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January 2010 Updates


Parashat Yitro - יתרו


 

01.31.10 (Shevat 16, 5770)  The Torah reading for this week is named in honor of Moses' father-in-law Yitro ("Jethro"), a priest of Midian (כּהֵן מִדְיָן) who later became a convert to the LORD God of Israel.  Yitro wisely advised Moses to establish a hierarchy of judges (shoftim) to help bear the burden of governing the Israelites, thereby freeing Moses to be a more effective intercessor before the LORD.  According to Midrash, Jethro's original name was Yeter (i.e., יֶתֶר, "remainder") but was changed to Yitro (i.e., יִתְרו, "His abundance") in honor of his wisdom. Jewish tradition says that Yitro's descendants all became leaders in the Great Sanhedrin (i.e., the 71 member supreme court of ancient Israel).

Parashat Yitro includes the awesome account of the giving of the Ten Commandments, the Ten "Words" or "Utterances" that were later inscribed on two tablets of stone (luchot) by the finger of God (Exod. 31:18; 32:15). For more information about the Ten Commandments, click the image below:


 

It is interesting to note that the earliest Jewish sages (i.e., pre-Mishnah interpreters) said that the Ten Commandments were not written five on one tablet and five on the other, but rather were written with all ten commandments written on both of the tablets.  In other words, the Ten Commandments were given in duplicate form, and both tablets (i.e., copies of the contract) were deposited in the Holy Ark (and later at the Temple) to represent the terms of the agreement for both parties. This is similar to other ancient Near East treaties where one copy was given to the king and the other copy was given to the vassal.

Note: I will be out of town for the next few days and therefore unable to add updates to the site until late this week. Your prayers for this ministry - and my family - are sincerely appreciated! We send you our love and thanks, chaverim.
 
January 2010 pics
 




Yeshua our Sabbath Rest
Trusting God for the Work of Salvation...


 

01.30.10 (Shevat 15, 5770)  Someone recently wrote me to ask if it is "kosher" if they take a vacation on the Sabbath day. This person was planning on a camping trip and wondered if hiking around and lighting a campfire would be prohibited in this case....

In response let me summarize a few things that I've written elsewhere on this site. First, we need to remember that the Sabbath day (and therefore the sanctification of time itself) is now under the authority of the Messiah (Matt. 12:8, 28:18, Rom. 14:5-6, Col. 2:16-17). In other words, to understand the meaning of the Sabbath, we must first of all look to Yeshua as our Teacher (John 13:13). For example, Yeshua said all of the following works were permitted -- and even recommended - to be done on the Sabbath day:

  1. Saving a life (Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9)
  2. Healing others (Luke 6:1-10; Mark 3:1-5; John 5:9; 9:14; Luke 13:10-16)
  3. Conducting brit milah (circumcision) (John 7:23)
  4. Teaching (Mark 1:21; Luke 4:31; Acts 18:4)
  5. Serving at the Temple (Matt. 12:5)
  6. Rescuing an animal in distress (Matt. 12:11; Luke 14:1-6)
  7. Showing acts of compassion (Matt. 12:1-4)
  8. Caring for animals (Luke 13:15)
  9. Carrying a bed (John 5:9-16)
  10. Meeting the needs of others before fulfilling religious obligations (Mark 2:27-28)


Some people claim that Yeshua's "argument" with the "scribes and Pharisees" had to do with their adherence to the Oral Law (i.e., putting "a fence around the Torah"), and therefore Yeshua deliberately did things that contradicted their assumptions.  While that may be true in some cases (e.g., ritual hand washing, associating with sinners, etc.), in other cases it's clear that much of what Yeshua taught agreed with the ethical teachings of the sages of His day (e.g. Hillel on neighbor love, Shammai on divorce, the centrality of the Shema, etc.), and therefore it's a mistake to say that he categorically rejected the traditions of the elders. After all, the moral truth of God is a constant, and all worthy ethical teachers end up saying much the same thing regarding personal and social ethics. 

