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February 2010 Updates


Should Christians Celebrate Purim?

Lilian Broca Mosaic Detail
 

[ Historically the "church" has disregarded the Book of Esther and therefore ignored the Biblical holiday of Purim.  The following topic discusses why the message of the Book of Esther -- and the holiday of Purim -- should matter to Christians. ]

02.28.10
  (Adar 14, 5770)   Over the centuries, virtually no other book of the Tanakh ("Old Testament") has received more mixed reviews than the Book of Esther.  In general it may be said that the book has been well received by the Jews, but disliked by most Christian theologians and "church" leaders.  For example, the Jewish scholar Maimonides (the Rambam) praised Esther as being close in rank to that of the Torah itself: "When the Messiah comes, only Esther and the Torah will remain" (Mishneh Torah, Megillah). On the other hand, the Christian scholar Martin Luther detested the book and wished that it didn't exist at all, primarily because he thought it "Judaized" too much (Luther: Table Talk 24). Sadly, many Christian theologians have tended to agree with Luther and regard the book as unworthy of inclusion in the Bible, whereas many others do not seem to understand its message. Some Christian teachers have defamed the Book of Esther as being "a memorial to the nationalistic spirit of Judaism" (A. Weiser, Intro to OT, 1961) and even a "bloodthirsty attempt to justify ethnic pride in being a Jew" (B.W. Anderson, Esther, 1950). Others have stated that "there is not one noble character in the entire book" (L. B. Paton, The Book of Esther, 1908). Indeed, more Christian anti-Semitic statements have been made regarding the Book of Esther than any other book of the Old Testament (Moore: Esther, 1971). Do you wonder why this might be the case?


Anti-Jewish Bias in the Church

Perhaps such anti-Jewish statements have been made about the Book of Esther because many Christian theologians are essentially anti-Jewish in their thinking.... After all, the basic point of the book centers on God's providential care for ethnic Israel, and theologians such as Luther typically find this conclusion abhorrent to their theological biases.  Indeed, the Book of Esther leads inescapably to the celebration of Jewish identity and survival despite the evil plans and designs of anti-Semites, and therefore Christian theologians who believe that the church replaces Israel will tend to regard the message of the book with deep suspicion (hence some teachers openly express indifference to the existence of the modern State of Israel today).  For those who understand that the church partakes of the covenantal blessings given to Israel, however, the Book of Esther is a beautiful story about God's faithful love and care for His people...

Some Christian theologians attempt to "excuse" their oversight of the Book of Esther because they find in it no obvious message for the Church. Unlike the Torah-based holidays of Passover and Shavuot (which they regard as fulfilled in the New Testament), the Book of Esther seems parochial in its focus and "disconnected" from the rest of the Scriptures.  In other words, since the Book of Esther (and therefore the holiday of Purim) celebrates the existence and perpetuity of the Jewish people, these theologians regard it to be of little consequence for Christians.  This is actually quite an astounding conclusion, however, especially since Esther is part of the Christian canon of Scripture, and the book clearly states that "these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every clan, province, and city, and that these days of Purim should never fall into disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants" (Esther 9:28). It is painfully obvious that the only way to ignore the message of the book is to deny the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. How your church leaders regard the Book of Esther is a test case of whether or not they accept the heretical doctrine of Replacement Theology...


God's Faithfulness to Israel

Did you know that the Brit Chadashah (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), or "new covenant," is described in only one place in the entire Old Testament?  Here is the relevant passage:

    Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my Torah (תּוֹרָה) into their inmost being and inscribe it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they need to teach one another and say to one another, "Heed the LORD"; for all of them, from the least of them to the greatest, shall heed Me -- declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquities, And remember their sins no more. (Jer. 31:31-4)
     

Many Christian theologians stop here and ignore the surrounding context of this passage, namely, the remarkable promise that ethnic Israel would continue to exist as a unique people as long as the laws of nature are in operation:

    Thus saith the LORD (יהוה) who gives the sun for a light by day and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, Who stirs up the sea into roaring waves, Whose name is LORD of Hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת שְׁמוֹ): If these laws should ever be annulled by Me -- declares the LORD -- only then would the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease to be a nation (גּוֹי) before Me for all time (כָּל־הַיָּמִים). Thus said the LORD: If the heavens above could be measured, and the foundations of the earth below could be fathomed, only then would I reject all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done -- declares the LORD. (Jer. 31:35-37)
     

From this passage -- the only in the Tanakh that explicitly mentions the New Covenant of Yeshua -- it's clear that the continuation and perpetuity of the physical descendants of Israel (zera' Yisrael) is to be reckoned as sure as the very "laws of nature" that are upholding the physical universe. In other words, so long as there is a sun shining during the day and moon and stars during the night, Israel will continue to be a nation (goy) before the LORD for all time (kol-hayamim). Using another analogy, it is as likely for someone to accurately measure the extent of the heavens and earth than it is to suppose that the LORD will cast off all of the seed of Israel. Note especially the last qualifying clause of this verse, "for all they have done," indicating that the unconditional faithfulness of the LORD is not based on the conditional behavior of national Israel.

Have you seen the sun, moon or stars today?  If so, you can be assured that the ethnic nation of Israel retains a place in God's plan. The gift and the calling of God is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).


The Christian Neglect of Esther

It is shameful that so many Christian theologians miss the point of the Book of Esther and thereby become unwitting enemies of the God of Israel. The tragic character of Haman represents the Biblical archetype of all those who refuse to acknowledge God's faithful love for the Jewish people....  Those who disregard this message are impugning the faithfulness of God.  After all, if God will not keep His covenant promises to ethnic Israel, what makes Christian theologians believe He will keep His promises to the "church"? Indeed, churches or theologians who claim that God has abandoned ethnic Israel are directly impugning the credibility of the Gospel message itself!  Yes, it's that serious of an issue...

Throughout the centuries and in various places, many have tried to destroy the Jewish people, but none has succeeded. עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). And since God keeps His promises to Israel, Christians can likewise trust that God's sovereign hand works all things together for good -- even if at times things appear bleak and desperate (Rom. 8:28).


The Scandal of Esther: "Chosenness"

The Book of Esther is all about God's faithfulness and care of the Jewish people, and by extension, for all those (among the nations) who become partakers of Israel's blessings through Yeshua the Messiah.  The "scandal" of the book turns on the "scandal of election," or the idea that God personally chooses some people -- for reasons that are entirely His alone -- to be the recipients of His covenantal love.  The Jews are called the "chosen people," am segulah, just as Christians are "chosen [εκλεγομαι] in Yeshua before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). In both cases we note God's sovereign prerogative to choose those who are in relationship with Him. Yeshua told his followers: "No one can come to me (δυναται ελθειν προς με) unless the Father who sent me drags [ἑλκύσῃ] him" (John 6:44, 6:65), and He also said "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you" (John 15:16). God is the Initiator of the relationship; He is the Master of the Universe and "the God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22). If there is revelation from heaven, it is Heaven's prerogative to bestow it on Heaven's own terms...

Regarding this divine prerogative, Paul reminded us of God's words to Moses: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Rom. 9:15). He then follows this up with the statement: "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who shows mercy" (Rom. 9:15-16). If this sounds "offensive" or "unfair," it may be that we are secretly appealing to our own supposed merit in order to find acceptance before God. The "scandal" of the gospel is that God loves whom He loves for reasons that are His alone, and this is likewise the scandal of God's sovereign choice of ethnic Israel. In either case, God is preeminent.


Israel's Election -- and your own

Israel's election says something about your own... God called you by name -- before He created the very universe itself. "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). God loves you with an "everlasting love" (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and with lovingkindness (i.e., chesed, חֶסֶד) draws you to Himself (Jer. 31:3). There is no fear in God's sovereign and irresistible love for your soul (1 John 4:18). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

It is interesting to note that the Book of Esther was "canonized" by the Jews at the Council of Yavne in AD 90, though there is little doubt that the book originated in Persia during the 4th century BC (Jewish tradition regards it as a redaction by the Great Assembly of an original text written by Mordechai). The Essene Community at Qumran appears to have rejected the book (i.e., it is the only canonical book of the Tanakh not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls), though this might be based on the book's omission of the Name of God, the fact that the Torah or the covenant is not made within its pages, or that the heroine of the book lived as an assimilated Jew during the years of exile...  In other words, the Essenes might have rejected the Book of Esther for theological reasons similar to those they made about Chanukah (i.e., because of Chanukah's connection with the corrupt Hasmonean dynasty that controlled the Second Temple).  On the other hand, Josephus (AD 37–100) clearly regarded the Book of Esther as canonical (Antiquities XI) as did the early church fathers who incorporated it into the canon of the Christian Bible.


Christians Should Observe Purim

In closing, it is evident that Christians, that is, those who love and serve the King of the Jews and who believe that the LORD God of Israel is true to His word -- should indeed recognize the value of the Book of Esther and celebrate the Biblical holiday of Purim. God does not "play dice with the universe," and we can trust in His sovereign care and plans -- both for ethnic Israel and for those who accept Yeshua as their Savior and Master. Purim is a time to celebrate that the LORD God of Israel is our Sovereign King, our Faithful Protector, our magnificent Savior.  Like the Jews of ancient Persia we were delivered by God in order to experience the joy of His love... The goal or end of salvation is abundant life filled with "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (John 10:10, 1 Pet. 1:8).


Haman and the "Anti-Christ" Spirit

Finally, it is important to remind ourselves that the world is full of various sorts of "Hamans," and some of them are even teachers and pastors in various Christian churches and schools!  We must be vigilant, chaverim. Haman accused the Jews of being "different" because they refused to submit to illegitmate claims of authority: "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that it is not to the king's profit to tolerate them. If it please the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed" (Esther 3:8-9). The "princes of this age" -- the world's politicians and their enforcers -- are often quick to accept the lie that those who submit to the greater authority of the LORD God of Israel are to be regarded as enemies of the State....


