet as the day of Yeshua's birth (i.e., sometime during late December in our Gregorian calendars). Note that Jewish history regards the month of Tevet to be one of national tragedy, marking the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (in 587 BC). After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the early sages might have associated the birth of Yeshua as yet another reason for mourning the loss of the Temple on this date. (For more about the controversial date of the birth of Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?")
Shabbat "Table Talk" Page - Vayigash
[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayigash). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.10.10 (Tevet 3, 5771) It is customary to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family (and friends) during the Friday night Sabbath meal. To make it a little easier to remember some of the topics, I created a new "Shabbat Table Talk" page for parashat Vayigash. Hopefully this page will help to generate some discussion around your Sabbath table, chaverim. You can download the table talk page here.
Personal Update: Please keep this ministry in your prayers, chaverim. The holidays have worn me out a bit and I have been fighting a chest cold. Thank you so much!
The Depth of Hebron...
[ This entry is a bit out of sync with this week's Torah reading, though it is connected with the life of Joseph nonetheless. Shalom chaverim. ]
12.09.10 (Tevet 2, 5771) As a child, Joseph was adorned with a "coat of many colors" and lived in the glory of his father's house as the favored son. He was an innocent dreamer who was given visions of greatness by God Himself. Despite being despised and rejected by his brothers, however, his father commissioned him "from the depth of Hebron" (מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן) to look into their welfare (Gen. 37:14). Notice that the word Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן) comes from a root that means "union" or "fellowship," suggesting that Jacob sent out his beloved son "from the depth their fellowship" to search for his missing children.... Joseph willingly accepted his father's mission and set out for Shechem, where he wandered about in search of his brothers. There he met "a certain man" (thought to have been an angel) who asked him, "What do you seek?" Joseph answered, "I am seeking my brothers" (37:15-17). The sages note that Joseph was seeking the brotherhood of his brothers, for without it life was not worth living. The angel then told Joseph that the brothers had "journeyed away" (נָסְעוּ מִזֶּה) and left for "Dothan" (דּתָן), which the midrash says was "code" for a sense of religious self-righteousness (i.e., דָּת). In other words, when the brothers had earlier said, "Let us go to Dothan," they began seeking how they might justify killing Joseph. Rashi states that the angel was in effect warning Joseph of their true intent. Joseph, however, was undeterred by the hatred of his brothers and pressed on with his search...
Joseph willingly left the holiness and purity of Jacob's home for the sake of his brothers, yet it was this very commitment that led to his betrayal and his descent into the depravity and suffering of Egypt. In obedience to his father, he risked everything for the sake of restoring his brothers' love. Prophetically, the "certain man" who first questioned Joseph gave him the "key" to his survival in Egypt. By constantly asking "What do you seek?" Joseph's heart would remain focused in its search. Despite all his suffering along the way, Joseph kept faith that his dream of a greater good would one day be fulfilled...
Similarly, Yeshua existed in celestial glory with His Father yet willingly chose to divest himself of his splendor to reach out to his brothers. His incarnation was an infinite descent from the "depth of Hebron" (i.e., communion with the Father) into the realm of "no reputation" (i.e., kenosis, "emptying") in search of his brothers' love (Phil. 2:6-7; Luke 19:10). This search led him to "Dothan," where he faced the self-righteousness of the religious authorities and their wrath. But notice that it was Yeshua's love which ultimately led him to the cross, for it was there that he willingly suffered and died for the sake of his brothers' sins. Yeshua "set his face like a flint" (Isa. 50:5-7); he never gave up the quest for his brothers' love, even before he was vindicated and exalted to the Father's right hand. "For while we were yet sinners, the Messiah gave up his life for us" (Rom. 5:8).
The goal of the cross was to restore us to the "depth of Hebron," the place of communion and love with the Father. God gave up His only begotten Son so that we could be reunited to Him in love. "Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God" (1 John 3:1).