Notice, however, that while the sages put a "fence" around the Torah in deference to the authority of Moses, Yeshua consistently went beyond the authority of Moses himself (who spoke in the Name of YHVH [יהוה]) by saying things like: "You've heard that it was said to the ancients (κούσατε ὅτι ἐρρέθη τοῖς ἀρχαίοις), but I say to you... (Matt. 5:21-43). Who is this man to overrule the very words of the Ten Commandments?  Similarly Yeshua regularly forgave people of their sins (Mark 2:5-7; Luke 7:48-50, Matt. 9:5-7), claimed to be the Judge of the World (Matt. 16:27, 25:31-46; John 5:22), and demanded to be honored as the God of Israel Himself (John 5:23). His was the voice of Authority coming from a new mountain (Matt. 7:29, 17:1-3; Mark 1:22).

Unlike the scribes and Pharisees of his day, Yeshua claimed equal authority with YHVH Himself (John 5:18, 5:23; 8:58, 10:30-33, 14:9; Mark 2:7, 13:26, Luke 5:21; Rev. 1:8, etc.). He was far more than a moral or religious teacher, of course, since He spoke as "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire..." (Deut. 5:26, Matt. 17:1-3). As the Word of God - the Voice of YHVH - Yeshua is "one with YHVH" (John 10:30; 14:9). Just as the Voice of YHVH is YHVH, so the Spirit of YHVH is YHVH: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Mark 13:31). His mission was not to reform Temple Judaism but to die for the sins of the world. Therefore we see him overthrowing the money changers tables at the Temple and literally stopping the Temple sacrifices from taking place (Mark 11:15-19). His body represented the true Temple of God (John 2:19). And regarding the sanctification of time, Yeshua stated He was the very "Lord of the Sabbath" (אֲדוֹן הַשַּׁבָּת) -- a title that could only be rightly applied to the LORD God of Israel Himself.

Recall that it was on the Sabbath that Yeshua said to the Pharisees, "My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working (ἐργάζομαι - from the word ἔργον, "work")."  For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill Him; not only was He breaking the Sabbath (ἔλυεν τὸ σάββατον), but He was even calling God His own Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:17-18). Later, some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath (τὸ σάββατον οὐ τηρει)" (John 9:16).

On another occasion, the Pharisees attempted to rebuke Yeshua because He allowed his disciples to "pluck grain" on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-7). "Look! Your followers are violating the laws of Shabbat!"  Yeshua responded to his legalistic critics by reminding them that: 1) King David entered into the Holy Place of the Tabernacle and ate "showbread" - despite the law's clear prohibition of doing so, 2) the priests themselves were ordained by God to work on the Sabbath and yet were regarded as blameless, and [therefore] 3) since both King David and the priests acted this way, the Pharisees should have understood King Messiah's purpose for doing so as well.  Indeed, Yeshua pointed out that His mission as the Redeemer of Israel transcended even the laws of the Temple itself (Matt. 12:6). Yeshua is the "Righteous Branch" (tzemach tzaddik, צֶמַח צַדִּיק), the great Davidic King who was promised to appear (Jer. 23:5-6). This "Righteous Branch" is also mentioned in Book of Zechariah as the one who would ultimately unite the authority of the priesthood with the Kingship of God on behalf of Israel's redemption: "Behold, a man called the Branch (tzemach) shall branch out (יִצְמָח) from the midst of the earth, and he shall build the Temple of the LORD (בָּנָה אֶת־הֵיכַל יְהוָה)" [Zech. 6:12]. Likewise Yeshua is called Adonai Tzidkenu - the LORD our Righteousness, the Anointed One who would unite the roles of the King of Israel with that of Israel's great High Priest.

In light of God's redemptive work through the Messiah, therefore, the Scriptures command us to "consider Yeshua, [who] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses -- as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself" (Heb. 3:1-6). Yeshua alone is our great Kohen Gadol (High Priest) of the better covenant (Heb. 8:6), and Yeshua alone is the Supreme Mediator between God and man. Only Yeshua brings God and man together.