 

Haman is clearly a type of Anti-Christ (lit., "replacement of Messiah") who desires to see the Jewish people exterminated once and for all. In the New Testament we know that there is soon coming one who is the embodiment of this "spirit of Haman," and of Hitler, and of all the other anti-Jewish murderers throughout the ages. This one is the "man of sin" or the Messiah of Evil (2 Thess. 2:3), who will broker peace in the Middle East and feign to be friendly to Israel, but who will ultimately betray her and seek to have her utterly destroyed.

Satan's final attempt to provide the ultimate "Final Solution" will be foiled, just as Haman's attempt was foiled. His plan will boomerang upon his own head, just as Haman's plan boomeranged upon him. And he and his children will all hang from the gallows, just as Haman and his children did.

When Yeshua returns at the end of the Great Tribulation, He will destroy the Messiah of Evil by the Word of His Power and physically deliver Israel as her rightful King and Lord. Israel's long-awaited Mashiach ben David will be clearly revealed and understood to be Mashiach ben Yosef Himself. Then, and only then, will Israel experience the true deliverance and salvation of God -- and the rejoicing of that Purim will be like none other!


Purim Sameach, Chaverim!

So Purim Sameach: "Happy Purim," friends, and may Yeshua our LORD return speedily, and in our day. Amen.
 
 


HAPPY PURIM CHAVERIM!
 

Feb. 27th - March 1




Getting Ready for Purim

02.27.10
  (Adar 13, 5770)   We are planning on celebrating Purim by putting on a family "Purim-spiel" over at my in-laws home tomorrow afternoon.  We have a simplified script for the play and some makeshift costumes.  Afterwards, we will enjoy the Purim seudah (ceremonial meal) while still dressed in costume.  Olga and Josiah made some delicious hamantaschen and put together some "shalach manot" bags for the party.
  

 

Left-to-right (top): 1. New Moon of Adar; 2. Josiah makes Purim decorations; 3. Making Hamantaschen; 4. Josiah tries on a costume; 5. Josiah in costume
(bottom): 1. Judah's first Purim; 2. Josiah makes shalach; 3. Olga tries on a tiara;
4. getting groggers and masks ready; 5. the full moon of Adar is here!

 

I hope to add some pictures from our Purim play in a couple days, chaverim. Meanwhile, Purim Sameach - "Happy Purim!"

Purim
 

Note: You can read the book of Esther here.




The Four Mitzvot of Purim


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Saturday evening, February 27th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]

02.26.10  (Adar 12, 5770) The Scriptures state that the holiday of Purim "should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed" (Esther 9:28).  According to Jewish tradition, we remember the miracles of Purim by means of four mitzvot (blessings): 
 

  1. Perform Acts of Tzedakah and Kindness.

    It is a mitzvah (blessing) to perform additional acts of kindness before the holiday of Purim begins. These include mishloach manot (מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת), the "sending of portions" to friends (often anonymously or while in costume), and mattanot la'evyonim (מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיוֹנִים), the giving of gifts (tzedakah) to the poor.  (Fasting the daylight hours before Purim (ta'anit Esther) is also considered a blessing.)


    Shalach Manot basket


  2. Honor the Appointed Time.

    It is a mitzvah to observe Purim on Adar 14 (which begins at sunset on the 13th).  This is based on Esther 9:19: "Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the rural towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar (יוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחדֶשׁ אֲדָר) as a day for gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and as a day on which they send gifts of food to one another." For Jews living in Israel, Purim is celebrated as Shushan Purim on Adar 15 (Esther 9:18). The Scriptures clearly state that we are to "keep these two days according to their writing, and according to their appointed time every year, and to remember (זכר) the days of Purim for all generations" (Esther 9:27-28).


     


  3. Hear the Megillah Read.

    It is a mitzvah to hear the Scroll of Esther read twice on Purim: first during the evening service (usually followed by a costume play and oneg) and again during the following morning's service. (If you cannot attend services, reading the Book of Esther will suffice.) Before hearing or reading the Megillah, we recite the customary Hebrew blessings



    On Purim evening (i.e., erev Purim) it is a custom to give machatzit ha-shekel (half a shekel) as charity to the poor before the reading of the Megillah. During the reading, we "blot out" the sound of Haman's name by shouting or by using "groggers" (Haman's name occurs 54 times in the story). According to the Talmud (Megilah 7b), a person should be so merry that he doesn't know the difference between "cursed is Haman" (arur Haman) and "blessed is Mordechai" (baruch Mordechai) - "ad dela yada bein arur Haman le'varuch Mordechai."  In Israel, special carnivals called Adloyada ("until you don't know") occur during Purim.



  4. Enjoy the Holiday Meal.

    It is a mitzvah to eat a special Purim meal (seudat Purim), usually after minchah (afternoon) services on the 14th.  Many children dress up in elaborate masks and costumes for the supper. Like other holidays we light Yom Tov candles and recite kiddush before partaking of the meal (Mishna Berura 695:9). Often an oversized challah, sometimes shaped as a Star of David, is baked for the occasion.



    Since Purim is a time of irony and fun, some people put on a farcical "Purim Seder," with a "Purim Rabbi" officiating the ceremonial meal and generally making a mess of things.  It is also customary to eat festive foods at this time, especially the three-cornered pastries called "Hamantaschen" (המן־טאַשן), or "Haman's Ears." 



    Note: According to the Talmud (Megillah 7a), you should drink so much wine during the meal that you can no longer coherently know the difference between 'Cursed is Haman,' and 'Blessed is Mordechai.' This is sometimes called "ad lo yadah" - "until you don't know...."  Needless to say this tradition is not a requirement and is in fact not recommended for the holiday celebration.
     

The Midrash Esther says that Purim, unlike many of the other holidays, will be celebrated even after the final redemption after the End of Days. Maimonides says that the Book of Esther will enjoy the same status as the Torah of Moses in the world to come (Mishneh Torah, Megillah). This is because the story of Purim -- i.e., God's covenantal faithfulness and defense of His people -- will be magnified in the deliverance that leads to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom upon the earth. Indeed, the Second Coming of the Messiah will be regarded as the final fulfillment of Purim!



Purim Sameach: "Happy Purim!"




Hebrew Transliteration Methods


 

02.26.10  (Adar 12, 5770)   The transliteration method used on this site is more or less "academic," by which I mean that I use the English letter "i," for example, to represent the Hebrew "ee" sound, the letter "u," to represent an "oo" sound, and so on.  Now while this method is useful for those want to quickly transliterate Hebrew letters into English, it's not very friendly for new learners who are trying to "sound out" the transliteration by itself.  For example, which of the following transliterations do you find easier to read:

 

Because reading Hebrew transliterations can be a bit awkward using the conventional method, I am "field testing" the phonetic transliteration scheme with my five year old Josiah, and I'd like to know if you find this alternative method helpful.  The first transliteration (above) uses a phonetic method while the second uses the conventional method I regularly employ on this site. Which do you find easier to read, chaverim?

At any rate, Shabbat Shalom to you all, and may the LORD God of Israel bless you in every way! May He deliver you from all your fears and fill you with abiding hope and joy. May He help you disregard the propaganda from this evil world so you can hear the Voice of His comfort. May He impart to you wisdom and the clear vision of His omnipresent Glory and Grace in all things. Purim Sameach - and thank God for the victory we have in Yeshua our LORD...  And thank you for standing with Hebrew4Christians.
 

דָּרַשְׁתִּי אֶת־יהוה וְעָנָנִי וּמִכָּל־מְגוּרוֹתַי הִצִּילָנִי׃


(1) dah-RASH-tee et ah-doh-NAI ve-a-NAH-nee,
oo-mee-KOHL  me-goo-row-TAI  hee-tzee-LAH-nee

(2) darashti et-Adonai ve'anani, u'mikol-megurotai hitzilani

"I sought the LORD and He answered me;
He saved me from all my terrors."
(Psalm 34:5)





Purim and Parody


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Saturday evening, February 27th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]

02.25.10  (Adar 11, 5770)   Purim is a holiday of irony, paradox, and preposterous humor, the very opposite of the solemnity of Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). Nonetheless the sages connect the two holidays by saying that Yom Kippur is called Yom Kip-purim in the Torah (יוֹם כִּפֻּרִים), which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a "day like (כּ) Purim (פֻּרִים)."  Just as on Yom Kippur we afflict ourselves on orders of the Holy One, so on Purim we are commanded to rejoice (Esther 9:22). "Even if Satan runs amok in the streets, you have to be happy; it is the will of God."  The similarity of the two holidays turns on our level of passion: just as we "put our hearts into" doing teshuvah during the time of Yom Kippur, so are we to "put our hearts into" rejoicing during the time of Purim.

In addition to the general carnival-like atmosphere of Purim, some people put on a farcical 'Purim Seder,' complete with a 'Purim Rabbi' (or seder leader) officiating and generally making a mess of things....  Seder guests usually arrive in costume or with their faces painted. The incongruity is often quite hilarious, especially if some of the seder participants are unsure of how to behave themselves... 

The table will be set similarly to that of a Passover table, though the "seder plate" will be filled with candy and other items used in Mishloach Manot. For instance, the plate may contain gummy bears, chocolate covered pretzels, boxes of raisins, and so on.  Goblets are filled with "soda pop" (i.e., strong drink) and a covered plate of hamantaschen (המן־טאַשן) is placed on the table before the guests.  The "Purim Rabbi" functions as the seder leader who welcomes everyone to the table and gives each a Purim Haggadah.  He usually opens the service by giving a small speech before the plate of hamantaschen.