12.08.10 (Tevet 2, 5771) The last night of Chanukah is called Zot Chanukah, "This is Chanukah" (from the Torah portion for the last day: זאת חֲנֻכַּת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ בְּיוֹם הִמָּשַׁח אתוֹ / "This is the dedication (chanukah) of the altar, in the day of its being anointed..." (Num. 7:84). Zot Chanukah marks the grand finale of the Chanukah celebration, when the light of the menorah burns brightest.
We celebrated the final night of Chanukah at our home tonight with some friends... We ate some holiday food (including latkes and sufganiyot), sang some hymns, offered up prayers, played some dreidel, and enjoyed great fellowship. We wish you could have joined us!
We sincerely wish you love, joy and peace during this season - and always...
Chosen and Beloved...
[ Since today marks the new month of Tevet, I thought it would be worthwhile to remember that we are given every spiritual blessing in Yeshua our Messiah... ]
12.08.10 (Tevet 1, 5771) Though there are many reasons to be eternally grateful to God for the miracle and blessing of the Jewish people (Rom. 3:1-2; John 4:22), I am sometimes dismayed when I hear of Christians who feel like they are "second class" citizens in the Kingdom of God because they were not born as ethnic Jews. They often tend to be self-deprecatory, calling themselves "wild olive shoots," "Gentile believers," or even "ger tzedek" (a righteous convert). This is most unfortunate, since it robs these precious souls of their true identity as co-heirs of the Kingdom (Gal. 3:9; Titus 3:7), and it also destroys the unity that Yeshua sought to bring among God's people (John 17:20-23; Eph. 2:14-15).
Please, let me state something that the Scriptures repeatedly affirm: if you are one of God's chosen children because of your faith in Yeshua, you are precious in God's sight and are truly blessed. Even the Apostle Paul, circumcised on the eighth day, born "a Hebrew of Hebrews," and undoubtedly the greatest Torah sage of history, put no confidence in the flesh, but rather disregarded his Jewish heritage in comparison with the surpassing value of knowing Yeshua the Messiah (Phil. 3:3-8). The absolute truth is that if you are one of God's redeemed children because of your faith in Yeshua, you have everything you will ever need and lack nothing of eternal value (Phil. 4:19). The Lord has promised to never leave you nor to forsake you (Heb. 13:5; Psalm 37:28, Isa. 41:10). You are chosen and beloved by God with an everlasting love (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם). The truth will set you free. It is the Messiah in you that is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27), and you now have "every spiritual blessing" because of Yeshua:
בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ
אֲשֶׁר בֵּרַךְ אתָנוּ מִשְּׁמֵי מְעוֹנוֹ
בְּכָל־בִּרְכַּת הַנֶּפֶשׁ בַּמָּשִׁיחַ
ba·rukh hu ha·E·lo·him A·vi A·do·nei·nu Ye·shu·a ha·ma·shi·ach,
a·sher be·rakh o·ta·nu mi·she·mei me·o·no
be·khol bir·kat ha·ru·ach ba·ma·shi·ach
"Blessed be Adonai, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah,
who has blessed us in heavenly places
with every spiritual blessing in the Messiah." (Eph. 1:3)
Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν ᾽Ιησοῦ χριστοῦ,
ὁ εὐλογήσας ἡμᾶς ἐν πάσῃ εὐλογίᾳ πνευματικῇ
ἐν τοῖς ἐπουρανίοις ἐν χριστῷ
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The Talmud (Kiddushin 3:12) states that to be a Jew one must be either the child of an ethnically Jewish mother or be a convert to Judaism (understood to mean Judaism without Jesus, of course). The Apostle Paul strongly disagrees: "For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical; but a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God" (Rom. 2:28-29). A "Torah-true" Jew, in other words, is one who will praise God for the salvation given in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah and Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם). What good is being Jewish if you do not know the Messiah of Israel, after all? Nothing can compare with the glory and wonder of knowing Yeshua, chaverim....