The Supremacy of the Messiah

Consider, then, how Yeshua the Messiah is greater than:

  1. The first Jew, Abraham (John 8:53-58)
  2. Israel and his children (John 4:12-14)
  3. Moses the lawgiver (Heb. 3:1-6; Matt. 17:1-8; John 1:17; Acts 13:38-39, etc.)
  4. All the angels of God (Matt. 13:41-42; Heb. 2)
  5. The Levitical priesthood (Heb. 7; 13:10)
  6. The Temple itself (Matt. 12:6, cp. Mark 11:16);
  7. All the sacrifices offered at the Temple (Heb. 8-10)
  8. King David, Israel's first great king (Matt. 22:41-46)
  9. Solomon, the greatest king of Israel (Luke 11:31)
  10. Jonah, one of the greatest Jewish prophets (Matt. 12:41)
  11. Elijah, one of the greatest Jewish prophets (Matt. 17:1-8)
  12. The Sabbath (John 5:17-18; Matt. 12:8)
     

Indeed, Yeshua is called the very Creator Himself (Col. 1:16-19, John 1:1,14, Heb. 1:3, 3:3-4) who sits upon the throne of God Himself (Psalm 45:6-7; Heb. 1:8). He is both the Judge and the Savior of the world (Matt. 16:27, Rom. 14:10-12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 1 John 4:14, Acts 4:12). As the Supreme Lawgiver Himself, "the Voice of the Living God speaking from the midst of the fire," Yeshua is both the LORD of the Sabbath (אֲדוֹן הַשַּׁבָּת) and the LORD of the Torah of Moses... He is the "Son of Man," a Messianic Title that denotes the promised King of the World (Dan. 7:13-14; Matt. 12:8, 16:27; Mark 8:38, 13:26; Luke 22:69, etc.). Simply put, Moses stands in relation to Yeshua as the creature stands before the Creator and is accountable to Him (Heb. 3:3; Matt. 17:1-3). The Name of Yeshua is the only name given for salvation (Isa. 45:21, Acts 4:12). Every knee shall bow to Him. Yeshua = YHVH (compare Isa. 45:21-23, Rom. 14:10-11, Phil. 2:9-11).


 

Jewish thinking regards the Sabbath primarily as a testimony that God alone is the Creator of the universe (celebrating His rule over creation, Gen. 2:2-3), and secondarily as a memorial of the redemption from Egypt (Deut. 5:15). The Sabbath is a day of blessing wherein a "double portion" of heavenly food is provided as a foretaste of olam haba (the world to come).  In all of these aspects Yeshua shows Himself to be LORD.  His miracles reveal His authority and rule over creation, His sacrificial death as the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) redeems the whole world from slavery to sin (John 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21), He provides heavenly food as our Bread of Life (John 6:35), and His ministry on our behalf provides an everlasting rest from attempting to find acceptance before God through ritual acts of righteousness (Titus 3:5-6; Heb. 4:9-10; Eph. 2:8-10). In Yeshua we don't work toward a place of victory, but rather work from it (1 Cor. 15:57).


Rightly Dividing (ὀρθοτομέω) the Word of Truth

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 words of Moses and the words of Yeshua, we must bear in mind that Torah (תּוֹרָה) is a general word that means "instruction" and always is a function of the underlying covenant (בְּרִית, "cut") of which it is part. In other words, Torah is our responsibility to the covenantal actions of the LORD God of Israel.  Followers of Yeshua are therefore not "anti-Torah" even if they understand this word in relation to the new and better covenant of God (Heb. 8:6). There is indeed a Torah of the New Covenant, just as there is Torah of the older one. Messianic believers are called to adhere to the instruction of King Yeshua who is the embodiment of all genuine truth from God (John 1:17). The all-important matter is to understand our response to God's covenantal actions as mediated through God's promised Messiah (1 John 5:11-12).


Yeshua our Sabbath Rest...