For example:

    Differing opinions exist as to the orecise size of the hamantaschen. All agree they must minimally be the size of Haman's ear, but halachic sources differ as to the exact size of his ears.  The Shulchan Aruch holds that Haman's ear was the same size as our ears today, and hence, each of the three sides of the triangular hamantaschen must be 2 inches long. The Mishnah Berurah holds that Haman had especially large ears, and sets the length of each side of the hamantashen at 3 inches. The Chazon Ish, however, states that back in ancient Persia, peoples' ears actually reached all the way down to the floor, and therefore holds that the hamantashen must be 6 feet long per side. At any rate, it is a mitzvah to eat at least two of these ears now, and so we shall begin... (Adapted from the Purim Hagadah, Beis Maxwell Edition)
     

After the rabbi's speech, the hamantaschen are uncovered and everyone "oohs and aahs." All the seder participants then recite the following prayer together:
 

    "This is the triangular bread, which our forefathers ate in the land of Persia. Let us remember the days of Purim as we were commanded."  Let us recite the blessing: (all recite): 'Blessed art thou, our G-d, who hath commanded us on the mitzvah of eating hamantaschen.' Amen."


     

The seder leader then breaks the topmost hamantash down the middle.  A child takes the bigger half and hides it somewhere in house (hopefully, it will be found by Passover). Everyone eats a hamantash (ideally in a single gulp) and sips some soda.... 

Parodies of other Passover Seder elements are usually employed during the Purim Seder, such as reciting the ten names of Haman's sons who were hanged.  As each name is read, we shed "crocodile tears" and remember to take no joy in the destruction of the wicked.  It is customary to dip one's finger into the middle of the hamantash, take out a small bit of filling, and wipe the filling on a napkin, symbolizing the burial of each of Haman's sons.

Purim is a time of irony and fun, and the spirit of the holiday allows us to have some fun at the expense of our religious pride and sense of self-importance. After all, we must learn to not take ourselves too seriously. Paul wrote, "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool (μωρός) that he may become wise" (1 Cor. 3:18, Gal. 6:3). Paul even regarded himself as a "fool for Messiah's sake" (1 Cor. 4:10). Among other things, the story of Purim attests that "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty (1 Cor. 1:27).

Note: Of course we do not do the "ad lo yada" part of the Purim "seder" -- i.e., getting so drunk that we can't distinguish between the name "Haman" and the name "Mordechai," but the point remains the same: there is a place for some humor in our salvation experience, chaverim....

To be continued, IY"H...




Theology, Paradox, and Purim

Lilian Broca Mosaic Detail
 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Saturday evening, February 27th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]
 

"And these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed" (Esther 9:28).

 
02.24.10  (Adar 10, 5770) The theme of the holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) is the providential survival of the Jewish people despite various attempts by their enemies to destroy them. As such, Purim (like Passover) is a celebration of the deliverance and faithfulness of the LORD God of Israel.  The terrible irony of the anti-Semite is that he hangs himself using his own rope.  The tragic character of Haman, then, represents the Biblical archetype of all those who refuse to acknowledge God's faithful love for the Jewish people.... 

On the Jewish calendar, both the last month of the year (Adar) and the first month (Nisan) center on the theme of God's salvation.  In Adar we celebrate Purim, and 30 days later we celebrate Passover... However Purim, unlike Passover, celebrates the "hiddenness" of God's actions. There is no dramatic power encounter; no parting of the Red Sea, no cataclysmic judgments with Purim.  This is suggested by the name of the Book of Esther itself, Megillat Ester (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר), since the word megillah ("scroll") is related to the word giluy (גִּלּוּי), "revelation," and the word Ester is related to the word hester (הֶסְתֵר), meaning "hiddenness."  The phrase hester panim (הֶסְתֵר פָּנִים) means "hiding of face" and is often used when discussing the role of God in the Book of Esther.  God's plan is being fulfilled, step-by-step, even if it is hidden within the "natural" world of human beings and their choices (Jer. 10:23; Prov. 21:1).

Though the Name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the Book of Esther, the story is essentially about revelation, that is, the disclosure of God's Presence despite His apparent concealment (this is implied in the life of Esther herself, who lived an "assimilated life" but later revealed her identity to the king). Throughout the story what initially appears to be the result of mere "chance" or human contrivance is later revealed to be an integral part of God's plan of deliverance. God's unseen hand overrules the decisions of each of the characters of the story, as can be seen in some of the following examples:
 

  1. By "chance" Queen Vashti inexplicably defied King Ahashuerus, which set off the search for a new queen of Persia (Esther 1:10-22; Prov. 21:1).
  2. By "chance" a beautiful Jewish girl named Hadasah (הֲדַסָּה), whose Persian name was Esther (אֶסְתֵּר), was the niece of Mordechai, a leader of the Jews of Persia who served in the king's palace in Shushan (Esther 2:5)
  3. By "chance," of the countless young women in Persia, Esther was ultimately chosen to be Persia's new queen during the month of Tevet (Esther 2:4,9, 16-17).
  4. By "chance" Mordechai overheard the conspiracy against King Ahashuerus, and Esther's presence in the palace allowed him to warn the king about the assassination plot (Esther 2:21-23).
  5. By "chance" king Ahashuerus promoted Haman, a descendant of Amalek, to be vizier of Persia (Esther 3:1), a man Mordechai could not honor based on the Torah's explicit commandments (Exod. 17:8-16, Deut. 25:17-19).
  6. By "chance" the king's servants provoked Haman to see whether Mordechai's commitment to his Jewish faith would overrule the king's decree (Esther 3:3-6). This confrontation set in motion Haman's evil plan to destroy the Jews of Persia according to the outcome of the pur (lot) cast by the king's magicians (Esther 3:7).
  7. By "chance" king Ahashuerus agreed to Haman's plan to exterminate the Jews on Adar 13th, the result of the magician's dice (Esther 3:8-15, Prov. 16:33).
  8. By "chance" Esther was the only one able to directly thwart Haman's plot.  As Mordechai said: "And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14).
  9. By "chance" the king was in a receptive mood when Esther came to appeal to him to repeal the evil decree and agreed to attend her banquet (Esther 4:11,16, 5:2-8).
  10. By "chance" Haman's wife Zeresh suggested that a gallows be built to hang Mordechai - the very gallows from which Haman would later hang (Esther 5:14).
  11. By "chance" the king slept badly one night so that he ordered the royal chronicle to be read to him (Esther 6:1).
  12. By "chance" the king came across the record of Mordechai's meritorious service (Esther 6:2).
  13. By "chance" Haman entered to request that Mordechai be hanged upon the gallows precisely when the king was thinking about how to reward Mordechai (Esther 6:3-5).
  14. By "chance" Zeresh foretold Haman's fall at the hands of the Jews just before Haman was called to attend the second banquet (Esther 6:13-14).
  15. By "chance" Haman fell on the bed with Esther just as the king returned to the banquet room (Esther 7:8).
  16. By "chance" the king decreed that Haman be hanged on the gallows he erected to hang Mordechai and bequeathed all of Haman's property to Esther (Esther 7:9-10; 8:1). Mordechai was promoted to be the new vizier of Persia (Esther 8:15, 10:3).
  17. By "chance" the new decree of the king caused fear to spread among all of Persia so that Haman's plan was routed (Esther 8:17; 9:1-2). The Jewish people furthermore were able to exterminate thousands of anti-Semites throughout the empire, including the ten sons of Haman (Esther 9:6-16).
  18. By "chance" the Jews of Persia rested on the 14th of Adar and declared it a holiday for celebrating and rejoicing (though the Jews of Shushan rested on the 15th of Adar (Esther 9:17-22). This holiday is called Purim, the plural form of pur, meaning "lot" or dice (Esther 9:26-28). "And that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city; and that these days of Purim should not fail from among the Jews, nor the memorial of them perish from their seed" (Esther 9:28).


The term hashgachah pratit (הַשְׁגָּחָה פְּרָטִית) refers to God's personal supervision of our lives (hashgachah means "supervision," and pratit means "individual" or "particular").  Since He is the Master of the Universe, God's supervision and providence reaches to the smallest of details of creation - from subatomic particles to the great motions of the cosmos. God not only calls each star by its own name (Psalm 147:4), but knows each particular lily and sparrow (Matt. 6:28-30, 10:29). As Yeshua said, even the hairs on your head are all numbered (Matt. 10:30). Each person created in the likeness of God is therefore under the direct, private supervision of God Himself -- whether that soul is conscious of that fact or not. The God of Israel is called אלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר / Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol-basar: "The God of the spirits of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), and that means He is LORD even over those who vainly attempt to suppress His Presence and reality....
 

"Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?
declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth?"
(Jer. 23:24)

 
A midrash says, "God appoints an angel and tells it to cause a blade of grass to grow. Only then does that tiny blade flourish" (Bereshit Rabbah). There are no coincidences in God's universe; no "chaos theory," no "butterfly effect" apart from His hand.  Often seemingly senseless or difficult circumstances disguise a hidden good. Therefore the person of faith affirms gam zu letova ("this too, is for the best") and acknowledges that everything that happens to us comes from heaven (see Rom. 8:28). For more on this, see the meditation entitled "Paradox and Presence."

Hashgachah pratit refers to God's overarching rule and sovereign purposes over all the details of the universe -- including the details of human agency.  There is elaborate discussion about how God's decrees (gezerah merosh) do not contradict free will (bechirah chofshit) in rabbinic literature. In general, the sages decided that hashgachah refers to events we can't control, whereas it's our responsibility to make godly choices. This compatibilism became enshrined in the maxim: "Everything is foreseen by God, yet free will is granted to man" (Pirkei Avot 3:19).