Israel was always meant to be a "light to the nations." God's greater plan was for all the families of the earth to come to know Him and give Him glory. "Jewishness" is therefore not an end in itself but rather a means to bring healing truth to the nations... Indeed, the entire redemptive story of the Scriptures is about the cosmic conflict to deliver humanity from the "curse" by means of the "Seed of the woman" who would come. Any talk of genetics, bloodlines, lineage, and so on are a means to this greater redemptive end.... (For more on this subject, see "The Unchosen Chosen People" article).
The Hebrew verb (יָדָה) means "to thank" or "to praise," from which the word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) is derived. The matriarch Leah used a play on words regarding the birth of her fourth son (Gen. 29:35) when she said she would thank the LORD (אוֹדֶה אֶת־יהוה) and therefore named her son "Judah" (יְהוּדָה). (From the name Judah arose the later term "Jew," which first appears after the destruction of the First Temple [2 Kings 25:25] and was later used in the Aramaic books of Ezra/Nehemiah). The Apostle Paul alluded to this in Rom. 2:28-29 by saying that a Jew is "one who praises (or thanks) God," and therefore it may be said that all those who thank the LORD in the truth are spiritual Jews. As it is written: "So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints (tzaddikim) and members of the household of God (i.e., b'nei Elohim)." [Eph. 2:19] Non-Jews who accept the salvation offered by Yeshua are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Messiah through the gospel (Eph. 3:6). As was repeatedly promised in the Torah, the blessing of Abraham is imparted to all the families of the earth because of Yeshua (Gal. 3:14).
Abraham, of course, was a Mesopotamian Gentile before he was called Ivri, "a boundary crosser" (i.e., a "Hebrew"). He is called the "father of all those who believe" because he transcends the divide between Jews and non-Jews. Abraham received the covenant of circumcision - the badge of Jewish identity, while he was still a Gentile.... The promise of the Gospel message itself, of which Abraham himself foresaw, was given 400 years before the Torah was revealed at Sinai. And even before the time of Abraham we see the promise of hope in the godly line from Adam and Eve throughout the antediluvian patriarchs. Those who are made heirs of faith through Yeshua the Messiah have "all spiritual blessings," and that includes whatever blessing might be derived from blood (i.e., nefesh) and natural DNA. As Yeshua said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).
"The inner is not the outer," and conversely. Jewish identity is not an "either/or" but rather a "both/and" question. Jews who come to faith in Yeshua remain ethnic Jews, but that adds no merit to the glory that is given to them in the Messiah.... How precious is the revelation of Yeshua our Lord and Savior! The late Dr. Zola Levitt once said that the most anti-Semitic thing you can do is to neglect to tell the Jewish people about Yeshua, the true King of the Jews... Please remember to intercede on behalf of the "lost sheep of the house of Israel," chaverim. Only after Israel cries out, Baruch haba b'shem Adonai ("Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord") - in reference to Yeshua - will they be delivered during the 70 birth pangs of the Messiah. On that great day all Israel will indeed be saved, just as it is foretold in the Scriptures (Rom. 11:26).
The Lord is faithful and true, and He will certainly fulfill the covenant promises He made to ethnic Israel, but none of these promises will ever surpass the glory of the Presence of Yeshua, the true Messiah of Israel.... "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12).
Self-Pity and God's Plans...
[ The following provides some further discussion regarding this week's Torah reading (Vayigash). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.07.10 (Kislev 30, 5771) Jacob's son Benjamin (בִּנְיָמִין) served as a living link to his beloved wife Rachel (who had died earlier while giving him birth). If Jacob had initially regarded Joseph as the bechor (firstborn) of the family, Benjamin surely assumed his "coat of many colors" after his older brother was assumed to be dead. Indeed, Benjamin represented the last thread of Jacob's original vision and hope in this world. The children from Leah and the concubines were of course important to him, but Rachel always remained his first love, and after she died giving birth to Benjamin, Jacob could not help but hold him close...