Since we are no longer bound by the terms of the Sinai Covenant (i.e., the sefer ha-brit that was sprinkled with the blood of bulls and ratified by the 70 elders of Israel), the role of the Torah itself has necessarily changed (Heb. 7:12). We are no more obligated to "keep the Sabbath" -- especially as defined by Messiah-denying rabbis -- than we are to stone our children who are disobedient or to execute homosexuals (both of which are commanded in the law of Moses: Deut. 21:18-22, Lev. 20:13). In this regard "Sabbath observance" is tied to the terms of a covenant that was "destined for obsolescence" (Heb. 8:13). Likewise we are no longer beholden to the Levitical priesthood (i.e., the ritual expression of the Sinai covenant), but we rather partake of the ministry of the superior priesthood of Yeshua, our great High Priest after the order of Malki Tzedek (Heb. 7:12, 13:10). Since we have a "better covenant based on better promises" (Heb. 8:6), we don't offer sheep and goats upon altars in our services because we understand that this is no longer the way to come before the LORD. The law of Moses made "nothing perfect" but the ministry of Yeshua now allows us to truly draw near to God (Heb. 7:19). Though there was a "glory of the older covenant," that glory was destined to fade away (καταργέω) in light of the greater glory of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:7). Yeshua's sacrifice tore down the veil of the Holy of Holies itself, and now we are invited to come "boldly" before the Throne of Grace to find help for our lives (Heb. 4:16, Rom. 5:1-2). Note that the word translated "boldly" in this verse (παρρησίας) means that we can speak freely to God from the center of our hearts -- without fear or shame. The Divine Light is no longer concealed to those who trust in God, since this Light represents our salvation in Yeshua (John 8:12, 2 Cor. 3:7-18)!

The Apostle Paul states that we have "died" to the earlier contract made at Sinai and are now "married" to another, namely the Messiah who is the "LORD of the Sabbath" (Rom. 7:1-4, Matt. 28:18). Since we have a new covenant, we have a new understanding of Torah, namely, the Torah of the Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) (Gal. 6:2). The Torah of Messiah is now one of sacrificial love and gemilut chasidim (Rom. 13:8-10, Gal. 5:14). We fulfill the Torah's inner intent by abiding in the love of God as given to us in the Messiah Yeshua (John 14:21-24). We are no longer slaves under Sinai but are free citizens of heavenly Jerusalem. Sarah, not Hagar, is our spiritual mother (Gal. 4:21-5:1). We have liberty in Messiah (Gal. 5:13). We are circumcised with an inward, heart circumcision (Col. 2:10-11). Those who trust in Yeshua are made spiritual Jews and are partakers of the covenantal blessings given to Israel (Rom. 2:29, Eph. 2:11-19). We are made complete in our relationship with the LORD (Eph. 1:3). The rest Yeshua gives (מְנוּחַת יֵשׁוּעַ) is true spiritual release...

Adultery is a form of promiscuity that violates covenantal responsibility. Those who denigrate the covenant of the Messiah by claiming that something else must be added to His sacrificial work are called spiritual adulterers (see Rom. 7:1-4). Trying to mingle the covenants of Sinai and Zion leads to confusion and to potential destruction (Gal. 1:6-9; 2:4-5; 2:21; 3:3,10, etc.). New wine cannot be put into old wineskins (Mark 2:22).

We are called to walk in the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת) and to worship the LORD God of Israel (John 4:23-24). We are to honor the Son as we honor the Father (John 5:23). If we love Him and genuinely desire to please Him, we will fulfill the inward intent of the Torah in our daily lives (Jer. 31:31-33).   All of the moral law of the Torah is restated in the New Testament -- but even more radically. We ask the Holy Spirit for help in discerning the truth on a personal, moment-by-moment basis. We trust in God's guidance and help as He promised in the terms of the New Covenant. Freedom doesn't mean we're "free to do whatever we want," but rather we're "free to love God without fear..."   We are now heirs of God, no longer slaves (John 15:15, Rom. 8:17). Yeshua came to elevate our lives and bring us safely to the Father as redeemed children (Eph. 5:1).

The Apostle Paul also wrote: Οὐκ ἀθετῶ τὴν χάριν τοῦ θεοῦ εἰ γὰρ διὰ νόμου δικαιοσύνη, ἄρα Χριστὸς δωρεὰν ἀπέθανεν / "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the Torah then the Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:21). Note that the word translated "nullify" (ἀθετῶ) means to "transgress" or to "set aside as ineffective." Ironically enough, those who advocate for "Sabbath observance" (at least in the legalistic sense) are obliquely setting the grace of God aside as ineffective. The writer of the Book of Hebrews warns, "Anyone who has set aside (ἀθετῶ - same word) the Torah of Moses died without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?" (Heb. 10:28-29). If nullifying the Torah warrants death, then nullifying the redemptive work of salvation warrants even greater retribution...  We can't have it both ways: you must choose whether your savior is Moses or Yeshua, chaverim.


Coming Full Circle...