In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), the concept of hashgachah pratit goes even further, into the murky realm of "predestination." The word Greek word translated as "predestination" is proorizo (προορίζω), a compound comprised of προ- (before) and oριζω (appoint, decree, limit [as in a horizon]). This word occurs in Rom. 8:29,30; Eph. 1:5,11, Acts 4:28 and 1 Cor. 2:7 (note that this word is different than the word used for divine foreknowledge (προγινωσκω)). Predestination denotes that God has determined certain things to occur ahead of (our current) time -- for example, the facts surrounding prophecies, though more personally, the decision that God sovereignly chooses (elects) certain individuals to be recipients of His deliverance and salvation.

Regarding the idea of God's election, Yeshua told us that we must be "born again" in order to "see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). This spiritual rebirth is a divine act, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). Yeshua also told his followers: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you" (John 15:16). He also said, "No one can come to me (δυναται ελθειν προς με) unless the Father who sent me drags [ἑλκύσῃ] him" (John 6:44, 6:65). We are not chosen by God (eklektos) because we chose Him, but rather because He chose us. God is always preeminent.  Plainly put, a person is "saved" by being drawn by God's sovereign design and love (John 6:44). God is the initiator of the relationship; He is the Master and Ruler over all flesh. If there is revelation from heaven, it is Heaven's prerogative to bestow it on Heaven's own terms...

The state of soul before spiritual rebirth is described as a sort of "living death." We were dead to things of the Holy Spirit, unable to respond to the truth of God, incapable of gaining access to life.  Our carnal minds were at war with God. We were powerless to impart spiritual life to ourselves since this life comes from God alone.  Spiritual life is ontological -- a real "mode" of existence -- that given to us solely by God Himself. Spiritual rebirth is not an exercise in moral reformation or self-improvement. We don't get to "elect ourselves" into the Kingdom of Heaven or become a child of God by raising our hand at a prayer meeting or performing various meritorious acts... No. New life is given through the exclusive agency of God Himself. God alone gives salvation to the soul...  God alone is the Master of the Universe and everything belongs to Him -- now and forever -- and that most especially concerns those for whom He came to redeem (John 6:44, 65).

The Apostle Paul taught that God "chose us [εκλεγομαι] in the Messiah before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). God called you by name -- before He created the very universe itself. "God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). God loves you with an "everlasting love" (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and with lovingkindness (i.e., chesed, חֶסֶד) draws you to Himself (Jer. 31:3). There is no fear in God's sovereign and irresistible love for your soul (1 John 4:18). "If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31).

There is great comfort when we understand that God has complete authority over everything in the universe -- including our ultimate welfare (John 10:27-28). When we pray to the LORD God of Israel, we intuitively understand that He is completely sovereign and Lord over all things...  All power, glory, authority, and dominion is His alone, and all that is in the heaven and in the earth is His (1 Chron. 29:11-12). We do not worry that He is incapable of handling our troubles or that He is unable to help us. No, we acknowledge that the God most High (אֵל עֶלְיוֹן) sustains all things by the Word of His power (Col. 1:17). He is "the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings (מֶלֶךְ הַמְּלָכִים) and the Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15). Whenever we think clearly in light of the revelation of Scripture, we apprehend the truth about God's sovereign glory and power...
 

לְךָ יהוה הַגְּדֻלָּה וְהַגְּבוּרָה וְהַתִּפְאֶרֶת וְהַנֵּצַח וְהַהוֹד
כִּי־כל בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ
לְךָ יהוה הַמַּמְלָכָה וְהַמִּתְנַשֵּׂא לְכל לְראשׁ

le·kha · Adonai · ha-ge·du·lah · ve'ha-ge·vu·rah, ve'ha-tif·e·ret, ve'ha·netz·ach, ve'ha-hod
ki-khol · ba-sha·ma·yim · u'va·a·retz
le·kha · Adonai · ha-mam·la·khah · ve·ha·mit·na·seh · le·khol · le·rosh

 

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the beauty and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. (1 Chron. 29:11)



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In speaking of the remnant of Israel (she'arit Yisrael) that kept covenant with God, the Apostle Paul contrasts the "children of the flesh" with the "children of the promise." Paul used the case of the birth of the twins Esau and Jacob to demonstrate God's sovereign election. "Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad - in order that God's purpose of election might stand (ἵνα ἡ κατ᾽ ἐκλογὴν πρόθεσις τοῦ θεοῦ μένῃ) - not because of works but because of His call - she (Rebecca) was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated'" (Rom. 9:11-12). Paul anticipated the objection that God's election of Jacob over Esau seems arbitrary -- perhaps even unfair -- by reminding us of God's words to Moses: "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" / וְחַנּתִי אֶת־אֲשֶׁר אָחן וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת־אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם (Rom. 9:15).  He then follows this up with the statement: "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom. 9:15-16). Paul then applies this principle to the case of Pharaoh by quoting Exodus 9:16, "For this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth" (cp. Rom. 9:17). Paul concludes: "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills." (For more on this, see the article "Hardening of Heart" in the Torah section.)

In the end, we are left with paradox.  On the one hand, God alone is the sole agent for salvation, but on the other hand we are responsible (at least from the phenomenological point of view) for genuinely responding to God's call... God elects and predestines who will be saved and we must personally choose to receive the Mashiach and follow Him with all our hearts. We are sovereignly chosen to freely choose to live for God...

Reflection on the doctrine of God's omniscience (like other essential doctrines of our faith) leads to paradox and tension within our human understanding (by means of which we are deepened in our surrender to the LORD and His will for our lives). This paradox is restated in Philippians 2:12-13: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (your part), for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (God's part).  As the prophet Isaiah wrote:  "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa. 55:8-9).

Many people think of "freedom" as the ability to do what they want, when they want to, and according to their own immediate gratification. "Doing your own thing" is the catch phrase of those who want to be able to pursue their own desires (i.e., lusts) without resorting to any source of moral or spiritual authority...

This worldly freedom is not true freedom, however. Yeshua told us that "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin" and went on to say that "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom is moral and spiritual rather than physical. Freedom has to do with the ability of the will to choose according to the light of moral and spiritual truth. This freedom, however, is further constrained by the nature or quality of being itself.  In other words, freedom is a product of heart that acts according to its particular nature.... When we are born from above, God gives us a new nature and makes us into new creations (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). We are able to please God through the love He gives us through our union with Yeshua.

Purim is all about God's irrepressible, undefeatable, insuperable and sovereign love for His people.  Though the wicked seem to sometimes have the upper hand in olam ha-zeh (this present hour), we need not fret or become anxious (Psalm 37:1, Prov. 24:19, Phil. 4:6). God is in control and His love and purposes overrule the counsel of the wicked.  He will one day speak to the princes of this dark world in His wrath and terrify them in His fury (Psalm 2:5). God's great vision for Zion, the "City of the Great King," will never fail, chaverim, nor will His love for those who are trusting in Him.  God's sovereign love is our great hope. As King David said, בָּרְכוּ־נָא אֶת־יהוה אֱלהֵיכֶם / Barekhu-na et-Adonai Elohekhem: "Now bless the LORD your God" (1 Chron. 29:20).

פּוּרִים שָׂמֵחַ / Purim Sameach: "Happy Purim!"




The Blindness of Malice

Lilian Broca Mosaic Detail
 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Saturday evening, February 27th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]

02.22.10  (Adar 8, 5770)  In Jewish tradition, Adar is the month Moses was born and also the month when he died (Exodus Rabbah 1:24). According to the Talmud, when Haman threw the dice to determine the best month to exterminate the Jews, the lot (pur) fell on Adar, and Haman rejoiced greatly saying, "The lot has fallen on the month that Moses died!" Haman did not realize, however, that Adar was also the month Moses had also been born (Bavli, Megillah 13b). According to the sages, Haman made the mistake of looking at a two-sided coin and only seeing one side. His malice blinded him to other possibilities. He failed to comprehend that though Adar was a time when Moses met his end, it was also the time when God had brought Moses into the world to be Israel's deliverer. And just as Moses' birth was based on concealment (Moses was hidden from view because of the evil decree to kill the Jewish baby boys), so the deliverance of God would be performed hidden away until it was fully revealed to all.

The same sort of malice blinded Satan to the concealed mystery found in the cross of Yeshua.  At first glance, the crucifixion of the Messiah appeared to be a crushing blow to God's kingdom rule.  Satan appeared to have the upper hand. What Satan failed to understand, however, was that this very act of malice and hatred of Yeshua was the means by which salvation and deliverance would be offered to all.  God transformed the cross from a place of unspeakable evil into the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, where our peace with God was forever secured.... Satan could not see this since his malice blinded him; he saw death alone instead of looking deeper to see death as the means to resurrection life.  Ironically enough, God ordained that the cross be the means that would draw all men to the risen Savior (John 3:14-16; 8:28; 12:32, etc.).




Should Women Wear Tzitzit?


 

02.22.10  (Adar 8, 5770)  Today someone wrote to ask my opinion of whether women (or Messianic non-Jews in general) were permitted to wear "tzitzit," that is, the fringes or tassels tied to the corners of the tallit gadol (traditional Jewish prayer shawl).  Since Jewish law forbids the use of tzitzit for both women and non-Jews, this person asked me to weigh in on the subject...