In Hebrew, Benjamin means "son of my right hand" (from בֵּן, "son" + יָמִין, "right hand"), though in the Samaritan Torah the name is written as Benjamim (from בֵּן, "son" + יָמִים, "days"), meaning "son of days," perhaps alluding to the age of Jacob when Benjamin was born (Rabbinic tradition says he was 100 years old). As the last link to Jacob's deceased wife Rachel, Benjamin had taken Joseph's place as Jacob's favorite son, and Jacob was unwilling to part from him. Perhaps Jacob secretly feared that God would command him to sacrifice his "only begotten son," just as He had earlier tested his grandfather Abraham regarding his father Isaac. After all, Abraham was an old man when he offered Isaac upon the altar at Moriah. But wasn't the loss of Joseph enough of a sacrifice? Would he also be required to "offer up" Benjamin? Whatever he was thinking, it is clear that Jacob was unwilling to let go of his son - and his lack of trust created an abiding insecurity and heartache within him....
In last week's Torah portion (Miketz), we read that when Jacob asked the brothers to return to Egypt for more food, they said they could not do so without taking Benjamin. Jacob then replied, "Why did you treat me so badly as to tell the man that you had another brother?" (Gen. 43:6). The Midrash Rabbah (Bereshit 91:10) states that Jacob never spoke inappropriately except for here. God said, "I am busy establishing a kingdom over Egypt and Ya'akov is asking why he was treated so badly?'" The LORD was busy putting all the pieces together, though Jacob could not see beyond his own personal fear and pain...
The nisayon (test) of Jacob reminds us of the principle: gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה), "this too is for the best" (cp. Rom. 8:28). Notice, however, that the principle is not stated, gam zu tovah - "this is the best," but rather gam zu l'tovah - "this, too, is for the best." The little preposition here (-ל) is crucial. The heart of faith does not affirm that "whatever happens, happens" and therefore we should passively accept the injustices and pain of life without any form of protest. Unlike some other religions, the LORD God of Israel does not demand slavish "submission" to His will, much less does He desire "karma-like" indifference to the suffering we see in the world (Phil. 2:4; 1 Pet. 5:7; Heb. 4:16, James 4:9, etc.). Having faith that God will one day "wipe away every tear" does not deny the existence of evil nor does it suppress real tears from being shed; however, genuine faith affirms that real (existential) comfort is coming, and that sadness, pain, and suffering will not be given the last word....
Faith (i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה) is a "double movement" of the heart. It both "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). Faith rests in God's providential hand over the chaos and flux of creation. The eye of faith beholds the Presence of God and His reign over all the mundane affairs of this world. Indeed, it is only by fixing our hope upon the eternal that we are enabled to rightly apprehend the nature of the temporal world itself. Indeed, the word emunah shares the same root as the Hebrew word for truth (אֱמֶת). In that sense, "seeing what is invisible" (τὰ μὴ βλεπόμενα) is a more fundamental type of "seeing," since the truth of hope ultimately interprets all other ways of seeing...
Emunah therefore understands temporal suffering as part of the greater purposes of God in the world. It sees beyond the painful moment and trusts that God is "busy putting all the pieces together." Everything has a reason, and that includes the seemingly trivial as well as the obviously tragic. The life of emunah calls us to live as toshavim (תוֹשָׁבִים) - sojourners - who are put at a "distance" from the world of appearances. Faith leads to a form of divine "homesickness," a cry of protest over the state of this world and its evils, and a gnawing hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. By itself, emunah would die of intolerable heartache were it not for the gift of God's comfort. Indeed, the Scriptures describe God as Av Ha-Rachamim (the Father of mercies) and the God of all comfort:
בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ
אֲבִי הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָל־נֶחָמָה
ba·rukh hu ha·E·lo·him A·vi A·do·nei·nu Ye·shu·a ha·ma·shi·ach,
A·vi ha·ra·cha·mim ve·lo·hei khol ne·cha·mah
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Yeshua the Mashiach,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3)
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The blessing continues: "who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:4). Note that Paul links our present suffering (πάθος, pathos) with a divinely imparted comfort (παράκλησις, "paraklesis"), which he regards as a state of blessedness. God Himself "calls us to His side" (from παρά + καλέω) in the midst of our afflictions and pain.... The Greek text reads, ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν, and might be better rendered as, "The one calling to us [to His side] in all our tribulations" (2 Cor. 1:4). God doesn't want us to go through pain by ourselves, all alone. He invites us to come to His side for comfort... Yesh ohev davek me'ach: "There is a lover who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24b).