Does that mean we disregard the Torah, then, and ignore what it teaches? By no means. We cannot even begin to understand the idea of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) or even the nature of salvation itself (יְשׁוּעָה) apart from thoroughly understanding the law of Moses (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה). (Psalm 1:1-2, 19:7, 119:97, etc.)  Yeshua Himself said that Moses and the prophets wrote of Him (John 5:46, Luke 24:27), and the Apostle Paul stated that faith in the Messiah upholds the "lawful" use of the law (1 Tim. 1:8, Gal. 3:19-24, Rom. 3:27-28, etc.). This is the "law of faith" (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) that precedes and underlies all that was given at Sinai to the Jewish people. It is the "deeper Torah" that Abraham and the prophets understood. As Paul wrote, "Does it follow that we abolish (καταργέω, "make useless") Torah by this trusting? Heaven forbid! On the contrary, we establish (ἵστημι, "make stand") the truth of the Torah" (Rom. 3:31).

Just as there is a deeper sense of Torah that Paul appealed to make his case that he was not teaching "against the law" (e.g., Gal. 3:16-18), so there is a deeper sense of rest (שָׁבַת) that God promised those who are trusting in Him (מְנוּחַת שַׁבָּת, Heb.4:9). This rest comes from trusting in the finished work of Yeshua as our Torah righteousness before the Father. The principle of Sabbath is valid, just as the principle of adhering to faithful love is (i.e., the positive expression of the commandment not to commit adultery).  The statement that "there is a rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9-10) does not refer to ritualistic "Sabbath-keeping," however, since the context clearly states that "whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his."  This is a "tetelestai" revelation -- a moment when you apprehend that God has fulfilled the Torah's demand on your behalf through the gift of Yeshua's life and sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:21). Accepting the "death benefits" of the Messiah makes you an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven (Gal. 4:4-7). You are no longer "married" to the former arrangement of being in union with God; there is a better cup and a better ketubah (Rom. 7:1-4).

We are invited to enter into this "greater rest" by exercising faith in God's promises (Heb. 4:1-3). This is the "law of faith" (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה) that precedes and underlies all that was given at Sinai to the Jewish people. "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts through unbelief."  Again, there remains a Sabbath for the people of God (Heb. 4:9), a greater "rest" from attempting to please God based on our own merits (Heb. 4:10, Titus 3:5-6). We do not labor to find favor with God through acts of our own personal merit, but rather we trust in the acceptance and love of God given to us in Yeshua. Paradoxically we "labor" to enter into this rest by exercising genuine faith in God's salvation in His Son (Heb 4:11, Phil. 2:11-12). As Yeshua taught, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the One whom the Father has sent" (John 6:28-29).

In all things Yeshua receives the preeminence, friends, including the glory of our personal and corporate salvation. We do not merit salvation; it is the gift of God  (Col. 1:18, Eph. 2:10-11).

לַיהוָה הַיְשׁוּעָה
 
La'Adonai ha-yeshuah

"Salvation belongs to the LORD" (Psalm 3:8)
 





Celebrating Tu B'Shevat...



 

01.27.10 (Shevat 12, 5770)  You might be surprised to discover that by the time the Mishnah was compiled (200 AD), the Jewish sages had identified four separate new-year dates for every lunar-solar year.  These separate "New Years" are as follows:

  1. Nisan 1 (i.e., Rosh Chodashim) marks the start of the month of the Exodus from Egypt and the beginning of Jewish national history. As such, it represents the start of the Biblical year for counting the festivals (Exod. 12:2). Note that the month of Nisan is also called Aviv since it marks the official start of spring.
  2. Elul 1 marks the start of the year from the point of view of tithing cattle for Temple sacrifices. Since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the later sages decreed that this date should mark the time of Selichot, or preparation for repentance before Rosh Hashanah. Elul 1 marks the start of the last month of summer.
  3. Tishri 1 was originally associated with the agricultural "Feast of Ingathering" at the "end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22), though after the destruction of the Second Temple, the sages decided it would mark the start of the civil year in the fall. Tishri 1 was therefore called Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") which begins a ten-day "trial" of humanity climaxing on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).
  4. Shevat 15 (i.e., Tu B'Shevat) originally marked the date for calculating the tithes of the harvest (ma'aserot) that farmers would pledge to the priests of Israel. This was the start of the year from the point of view of tithing of fruit trees. Today Tu B'Shevat represents a national Arbor Day in Israel, with tree planting ceremonies in Israel.  Unlike the other three "new years," Tu B'Shevat begins in the middle of the month, during a full moon in winter.
     