This question (once again) raises the subject of whether a follower of the Messiah should adhere to the law code of Moses. Sadly, many well-meaning Messianic believers seem to confuse the idea of Torah (תּוֹרָה) with that of covenant (בְּרִית) and therefore fail to "rightly divide" (ὀρθοτομέω, lit. "cut straight") the "word of truth" (דְּבַר הָאֱמֶת, see 2 Tim. 2:15). As I've said over and over, the failure to make this crucial distinction invariably leads to doctrinal confusion and strife within an assembly of people.

If you claim to be a follower (i.e., talmid, or "student") of Yeshua then you are to receive, study, and accept the yoke of the "Torah of the Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ). In other words, you will submit to His authority as your Master by walking in His love (2 John 1:9, 1 Tim. 6:3-6; John 15:12; 1 John 3:23, etc.). The law of Moses (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה) was intended to function as a "propaedeutic" (παιδαγωγός) or "tutor" for apprehending the Messiah's greater instruction (Gal. 3:19-25). Note that the Greek word used here ("paidagogos") referred to a trusted servant who would supervise the life and morals of boys belonging to the upper class. Before arriving at the age of manhood, boys were not allowed to leave their house without being escorted by their "paidagogos."  Followers of the Messiah are admonished not to revert to childish thinking but to understand matters maturely (1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20, Heb. 5:12-14). Even the most zealous among the Jewish people could not bear the strain of the yoke of the Torah of Moses, as Peter testified (Acts 15:9-10). We are now led by the Spirit of God as God's sons and are therefore no longer "subject" to religious regulations (δόγμα) that command us to "touch not, taste not, handle not." We are now called to seek those things that are above, where the Messiah reigns from on high (Col. 2:20-3:1).

Followers of Yeshua have a "better covenant based on better promises" (Heb. 8:6), and the lawcode was meant to foreshadow a greater Substance that was promised by the prophets (2 Cor. 3:18, 4:6). Even the Mishkan (and Temple) were "shadows" (σκιαί) of the greater priesthood of Yeshua, who alone combined the divine offices of Israel's King and High Priest (Heb. 10; Zech. 3:8, 6:12, etc.).

The test of practical doctrine (such as whether or not to wear a Tallit, whether to recite Kiddush on Shabbat, etc.) is whether the action gives glory to Yeshua or not (1 Cor. 10:31). The role of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) is to glorify the Messiah (John 16:14), and anything that detracts from this end is decidely not given from Heaven (John 5:23). We are at liberty to wear tzitzit AND are are at liberty to refrain from wearing them. "Let every one be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5). We talk a lot about the "old" covenant and the "new" covenant, but what about the "now" covenant? The real question is the heart's motive and secret desires -- right now.

Personally I believe that whatever helps us to sanctify the LORD in our hearts and to express our love for Yeshua is a good thing....  On the other hand, it is crucial to understand that wearing tzitzit, lighting candles, and so on, are merely visual aids, or a "making visible the invisible," of what is ultimately true within in our hearts... They are not "shibboleths" or recipes to gain access to the LORD, since Yeshua alone is our High Priest and Intercessor and it is by means of His zechut (merit) that can draw near to the Father. Even less are tzitzit to be regarded in terms of "ritual magic," or as an amulet that supposedly possess some sort of mystical power....
 

 

Understanding the radical freedom that Yeshua gives comes from the profound awareness that we are - and ever shall be - utterly insufficient to please God in our own merits, and therefore we cast ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God given through the life of Messiah. Struggling with various modes and means of pleasing God through any form of service or ritual observance might be indicative that there is a deeper struggle concerning the acceptance of our own inner bankruptcy and need for deliverance.




The Holiday of
Purim - פּוּרִים


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Saturday evening, February 27th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]

02.21.10  (Adar 7, 5770)  The holiday of Purim celebrates the victory of the Jewish people over the dark forces of anti-Semitism in the world.  In a sense, the entire holiday is a spoof or joke made at the expense of those who senselessly hate the Jewish people (and who therefore hate the God of Israel). Purim is therefore both a time of irony and a time to celebrate how God secretly acts on behalf of His people so that they will eventually triumph over their enemies.

Throughout the centuries and in various places, many have tried to destroy the Jewish people, but none has succeeded. עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Since God keeps His promises to Israel, Christians likewise can trust that God's sovereign hand works all things together for good -- even if at times things appear bleak and desperate (Rom. 8:28).

This year Purim is celebrated Saturday, Feb. 27th, that is, on the 14th of Adar, the day after Haman's roll of the dice indicated that the 13th of Adar was most "propitious" date to exterminate the Jews of Persia.  Note that Purim is celebrated the day after since it was at that time that the Jews experienced the joy of their deliverance (in Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim).




Parashat Tetzaveh - תצוה

Chagall
 

02.21.10  (Adar 7, 5770)  This week's Torah (Tetzaveh) begins with instructions for kindling the holy lampstand: "command the people of Israel to bring to you pure beaten olive oil for illumination (לַמָּאוֹר) to offer up (olah) a continual lamp (נֵר תָּמִיד)."  Note that the word translated "lampstand" is menorah (מְנוֹרָה), from the word for lamp, ner (נֵר). What's interesting about this verse is that the commandment to "offer up a continual lamp" occurs before the Tabernacle - and the menorah - was even made. God's gracious Light must shine first -- even before we can direct our worship to Him.... The Light of His Presence precedes even the "tent of meeting" itself.

There is a Purim connection here.  Perhaps you are familiar with the "Urim and Thummim," the "lights and perfections" that the High Priest sometimes used to discern messages from the LORD?  Some scholars believe these were like lots (purim) that were used to get "yes/no" responses from the LORD (e.g., 1 Sam. 14:41, 28:6, Ezr. 2:63; Neh. 7:65). When Haman the Agagite kept "rolling the dice" until he found the "propitious" time to seek the destruction of the Jews (Esther 3:7), God was indeed watching. After Haman "divined" the twelfth month (Adar), he appealed to the King to put his hateful plan into action... He slandered the Jews and sought to incite the King's anger against them as traitors who pledged allegiance to a different King...  All this was foreseen by the LORD and under His sovereign control. Little did Haman know that the dice he cast was for the appointed day of his own death... And so it goes for all those who "cast the lot" without understanding the overarching sovereignty of God...

On the Shabbat before Purim we are commanded to remember (zachor) Amalek: לא תִּשְׁכָּח / lo tiskach: "Do not forget!" (Deut. 25:19)  Since Haman (and other enemies of God) are regarded as Amalekites, we remember that we are in a spiritual war, and the stakes are the highest known by mortal man. On Purim itself we recite the blessing She'asah nissim - "who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season" (just as we do at Chanukah). God is Light, but those who hate others live in darkness -- a deadly kind of darkness. Purim celebrates the deliverance of the LORD for His people and those who trust in Him are surrounded by His Light. 

Just before Purim it is considered a mitzvah (or blessing) to send gifts of food to friends (called mishloach manot) and to give tzedekah (charity) to the poor (called matanot la'evyonim). These customs come from the story of Esther itself (Esther 9:22). Sharing with others is a means of spreading the Light of God in this dark and perverse world (1 John 3:17). We then can enjoy our seudah (festive meal) with greater joy.

These are perilous times, chaverim.  The battle we face is with fear: fear of man, fear of this world, fear of disaster, etc.  The story of Purim reassures us that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Rom. 8:28). May "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the courage to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference."
 

    Lord God of Israel, we are looking to you at this hour... Help us to remember the truth that You are in complete control of this world and the "outcome of the dice..." It is difficult to find peace in the midst of this world and its storms, but we are looking to You for help.... We are living in the End of Days: the world is reeling in fear and dread, and yet we are called to shine the light of your love and presence at all times.  Please help us to walk in the strength and assurance of Your holy Light -- the Light that suffuses all things. Let the Light of Your countenance shine upon us; pour out your shalom upon us. Help us trust that You will work all things together for good, for the sake of the glory of Your Precious Name. We love you and thank you, LORD - help us to walk in your love.  B'shem Yeshua Adoneinu - Amen.

     

Chagall
 




Shabbat Zakhor - שבת זכור


 

02.21.10  (Adar 7, 5770)  The Shabbat that precedes Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The Maftir (additional reading) commands us to "remember" (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek functioned as Satan's emissary by attacking the Jews at Rephidim, immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14).  Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God. 

The additional Haftarah portion (1 Sam. 15:2-34) speaks of how King Saul later failed to "devote to destruction" the sinful tribe of Amalek -- a mistake which cost him the kingship of Israel.  Samuel's rebuke of Saul's compromise is always timely: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.... Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."

These two readings were selected before Purim because Haman was an Agagite (Esther 3:1), i.e., a direct descendant of Agag, the king of Amalek (whom Saul nearly spared, see 1 Sam. 15:32-33), and we should therefore link the 'wiping-out' of Haman with the 'wiping-out' of Amalek.  The spiritual war between the light and the darkness admits of no compromise.  For more about this Sabbath, click here.




New Hebrew Meditation:
The Antidote to Fear

Chagall - Creation (detail)
 

02.19.10  (Adar 5, 5770)  Fear is the emotional center of sin and the opposite of faith. It is therefore the root cause of much suffering, heartache and woe in our lives, and living in fear constitutes a form of slavery (Heb. 2:15). Today I wrote another brief Hebrew meditation (Fear No Evil) based on the verse: לא־אִירָא רָע כִּי־אַתָּה עִמָּדִי / lo ira' ra, ki attah immadi: "I will fear no evil, for You are with me" (Psalm 23:4). 

I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim.




Prayer for the Weary


 

02.18.10  (Adar 4, 5770)  I don't know if I am fighting off something, but I am incredibly exhausted, friends, and I humbly ask for your prayers. For the last eight years I've worked tirelessly on this site, often sacrificing sleep for the sake of the message and burden of this ministry.  The last 18 months, however, have been especially difficult, since we are living entirely on the beneficence of God's people to survive, and that is often stressful. Perhaps all this is finally catching up to me. I am weary and in need of a touch from God, friends. More than ever before in the history of this ministry I am appealing to you for prayer...  Thank you for caring, chaverim.