The purpose of our afflictions is to learn to let go of what we value in the world in order to attain to a better hope. טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ / "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" (Psalm 119:71). God calls out to us in our tribulations so that we may turn away from our illusions and seek refuge in His Presence. Suffering is a tool that only God has the wisdom to use as a means of blessing in our lives. As A.W Tozer once wrote, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He's hurt him deeply," and as Charles Spurgeon likewise affirmed:
Trials make more room for consolation. There is nothing that makes a man have a big heart like a great trial. I always find that little, miserable people, whose hearts are about the size of a grain of mustard-seed, never have had much to try them. I have found that those people who have no sympathy for their fellows -- who never weep for the sorrows of others -- very seldom have had any woes of their own. Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation. God comes into our heart -- He finds it full -- He begins to break our comforts and to make it empty; then there is more room for grace. The humbler a man lies, the more comfort he will always have. (Spurgeon, Consolation Proportionate to Spiritual Sufferings, 1855).
There is an "eschatological" aspect to suffering for the person of faith. Present suffering will ultimately be redeemed as soul-building, but this does not mean that we should act Stoically or admonish others to suppress their heartache. If one of us hurts, so does the rest of the body (1 Cor. 12:26). This isn't sanctimonious humbug; there's no "double talk" going on here. The most succinct verse in the New Testament on this subject is but two words: "Jesus wept" (John 11:35). Nonetheless, we can find great comfort by heeding the voice of pain as a disguised message from God. God calls to us in all our tribulations so that we might make our refuge in Him.
We all suffer and therefore we all exhibit some degree of self-pity in our lives. May God give us the courage to share our hearts with Him and to find abiding comfort in His Presence, chaverim. May it please the Lord to impart to us greater trust in His providential care and love - even in the midst of the challenges and heartaches of this life.
The Month of Tevet - ראש חדש טבת
12.07.10 (Kislev 30, 5771) Today is Rosh Chodesh Tevet, the "new moon" of the 10th month of the Jewish calendar (counting from the first month of Nisan), which marks the fateful month that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon besieged Jerusalem before the Temple was destroyed in 586 BC (2 Kings 25:1; Jer. 39:1; Ezek. 24:1-2). The name of the tenth month is explictly called Tevet (טֵבֵת) in the Scriptures (see Esther 2:16). Rosh Chodesh Tevet is sometimes observed as one day and sometimes as two, because the preceding month (Kislev) is sometimes "full" (i.w., malei, consisting of 30 days) and sometimes deficient (consisting of only 29 days). With a two-day Rosh Chodesh, the first day is the 30th day of the preceding month (i.e., Kislev 30th), and its second day is the first day of the following month.
The Septuagint Translation. The 8th of Tevet is traditionally recognized as the date when the oldest translation of the Torah, the ancient Greek Targum (translation) called the "Septuagint" (or LXX, or "translation of the Seventy"), was finished. According to the early sages, "King Ptolemy II [3rd century BC] once gathered 72 elders, placed them in 72 separate chambers, without revealing to them why they were summoned. He entered each one's room and said: 'Write for me the Torah of Moses, your teacher, into Greek.' God put it in the heart of each one to translate identically as all the others did" (Tractate Megillah 9). Note, however, that the circumstances and motives surrounding this translation were suspect from the beginning. After all, what would motivate a Greek king of Egypt to test Jewish scholars in this way? And while Jewish tradition concedes that it was miraculous that the sages all translated the Torah using the same Greek constructions, they generally decry the "freezing" of the text into a particular interpretation, since the Torah is considered essentially untranslatable (i.e., there are many layers of meaning that are only revealed through the original Hebrew texts).