In practical terms, however, there are two "New Years" in Jewish tradition. The first occurs two weeks before Passover (in the spring) and the second occurs ten days before Yom Kippur (in the fall).  The other two "new years" are not regularly observed, except by the Ultra Orthodox.  The spring New Year is Biblical and is called Rosh Chodashim (see Exod. 12:2). This is the month of the redemption of the Jewish people -- and it is also the month in which Yeshua was sacrificed upon the cross at Moriah for our sins.  The fall New Year is also Biblical, based on the ingathering of the fall harvest "at the end of the year" (Exod. 23:16, 34:22).

At any rate, this Friday, January 29th at sundown is the 15th of Shevat (Tu B'Shevat), sometimes called the "New Year for trees." Like other Jewish holidays, Tu B'Shevat begins 18 minutes before sunset.  When Tu B'Shevat falls on the Sabbath, however (as it does this year), it is incorporated into the regular Sabbath celebration. 

It's a mitzvah to "rejoice in the LORD always" (Phil 4:4), so in case you'd like to celebrate this holiday with your friends or family, I've created a simplified Tu B'Shevat Seder Guide that will give you some idea about how to perform your own home ceremony. I hope you will find it helpful, chaverim.

John and boys, Jan 2010

Blessings to you in Yeshua, our Tree of Life!




The Fruit of Spirit - פְּרִי הָרוּחַ


 

[ The following information is related to the observance of Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of Shevat), the "Rosh Hashanah" (New Year) for trees. You might wish to incorporate discussions about the promised "fruit of the Spirit" into your own Tu B'Shevat Seder, chaverim. ]

01.26.10 (Shevat 11, 5770)   Traditional Judaism identifies various middot ha-lev (qualities of heart) that attend to a genuinely Jewish life. These include Talmud Torah (studying Scripture), ahavat Adonai (loving God), gemilut chasidim (doing works of righteousness), bikkur cholim (visiting the sick), and so on.

The follower of Yeshua likewise must evidence middot hav-lev, though the Source for such comes directly from the power of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) working within the heart of faith. The priot (fruits) listed in Galatians 5:22-23 represent nine visible attributes of a true follower of Yeshua:

Fruit of the Spirit List
 

Note that these priot are not obtained through self-effort or various attempts at human "reformation," but rather are a supernatural outgrowth of the grace and love of God in the life of one who puts their trust in Yeshua as Mashiach. See John 15:1-8.  Our lives are sanctified in the manner in which they were initially justified: wholly by faith in the love and grace of God...

The tough question we need to ask ourselves is whether our lives give evidence to the power and agency of the Holy Spirit within us. Strictly speaking, these nine attributes are qualities that only God Himself possesses, since He alone is perfectly loving, perfectly joyful, and so on. But since we are created btzelem elohim (in the image of God) and were given the Holy Spirit to help us resemble our Teacher (Luke 6:40), spiritual fruit should be seen in our own lives (John 14:12; 15:1-8; 26-7). Obtaining such fruit is invariably a matter of faith - trusting that God will help us live our lives in truthful union with Him.

Let's remember to pray for one another and ask the LORD to make each of us fruitful l'shem shamayim - for the sake of the Name of our beloved One.




International Holocaust Remembrance Day


 

01.26.10 (Shevat 11, 5770)   Tomorrow (January 27th) marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. In October 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated this day as "International Holocaust Remembrance Day" to commemorate and honor the victims of the Nazi era. Note that the UN-sponsored date is NOT the same thing as the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah, which occurs in the spring (Nisan 27).

The systematic genocide of the Jewish people is one of the most heinous crimes in the history of humanity. Reflecting on the atrocities should lead each of us to be vigilant to protect the individual liberties of all people at the hands of the State.  Any political ideology or religious creed that elevates the interest of the "collective" over the sanctity of the individual is therefore inherently suspect....
 