Purim and Deliverance


 

[ Note that the following entry is related to the festival of Purim, which begins Saturday evening, February 27th this year. For more information, see the Purim pages.]

02.15.10 
(Adar 1, 5770)  Do you remember this scene from the Fiddler on the Roof? A young man named Labish approaches the dear and wise old Rabbi and asks him, "Is there a proper blessing for the Czar?" Everyone is astounded at the idea. A blessing for the czar? The gentle Rabbi responds that indeed there is indeed a proper blessing for the czar: "May God bless and keep the Czar -- far away from us!" (Amen!)

The holiday of Purim is one of the most joyful of the Jewish year. We remember that long ago, in the city of Shushan (in ancient Persia), a wicked political sycophant named Haman attempted to blame the Jews for being different and to initiate a pogram for their extermination. The Jews were saved through the intervention of a queen named Esther (Hadassah) and her cousin Mordechai, both of whom were providentially enabled by God to overturn the evil decree of the King of Persia (the story is told in the Book of Esther).  Throughout the centuries, in various places, many others have likewise tried to destroy the Jewish people, but none has succeeded. עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!"  God's sovereign hand works all things together for good, even if at times things appear bleak and desperate (Rom. 8:28).


 

The name Purim (פּוּרִים) refers to the "lots" (i.e., dice) that Haman and his magicians used to determine the "best day" to carry out their nefarious plan. Haman's dice rolled "Adar 13," but since the Jews were delivered on the following day, the holiday is celebrated on the 14th of Adar (which this year begins on Saturday, Feb. 27th at sundown). In other words, Adar 14 was ironically transformed from a day of potential tragedy and grief into a time of great rejoicing! (In Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim, since the deliverance of the Jews of Shushan did not occur until the 15th.) Among other things, the delicious irony of the Book of Esther reveals that there is no "chance" in God's universe, since He is the Master of the universe and supervises all it outcomes - including the "roll of the dice" (Prov. 16:33).

During Purim is is customary to dress up in costume and listen to the Book of Esther (i.e., megillat Esther, מְגִלָּת אֶסְתֵּר, or "the megillah") recited from the Hebrew scroll (before we hear the Megillah read, we recite three Purim blessings). Some people will dress as the noble Mordechai, others as the foolish king Ahashuerus, others as Esther, and so on. Part of the fun is that we are told that it's very important that we hear every word recited clearly, so we must keep very quiet as the story is being read. However, whenever we hear the name "Haman," we whirl groggers (ra'ashanim), blow whistles, stamp our feet, and make such a commotion that we can't hear his name.  This is the only time we are encouraged to be boisterous when the Scriptures are being read.

After reading the Megillah, many communities put on their own "purimspiel" (Purim play) to reenact the dramatic story, with children dressed up as the characters of the play...  Others put on "Purim puppet shows" at this time.  It is a time of merrymaking and fun.  Later we eat a festive meal (called a seudah, סְעֻדָּה) and enjoy three-cornered pastries called oznei Haman (אָזְנֵי הָמָן), or "Haman's Ears," for dessert (legend says that Haman's ears were twisted and triangular in shape).  In Yiddish, these are called a hamantaschen (המן־טאַשן) and are often filled with prunes, chopped nuts, apricots, apples, cherries, chocolate, and so on. Eating Haman's Ears fit the delicious irony recounted in the Book of Esther....


 

It is a custom to send bags or baskets of hamantaschen, candy, and fruit to friends and family members at this time. This is called mishloach manot (מִשְׁלוֹחַ מָנוֹת), the "sending of portions," and is intended to ensure that everyone has enough festive food for the Purim meal held later in the day. In addition, many families and communities collect food and toys for people in hospitals and nursing homes, while others give money to charities. This tzedakah (צְדָקָה) is called Mattanot La'evyonim (מַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיוֹנִים), "gifts for the poor," and is considered especially important at this time. (The ideas behind both manot and mattanot come from Esther 9:22).

On Purim we remember how the Jewish people escaped from Haman's evil plot to destroy them, though according to the sages, any day that is marked by special deliverance by God may be regarded as a "personal" or "special" Purim.  Therefore some Jewish families and communities celebrate "special purims" to commemorate the anniversary of a particular deliverance. The most importance deliverance we have comes from being set free from the guilt of our sins, of course, since this gives us true peace with God (Rom. 5:1). In fact, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is also known as Yom Kippurim in the Tanakh, which can be read as Yom Ke-Purim, a "day like Purim." Thus the day on which Yeshua sacrificed Himself on the cross is the greatest Purim of all, since through His loving intervention we are eternally delivered from the hands of our enemies. יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."


 

Note: If it pleases God, I will add some further thoughts about Purim at a later time. Meanwhile, it's good to think about these things now, before the festival arrives in just two weeks! Shalom, chaverim.




Parashat Terumah - תרומה



 

02.14.10  (Shevat 30, 5770)   The Torah portion for this week is called Terumah (תְּרוּמָה), a word that means "contribution," "gift," or "freewill offering."  It begins with the LORD asking for gifts "from every man whose heart moves him" to provide materials for the Mishkan Kodesh (Holy Tabernacle), a tent-like structure that would symbolize His Presence among the Israelites during their sojourn to the land of Canaan. Gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc., all were needed. No gift was considered too small, and whoever felt prompted by the LORD to give did so freely, without compulsion. God's house is always built by love freely given....

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


 

Since "the soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:4) and "the life is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11), a sacrificial animal's blood sprinkled upon the Kapporet symbolically represented the life of the people who were condemned to die, and this provided a means by which God could extend His forgiveness while remaining entirely holy and just. The substitutionary shedding of blood, the "life-for-life" principle, is essential to the true "at-one-ment" with the LORD God, and the blood rituals all prefigure the greater atoning sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross at Moriah. The passion of Yeshua, in other words, is the ultimate High Priestly work of presenting blood upon the Heavenly Kapporet of God.

It is interesting to note that the word used in the Greek Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word kapporet ("cover") is hilasterion (ἱλαστήριον). The New Testament picks up this usage in Romans 3:25: "God put forward Yeshua as a propitiation (ἱλαστήριον) through faith in His blood."  In other words, the sprinkling of Yeshua's blood - represented by His Passion upon the cross - was "presented" upon the Heavenly Kapporet, before the very Throne of God Himself. Yeshua here functions as the great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (i.e., Melchizedek) who provides everlasting forgiveness for our sins (Heb. 9:7-10:10). Because of His sacrifice, the parochet - the wall-like covering separating the Holy of Holies - was rent asunder and God's love was let loose upon the world!  Baruch haShem!

It's vital to recall that the detailed instructions for constructing the Mishkan were "according to the pattern (תַּבְנִית) given" to Moses at Sinai (Exod. 25:9, Heb. 8:5). In other words, the outer court (חָצֵר), the Bronze Altar for sacrifices (מִזְבֵּחַ הַנְחשֶׁת), the vessels, the inner tent with its furnishings such as the Table of the Bread of Presence (הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים), the golden Menorah (מְנוֹרָה), the altar of incense (מִזְבַּח הַקְּטרֶת), and the innermost Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים) with the Ark of the Covenant were first shown to Moses before they were created. They were copies or "shadows" that were intended to prefigure the eternal reality of the Heavenly Tabernacle itself (Heb. 8:5, 10:1).
 

 

Among other things this lends credence to the idea of "Oral Torah," that is, that Moses was given additional revelation at Sinai that was not included in the written Torah, and this also explains that Moses foreknew that the Messiah would die for the sins of Israel (see John 5:46). After all, the God who spoke to Moses out of the Burning Bush, "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire" (Deut. 5:26), and the Word spoken from between the faces of the cherubim, was none other than Yeshua Himself, YHVH (יהוה) come in the flesh.  יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."


 

According to Midrash, the purpose of the Kapporet was to protect man from the judgment of God as represented by the judging angels, the cherubim. These angels are God's own messengers who must report the truth and cannot deviate from that truth.  However, there is a deeper truth than the "mechanical" reporting of facts (i.e., reports about our sins and guilt), and that truth centers on sacrificial love and mercy.  The sacrificial blood sprinkled on the Kapporet - representing the innocent taking the place of the guilty - "sidesteps" the issue by removing the curse of the Law from the guilty (cp. Gal. 3:13). This is the "deeper magic" of the sacrifice upon the Stone Table, as C.S. Lewis portrays it in the Chronicles of Narnia. The Kapporet therefore foreshadows the cross of Yeshua, and His shed blood is the means whereby a holy God can righteously forgive our sin.  Just as the sins of the nation were atoned for by the sprinkling of the blood on the Kapporet, so the shedding of Yeshua's blood atones for the sins of the entire world.

Praise God for His amazing grace, chaverim!
 