Critical scholarship shows that there are textual variants between the Koine Greek text of the Septuagint and the Masoretic text (i.e., the received text of modern Judaism). The Dead Sea Scrolls tend to confirm the Hebrew that underlies the Greek text over the present Masoretic text, though it must be stressed that the majority of these variations are quite minor (e.g. grammatical changes, spelling differences). After the 2nd century AD, however, most of the Jewish world regarded the Septuagint as an untrustworthy translation and associated it with Hellenistic influences and corruption. Unfortunately, the Christian world endorsed the Septuagint as "authoritative" and perpetuated its literal use instead of studying the Hebrew text and Jewish methods of exegesis. We wonder if much of the heresy of "replacement theology" does not trace back to this decision of the early church's leaders to abandon the Hebrew text for the Greek...
The Fast of Tevet. Asarah B'Tevet (the Tenth of Tevet) is a sunrise-to-sunset fast day that recalls the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon (in 587 BC) and the beginning of the battle that ultimately would destroy the Temple and send the Jews into the 70-year Babylonian Exile. In modern Israel, Asarah B'Tevet also marks the day Kaddish is recited for people whose date or place of death is unknown. This has resulted in a day of mourning for the many Jews who perished during the Holocaust. Synagogue services normally include prayers of repentance (selichot) and the Torah portion recalls the story of the idolatry of the golden calf (Exod. 32:11-34:10). This year, the fast of Tevet occurs on Friday, December 17th.
Messianic Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote that a 1st century AD document called Megillat Ta'anit (i.e., "the scroll of fasts") refers to the 10th of Tevet as the day of Yeshua's birth (i.e., sometime during late December in our Gregorian calendars). Note that Jewish history regards the month of Tevet to be one of national tragedy, marking the beginning of the destruction of the Holy Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon (in 587 BC). After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD, the early sages might have associated the birth of Yeshua as yet another reason for mourning the loss of the Temple on this date. (For more about the controversial date of the birth of Yeshua, see the article, "Christmas: Was Jesus really born on December 25th?")
Rosh Chodesh Blessing:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֵיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ חדֶשׁ טוֹב בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָמֵן
ye·hi ra·tzon mil·fa·ne·kha Adonai E·lo·hei·nu ve·lo·hei a·vo·tei·nu
she·te·cha·desh a·lei·nu cho·desh tov, ba'a·do·nei·nu Ye·shu·a ha·ma·shi·ach, a·men
"May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good month in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Amen."
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During this dark time of the year we kindle the lights of Chanukah and remember the true Light of the World - Yeshua our Savior. Chodesh tov and Chanukah Same'ach, chaverim!
Parashat Vayigash - ויגש
[ Happy Chanukah, chaverim! The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayigash). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.06.10 (Kislev 29, 5771) In this week's Torah we read about Joseph's dramatic revelation of his identity to his long lost brothers. Recall that it was on account Judah's heartfelt intercession that Joseph was finally convinced that the brothers had undergone teshuvah (repentance) and therefore had truly changed. Spiritually speaking, these were not the same brothers who had thrown him into a pit years before.... Notice also that immediately after he revealed himself to the brothers Joseph asked about the welfare of his father Jacob: אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי / ani Yosef, ha'od avi chai / "I am Joseph; is my father alive?" Joseph's first concern was for his aged father, whom he had not seen since he was a teenage boy, some 22 years earlier.
The Torah states that Joseph was 17 years old when he was sold into slavery (Gen. 37:2). According to Jewish tradition, he was with Potiphar for a year and then thrown into prison for another 12 years. At age 30, therefore, the Pharaoh promoted Joseph to be governor of Egypt (Gen. 41:46). If he had been away from his father for a total of 22 years, that leaves nine years when he was governor of Egypt before he was reunited with his Jacob (Gen. 45:6). But why, then, did he allow his father to mourn for these extra nine years? After all, the land of Canaan was only a few days journey away, and Joseph certainly could have dispatched a messenger at any time with the news that he was alive. So why did Joseph continue to let his father mourn over his supposed death? If he was so concerned about the welfare of Jacob, why didn't he send word to his father that he was indeed alive?