    עָזְרֵנוּ אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעֵנוּ עַל־דְּבַר כְּבוֹד־שְׁמֶךָ
    וְהַצִּילֵנוּ וְכַפֵּר עַל־חַטּאתֵינוּ לְמַעַן שְׁמֶךָ׃

    ozreinu Elohei yisheinu, al-devar kevod-shemekha,
    ve-hatzileinu ve-khapeir al-chatoteinu, le-man'an shemekha

    βοήθησον ἡμῖν ὁ θεὸς ὁ σωτὴρ ἡμῶν ἕνεκα τῆς δόξης τοῦ ὀνόματός σου
    κύριε ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς καὶ ἱλάσθητι ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ἡμῶν
    ἕνεκα τοῦ ὀνόματός σου
     

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your Name;
Deliver us and atone for our sins, for your Name's sake (Psalm 79:9)





Rosh Chodesh Adar - ראש חדש אדר


 

02.14.10  (Shevat 30, 5770)   On the Biblical calendar, the month of Adar (אֲדָר‎) is the last month of the year counting from Nisan (during a leap year it is called Adar II). Adar is also the month of Purim, a festive holiday which is always celebrated a month before Passover (Megillah 1:4). During both Purim and Passover we celebrate God's deliverance of His people, and therefore Adar is considered the happiest of the months of the Jewish year: "When Adar comes, joy is increased" (Ta'anit 29a). This year the month of Adar begins on Sunday, Feb. 14th and Purim begins two weeks later, under the full moon (i.e., Saturday night, Feb. 27th). That means that Passover begins one lunar month later, on Monday, March 29th at sundown:


 

Like the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the New Year in the fall), Adar is a time to make "New Year's Resolutions" and to turn away from sin before the start of the New Year of spring. The month of Adar is therefore a season given to us each year to begin preparing for the holiday of Passover.


Date for Purim - פּוּרִים

The holiday of Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, the day after Haman's roll of the dice indicated that the 13th of Adar was most "propitious" for the extermination of the Jews (this year, Saturday, Feb. 27th at sundown).  It is celebrated on the day after since it was on this day that the Jews successfully fended off their enemies and experienced the joy of deliverance (in Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim). The reason for these different dates of the festival of Purim is that the Jews of Shushan waged war on both the 13th and the 14th of Adar and observed the 15th as a day of festivity and rejoicing, but in the other provinces the Jews waged war on the 13th and observed the 14th as the day of  rejoicing.  Jews in Israel identify with the Jews of Shushan, and hence its celebration is called "Shushan Purim."

Note: During Jewish leap years, Purim is always celebrated on the 14th of Adar II (called Adar Sheni), and the 14th of Adar I is called Purim katan ("little Purim"), a minor holiday.




Fighting the Darkness



 

02.11.10  (Shevat 27, 5770)   Shalom friends. This ministry is only as strong as the friends who support it in prayer, so I am appealing to you for prayer... There's a good deal of spiritual warfare going on in my life and I need your help.  I am finding myself blocked in my writing and distracted by pain.  I am experiencing periods of heavy darkness and waves of sadness. I would like to begin developing some new content here (perhaps regarding the prophetic literature of the Scriptures), but I am sensing fierce opposition in the realm of the spirit.  Again, I humbly appeal to you for help: please remember Hebrew4Christians in your prayers. Thank you.




Mishpatim & Freedom



 

[ The following entry relates to this week's Torah reading (Mishpatim). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.10.10  (Shevat 26, 5770)   Our Torah portion for this week concerns various social and civil laws of ancient Israel called "mishpatim." The word mishpatim (מִשְׁפָּטִים) means "rules" or "judgments," and is derived from a root meaning "to judge" (i.e., shafat, שָׁפַט). The LORD is called the Ha-Shofet kol ha'aretz (הֲשׁפֵט כָּל־הָאָרֶץ) -- the "Judge of all the earth" who loves justice (Gen. 18:25, 37:28, Psalm 50:6, 94:2). We are commanded to pursue righteousness through the exercise of right judgment: tzedek, tzedek tirdof (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall purse" (Deut. 16:20). God expects us to make wise decisions based on moral truth (Prov. 31:9, John 7:24).

The commentator Rashi noted that this portion of Torah continues the earlier account of the Sinai revelation.  The parashah begins וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם׃ / v'eleh hamishpatim asher tasim lifneihem: "And these are the rules (mishpatim) that you shall set before them" (Exod. 21:1). Rashi notes that the term v'eleh (וְאֵלֶּה, "and these are...") is always used to add to the preceding text. In other words, the connecting Vav (ו) links what is being said with what went before. The mishpatim, then, were written to elaborate the teaching (תּוֹרָה) given in the Ten Commandments.

Parashat Mishpatim is sometimes called Sefer HaBrit (סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית), "the Book of the Covenant," because it lists various social laws that Moses wrote down (Exod. 24:7). It is therefore a "subset" of the Torah -- a separate scroll -- that elaborated on the terms of the covenant initially made at Mount Sinai (i.e., the giving of the Ten Commandments). After it was written, Moses built an altar at the foot of Mount Sinai with twelve pillars (one for each tribe of Israel), and ordered sacrifices to the LORD to be made. He then took the sacrificial blood from the offerings, threw half upon the altar and read the covenant to the people. The people ratified the covenant with the words: כּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יהוה נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע / kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh v'nishma ("all that the LORD says we will do and obey" (Exod. 24:7). Upon hearing their ratification, Moses took the other half of the sacrificial blood and threw it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant (דַּם־הַבְּרִית) that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words" (Exod. 24:8).

Recall that Moses appointed judges (shoftim, from the same root as mishpatim) to help interpret and apply the Ten Commandments for the people (Exod. 18:13-26). Later he anticipated the need for these judges to be appointed in every city in the Promised Land to decide civil, domestic, and even religious controversies (see Deut. 16:18, 17:8-11). This is the origin of the Bet Din (בֵּית דִּן) and later of the "Great Sanhedrin," both of which were based on the fundamental idea of Oral Law. Over time the legal reasoning of the shoftim became codified in "case law" as formal explanations of halakhah (i.e., the legally binding aspects of the Oral Law). In traditional Judaism, this view of Torah may be regarded as a line of transmission from God to Moses (in the Torah), through the prophets, through the men of the Great Assembly, the Talmudic Rabbis and the Talmudic literature, down to several medieval codes and their responsa (Avot 1:1).  In Jewish thinking, then, "Torah" means not only the writings of Moses preserved in the Torah scrolls, but also the collective corpus (and therefore consensus) of Jewish rabbinic law, custom and tradition over the centuries.

The very concept of mishpatim implies that God expects us to make wise decisions based on truth (Prov. 31:9, John 7:24). Not everything is "spelled out" in the writings of the Scriptures, and therefore we must use clear thinking to make valid inferences about the meaning of the original texts. We are commanded to "rightly divide" (ὀρθοτομέω, lit. "cut straight") the "word of truth" (דְּבַר הָאֱמֶת, see 2 Tim. 2:15). Therefore, in order to avoid confusion regarding the relationship between the Torah of Moses (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה) and the Torah of Yeshua (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ), we must keep in mind that Torah is always a function of the underlying covenant (בְּרִית, "cut") of which it is part.  Failure to make this distinction leads to exegetical errors and invalid doctrines. 

Followers of the Messiah are no longer slaves -- not to a religious "system" nor to the letter of the law itself (2 Cor. 3:3; John 15:15). Blindly following religious traditions and rules does not honor the LORD and is actually a form of slave mentality (Gal. 4:25). Those who miss the point of the Torah are likened to those who "strain out a gnat" while swallowing a camel (Matt. 23:24). We do not worship Jewish traditions or the ideals of Jewishness, but rather the Living Word of God....

Why, then, was the lawcode given?  To function as a "tutor" or "guardian" (παιδαγωγός) to lead us to the School of the Messiah (Gal. 3:19-25). Note that the Greek word used here ("paidagogos") referred to a trusted servant who would supervise the life and morals of boys belonging to the upper class. Before arriving at the age of manhood, boys were not allowed to leave their house without being escorted by their "paidagogos."   Followers of the Messiah are admonished not to revert to childish thinking but to understand matters maturely (1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20, Heb. 5:12-14). We are now led by the Spirit of God as God's sons and are therefore no longer "subject" to religious regulations (δόγμα) that command us to "touch not, taste not, handle not."  We are now called to seek those things that are above, where the Messiah reigns from on high (Col. 2:20-3:1). "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17). Yeshua came to bear witness to the truth: "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). The truth sets us free to become co-heirs with the Messiah in the Kingdom of God (Rom. 8:17, Titus 3:7, John 8:32). If we love the Messiah, we will honor His covenant and His Torah (2 Cor. 10:5).

Most of us, I am afraid, don't really want to be free... It's so much easier for us to justify ourselves as pleasing to God on the basis of some litany of rules we are keeping (i.e., church attendance, 'quiet times' with God, etc.) or some ritual acts that we are performing (i.e., 'communion,' 'liturgy," 'Shabbat observance,' and so on). We feel more comfortable in a group, as part of a crowd. We do not want to live as truly free individuals before the LORD because this implies that we (alone) are responsible for our lives.  But genuine freedom only comes through individual and personal faith (אֱמוּנָה). We must inwardly trust that we have direct access to the Throne of Grace (כִּסֵּא הֶחָסֶד) and are accepted by God as His own beloved child (Heb. 4:16, Rom. 8:15). God has made us "graceful" (χαριτόω) in the beloved (Eph. 1:6). This is the first step, and all the rest will take care of itself if we really do business there...

But aren't Christians supposed to be nonjudgmental people? "Judge not that you be not judged," said Yeshua.  Not exactly. Yeshua also warned us not to judge by appearances, but "judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). In the context in which he spoke (i.e., teaching the crowd during the festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem), Yeshua justified healing someone on the Sabbath day as an example of understanding the "weightier matters" of the Law. Yeshua's appeal to the crowd was to think things through -- and then come to a decision.  He was not advocating that people "turn off their brains" and accept the authority of the religious establishment of his day, quite the contrary....

Let's return to the idea of the mishpatim (judgments) given in the Sefer Habrit of Moses. The underlying impetus for these social rules was to help Israel (collectively) live a sanctified life before the LORD. In other words, the mishpatim were connected with ideas of mussar (rebuke and correction) for the good of the community. This is enshrined in the maxim: שֶׁכּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲרֵבִים זֶה בָּזֶה / she-kol Yisrael arevim zeh ba-zeh: "All Israel is responsible for one another."  Each Jew is responsible for his fellow Jew. Holiness was not simply a matter of personal purity but involved the entire community. We share one another's burdens - and that includes one another's sins. We are our "brother's keeper." (Note that this idea of mutual responsibility is expressed in the New Testament as well, using the metaphor of the relationship between the whole and its parts: "For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with the Messiah (1 Cor. 12:12-27, Col. 3:15)).  The "Law of Messiah" is to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2, James 5:16, etc.).

We were created by God to be social beings, part of a great community of love called the "family of God." God our Father is therefore profoundly interested in our relationships with others -- so much so that if these relationships are damaged, our relationship with Him will suffer (see Matt. 5:23-24, 6:15, 18:35; Mark 11:25-26, Eph. 4:32, Col. 3:13). Of course "we all stumble in many ways" and "offenses (σκάνδαλον) will come" (James 3:2, Matt. 18:7), but we must be forgiving and repair the breaches in our relationships (James 5:16). Forgiveness means asking of ourselves what we are asking of God. The same is true of love.  When Yeshua taught us to "forgive us as we forgive," He taught that our forgiveness (of others) is our forgiveness (of God). Conversely, demanding perfection from others means appealing to God to be the judge of our lives -- and therefore means coming under self-examination.... This is the "do unto others" rule of life, the "like for like" measure of love, and the "karma" that attaches to moral reality (Gal. 6:7-8). We simply cannot have it both ways. We cannot claim divine mercy for ourselves while desiring retribution for others. The law of God must be used lawfully (1 Tim. 1:5-11).

Indeed, Yeshua extended the "like-for-like" nature of love (with its implicit appeal to self-interest) by commanding us to (literally) love our enemies (Matt. 5:44, Luke 6:27). Most of us find rationalizations to excuse ourselves from this duty, of course, and we are only too glad to accept the propaganda of the world that wars are patriotic, that vengeance is "just," that people who are different from us are to be held in suspicion, and so on.  Yeshua, however, says: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:44-45). Love is more important than even truth, or rather, love is the ground or foundation of the truth... Love is truth, in other words, at least from the perspective of Heaven. God doesn't call out people to become "professors" as much as He calls people to become lovers... Love is willing to embrace the wrong in others in redemptive hope. If we find ourselves unwilling to extend such grace, perhaps it's because we are struggling to accept it as our own....

There are moral obligations between ourselves and others (mitzvot bein Adam l'chavero) as well as moral obligations between ourselves and God (mitzvot bein Adam lamakom). These obligations are really two sides of the same coin, with the common term being the duty to love (or to care). Followers of Yeshua have a profound obligation to love and care for one another (John 13:34, 15:12,17, Rom. 13:8; 1 Thess. 4:9; 1 Pet. 1:22, 1 John 3:11, etc.). After all, in this world the only tangible way we can express our love for God is by extending love to other people (James 2:15-17, 1 John 3:17, 4:20). Indeed, our obligation to love and care for others can even preempt our outward duty to love God Himself. For example, what good is it to "tithe mint and cumin" and yet neglect the needs of those who are suffering (Matt. 23:23)? Tragically, the idea of "loving" or "serving" God can even be used as a pretext for rejecting those with whom we might disagree... What else explains religious hatred, hidebound denominational prejudices, and other forms of sanctimonious humbug at work in the various world religions of today?  Even in so-called Christian churches we see this sort of bigotry at work.  As Yeshua forewarned: "the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God" (John 16:2). Sadly this sometimes applies even to those who claim to love and worship the Prince of Peace (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם). The world's religious zealots are routinely trying to "do God a favor" by hating and even killing others... This is the "Jihad-version" of religiosity - a terrible sickness of spirit.  In light of the redemptive love and grace of God, can there really be anything more perverse than this?

The phrase "respect precedes Torah" (דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה) means that before we can even begin to study the Torah and to serve God, we must respect ourselves and others. We must first of all care! When the Torah commands us: וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ / "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:36-40, Mark 12:33, Rom. 13:9-10, Gal. 5:14, etc.), the underlying assumption is a healthy sense of self-love that comes from accepting that you are created in the likeness of God Himself. Being indifferent toward others is really a form of self-hatred, a kind of spiritual suicide.  As it is written, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him" (Lev. 19:17). Loving others means caring enough to confront them when they sin to avoid complicity with their sin. Apathy, indifference, and so on, is the opposite of brotherly love (Heb. 3:13). The sages advise that when you feel compelled to reprove your brother or sister, you must reprove yourself at the same time. Know that you have a share in his or her sin.... Humility is the keyword.

Love is intended to be reciprocal, even if it is unconditionally given. In other words, love can only exist when it is shared with others in community....  Some of the mystics have said that when two people sincerely love one another, the Holy One reigns between them. This is alluded to by the Hebrew word for love (i.e., ahavah, אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen, but when shared with another it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26 - the same value for the Name of the LORD (יהוה). The commandment, "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" thus awakens in the other the same kind of love for you -- and the result will be a "double love" -- the very love of the LORD.  May God fill you with His Holy Spirit and will help you in the practice of love...
 

כִּי הָאהֵב אֶת־חֲבֵרוֹ קִיֵּם אֶת־הַתּוֹרָה׃

ki ha-ohev et-chavero kiyem et ha-Torah

ὁ γὰρ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἕτερον νόμον πεπλήρωκεν
 

"for whoever loves his fellow human being has fulfilled Torah" (Rom. 13:8).
 




The Month of Adar - ראש חדש אדר



 

02.08.10  (Shevat 23, 5770) On the Biblical calendar, the month of Adar (אֲדָר‎) is the last month of the year counting from Nisan (during a leap year it is called Adar II). Adar is also the month of Purim, a festive holiday which is always celebrated a month before Passover (Megillah 1:4). During both Purim and Passover we celebrate God's deliverance of His people, and therefore Adar is considered the happiest of the months of the Jewish year: "When Adar comes, joy is increased" (Ta'anit 29a). This year Adar begins on Sunday, Feb. 14th and Purim begins two weeks later, under the full moon (i.e., Saturday, Feb. 27th). That means that Passover begins one lunar month later, on Monday, March 29th at sundown:


 

Like the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the New Year in the fall), Adar is a time to make "New Year's Resolutions" and to turn away from sin before the start of the New Year of spring. The month of Adar is therefore a season given to us each year to begin preparing for the holiday of Passover.


The Four Shabattot

Traditional Judaism defines a "special Sabbath" as one that precedes (or coincides with) a Jewish holiday during the year.  Four special Sabbaths occur just before the start of spring: two before Purim and two before Passover. Collectively, these four Sabbaths are called "The Four Shabbatot" and additional Torah readings (Arba Parashiyot - four Torah portions) are read that relate to the two holidays.  The names of these Sabbaths are Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zakhor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat HaChodesh.

Shabbat Shekalim

This coming Sabbath marks the first of the Four Special Shabbatot, called Shabbat Shekalim (שבת שקלים), "the Sabbath of the Shekels." An additional reading (Exod. 30:11-16) is appended to the regular Torah reading that describes the contribution of a half-shekel from every Jew for the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Note that when Parashat Mishpatim coincides with Shabbat Shekalim, a different Haftarah portion is read (i.e., instead of Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26, we read 2 Kings 12:1-7). According to a midrash in the Talmud (Bavli, Shekalim 1), the half-shekel represents a "fiery coin" that the LORD brought from underneath the Throne of His Glory to symbolically "atone" for the sin of the Golden Calf. Since every Jew was required to give this "widow's mite," repentance is accepted for all who come in true humility before the LORD. For us, it might be a time to remember those who offer personal sacrifices so that we also might draw closer to God.




Parashat Mishpatim - משפטים


 

02.08.10  (Shevat 23, 5770) The Torah reading for this week is parashat Mishpatim. The word mishpatim (משפטים) means "rules" or "ordinances" and is derived from the Hebrew word shaphat ("to judge"). Parashat Mishpatim is sometimes called Sefer HaBrit ("the Book of the Covenant"), since it contains over 11.5% of all of the mitzvot (commandments) found in the entire Torah (53 of 613). These mishpatim include a wide range of civil laws, criminal laws, ritual laws, financial laws, and family laws that later provided a foundation for the legal reasoning found in formal explanations of halakhah (i.e., the legally binding aspects of the Oral Law).

Parashat Mishpatim is perhaps one of the most crucial portions of Torah for understanding the terms of the sefer habrit (book of the covenant) that was "sprinkled with the blood of bulls and goats" and ratified by the 70 zekanim (elders) at Sinai. For the Messianic Jew, understanding how the New Covenant of Yeshua overtakes the terms of this older covenant is critical for being a true child of God and inheritor of the promises given to Avraham Avinu (our father Abraham). 

Note: I hope to add additional commentary to this week's Torah portion later this week, chaverim. Shalom for now.




Ten Commandments Reader Page


 

[ The following entry relates to this week's Torah reading (Yitro). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.05.10 (Shevat 21, 5770)  I created a new "Ten Commandments Reader Page" for those of you who want to practice reciting the commandments in Hebrew. This page provides the Hebrew text of Exodus 20:2-17 with a translation directly underneath. A few explanatory footnotes are also provided. Though it is only a draft version, I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim! You can download the page here.

Note: I have been out of town the last five days and I'm trying to get back into "the rhythm" of my normal writing schedule... Please offer up a prayer for this ministry, chaverim!  Thank you, and from our family to yours -- Shabbat shalom!






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