To help explain this apparent inconsistency, the Jewish commentator Nachmanides (1194-1270) wrote that Joseph regarded his dreams as prophecies. In his first dream, his eleven brothers bowed down to him; in his second, his father was included too. Joseph concluded that the first dream must be realized in its entirety before the second one would be fulfilled. In other words, had he sent a message back home, Jacob certainly would have come to see Joseph immediately - but then the second dream would have come true before the first. Since he was a master of dream interpretation and understood the proper sequence of dreams, Joseph therefore waited until after all eleven of his brothers (including Benjamin) had come to him before he revealed his identity to his brothers and instructed them to bring his father down to Egypt.
Other Jewish sages say that Joseph was concerned that God would punish his brothers for selling him into slavery, and therefore he waited to ensure that they had genuinely repented. By definition, repentance (teshuvah) is demonstrated when the transgressor finds himself in the same situation as when he was tempted to sin in the first place, but this time chooses not to sin. Only after Joseph saw that their repentance was complete did he reveal himself and instruct the brothers to let his father Jacob know that he was still alive. Had Joseph let his father know earlier that he was still alive, his brothers would never have had the opportunity to undergo teshuvah. Notice further that according to Jewish tradition Joseph never told Jacob about his betrayal by his brothers -- not even when Jacob was on his deathbed. His love forbade him to engage in lashon hara (evil speaking) or to bring further pain to his father...
The revelation of Joseph and his reconciliation with his brothers is a prophetic picture of the acharit hayamim (end of days) when the Jewish people will come to understand that Yeshua is indeed the One seated at the right hand of the majesty on high as Israel's Deliverer. At that time Yeshua will speak comforting words to His long lost brothers and restore their place of blessing upon the earth.
The entire story of Joseph is rich in prophetic insight regarding Yeshua. Vayigash (וַיִּגַּשׁ) means "and he drew near," referring first to Judah's intercession for the sins of his brothers, and then to Joseph's reciprocal desire for the brothers to draw near to him (Gen. 44:18, 45:4). Joseph initiated the reconciliation by saying, גְּשׁוּ־נָא אֵלַי / g'shu na elai - "Please draw near to me," and indeed there is a play on the verb nagash (נָגַשׁ), "draw near," throughout this story. Yeshua is depicted in both Judah's intercession (as the greater Son of Judah who interceded on behalf of the sins of Israel) and in Joseph's revelation as the exalted Savior who draws the Jewish people back to Himself. When Joseph disclosed himself and asked, "Is my father alive," we hear Yeshua evoking the confession of faith from the Jewish people. Upon His coming revelation, all Israel will confess that indeed God the Father is "alive" and has vindicated the glory of His Son.
Note: If God is willing, I will add some additional commentary regarding this Torah portion later this week. Meanwhile, I ask you for prayer since I have been sick the last few days. Shalom and Chanukah Same'ach, chaverim!
(Left-to-right) 1. Olga and Judah; 2. Josiah gazes at the lights; 3. John and Judah;
4. Josiah begins lighting his menorah; 5. Judah plays peek-a-boo
Shabbat "Table Talk" Page - Miketz
[ The following provides some further discussion regarding this week's Torah reading (Miketz). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
12.03.10 (Kislev 26, 5771) It's an old custom to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family (and friends) during the Friday night Sabbath meal. To make it a little easier to remember what to discuss, I created a "Shabbat Table Talk" page for parashat Miketz. Hopefully this will help to generate some discussion around your Sabbath table, chaverim. To download the page, click here.
We had a quiet Chanukah celebration tonight, with just the immediate family (John, Olga, Josiah, and Judah). Here are a few pictures of our candle lighting time:
(Left-to-right) 1. Josiah lights the menorah; 2. John lights the menorah; 3. Judah and Olga;
4. John and Judah; 5. Judah tries to eat the gelt
New Chanukah Blessings Summary
12.02.10 (Kislev 25, 5771) At our Chanukah celebration last evening, I noticed that many people had trouble reading the transliterated Hebrew blessings comfortably, so I thought I would create a simplified version to hopefully make things a bit easier... I also consolidated the various Hebrew blessings to fit on a single printed page to make it more convenient for everyone to use. You can download the new page here.
Here are a few pictures from our simchah last evening, chaverim:
(Left-to-right top) 1. Peter; 2. Irina; 3. John; 4. Vadim spins dreidel; 5. Mary Beth;
(Left-to-right botton) 1. the table; 2. John and boys; 3. Olga; 4. Lonnie; 5. Josiah
Chanukah Begins Tonight!
12.01.10 (Kislev 24, 5771) Chanukah starts tonight! You can light the first candle anytime after sunset. From our family to you: Chag Chanukah Same'ach (happy Chanukah!)
יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד
Adonai o·ri ve·yish·i, mi·mi i·ra?
Adonai ma'oz-chay·yai, mi·mi ef·chad?
"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)
Download Study Card
I hope to post a few pictures of our simchah later tonight or tomorrow. Shalom, chaverim, and may the LORD God of Israel bless you and help you draw close to Him during this special season! Let your light so shine!
Chanukah Blessing Cards
[ Note: Chanukah begins Wed. Dec. 1st and runs through Thurs., Dec. 9th this year. If you have never personally experienced your own Chanukah celebration, let me encourage you to purchase a Chanukah menorah and light the candles along with us this year. Step by step instructions are provided on the Chanukah pages on this site, chaverim. ]
12.01.10 (Kislev 24, 5771) The Chanukah Blessings page includes some free "Hebrew Study Cards" you can use for your Chanukah celebrations! This year I have added a new Messianic version of the candle lighting blessing that can replace the traditional (i.e., rabbinical) version. I created downloadable cards for each of the key blessings, including the Messianic declaration that Yeshua is the Light of the World.
- Yeshua, the Light of the World (anochi or ha'olam) - During Chanukah candle lighting ceremony, we make it a point to reaffirm the glorious truth that Yeshua is the Light of the world. Those who follow Him will have the light of life (John 8:12).
- Traditional Chanukah Candle Lighting Blessing (hadlakat nerot Chanukah) - This is the traditional blessing recited before kindling the candles on your chanukiah. The custom is to light one candle on the first night of Chanukah, two candles on the second night, and so on until the eighth night when all eight candles are lit. In this way we remember the 'growth' of the miracle.
- Mesianic Chanukah Candle Lighting Blessing (natan lanu chaggim) - Some followers of Yeshua object to the traditional blessing and its statement that we are "commanded" to light the Chanukah candles, and therefore choose to recite an alternate blessing.
- The Miracle Maker Blessing - (She'asah Nissim) - This blessing recalls the miracles of the Chanukah season (note that the same blessing is recited during Purim). We recite She'asah Nissim every night for the holiday, usually just before or immediately following the kindling of the Chanukah candles.
- The Shehecheyanu blessing ("Who has kept us alive") - Recite this blessing for the first night of Chanukah only. The Shehecheyanu has been recited for thousands of years to mark moments of sacred time in Jewish life. It is referred to in the Talmud and other ancient Jewish literature (Berachot 54a, Pesakhim 7b, Sukkah 46a).
- The Closing Paragraph (Hanerot Hallelu) - This statement is recited (or sometimes sung) after the candles have been lit. It is intended to remind you of the sanctity of the occasion and to help you remember not to use the Chanukah lights for profane purposes. After it is recited, a seudat Chanukah (a special meal) is eaten, with special songs of praise and prayers.
Of course Hebrew audio clips are provided on the Chanukah blessings page as well. I hope you find the cards helpful, chaverim! Chag Chanukah Sameach (חַג חֲנֻכָּה שָׂמֵחַ)!