וַתִּתְעַטֵּף עָלַי רוּחִי בְּתוֹכִי יִשְׁתּוֹמֵם לִבִּי׃

My spirit failed within me; my mind was numbed with horror (Psalm 143:4)
 

We see terrifying analogues of a fascist worldview in our postmodern world today. The traditional view that "truth" is a correspondence between reality and language has been largely abandoned. Today -- as it was in Hitler's Germany -- truth is cynically regarded as a "construct" of interpretation driven by the will to power. Literary deconstruction and fascism go hand in hand. Hegel's dialectic (i.e., the devil's logic) is still at work in the halls of power to this very day, and therefore the message of the Holocaust is a message for all of us to resist tyranny and the political forces that seek to enslave us.

Thank God - am Yisrael Chai: "The people of Israel live!"


 

Note: For more information about International Holocaust Remembrance Day, see:

Note: Please keep me in your prayers, friends. I have been downcast and struggling with various things lately. Thank you.




Parashat Beshalach - בשלח



 

01.24.10 (Shevat 9, 5770) The Torah reading for this week is parashat Beshalach, the fourth of the Book of Exodus.  Beshalach includes the famous Shirat Hayam, the "Song the Sea" (Exod. 15:1-9), a hymn of praise the Jews sang after they crossed the Red Sea and were delivered from Pharaoh's attacking army. In Jewish tradition, the Shabbat on which Beshalach is chanted is called Shabbat Shirah (שַׁבַּת שִׁירָה ), "Sabbath of the Song."

Note: If it pleases God, I will add some additional commentary to this Torah portion later this week. Please keep me in your prayers, my dear friends. Shalom for now.




Tu B'Shevat - טו בשבט


 

01.24.10 (Shevat 9, 5770) Friday January 29th at sundown (i.e., Shabbat) is Tu B'Shevat (the 15th of Shevat), the "Rosh Hashanah" (New Year) for trees, observed throughout Israel as sort of national Arbor Day. Though it occurs in January/February on our Gregorian calendar, Tu B'Shevat traditionally marks the first day of Spring in Israel (since the earliest-blooming trees begin a new fruit-bearing cycle). Often this day is commemorated by reciting a blessing, eating some of the fruit of land, and perhaps even planting a new tree. Some people even hold a Tu B'Shevat Seder to commemorate the occasion.  You can make a donation to the Jewish National Fund to have a tree planted in memory of a loved one by clicking here.




"Let there be Darkness"

Eclipse
 

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

01.21.10  (Shevat 6, 5770)  Unlike the previous eight plagues, the ninth plague (darkness) did not cause physical damage but rather blinded and immobilized the Egyptians (Exod. 10:22-23). Among the sages, the question arose as to the nature of this darkness. The following quote comes from Shemot Rabbah 14: 

    "Stretch out your hand toward heaven and let there be darkness" (Exod. 10:21). Whence did the darkness come? Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah discussed the question. Rabbi Judah said, 'From the darkness on high, as it was said: 'He made darkness his hiding place' (Psalm 18:12). Rabbi Nehemiah said, 'From the darkness of hell. As it is said, 'A land of thick darkness, as darkness itself' (Job 10:22).
     

Did the plague of darkness come as a consequence of God's Presence drawing near to Egypt (i.e., the 'darkness on high'), or was it the result of His Presence being removed (i.e., the 'darkness of hell')? In other words, did God cause the darkness to come or did He permit the forces of chaos - the powers of hell - to be unleashed for a season? 

The first kind of darkness (the 'darkness on high') represents a "cloud of unknowing," a sort of holy darkness that surrounds the glory of God. We are incapable of penetrating this darkness not only because of sin but because we are finite and limited creatures.  God is infinite and therefore inherently unknowable, at least regarding His inner life and essence, and some things about Him we will never understand or know (Isa. 55:8-9). Moses was able to "draw near to the thick darkness" on Sinai, though he only saw visions and patterns of the divine realm: he could not directly see the "face" of God and live (Exod. 33:20). As the psalmist said, יָשֶׁת חשֶׁךְ סִתְרוֹ / yashet choshekh sitro: "He puts darkness as His secret place" (Psalm 18:11). As Moses himself later wrote: הַנִּסְתָּרת לַיהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ / ha-nistarot la-Adonai Eloheinu: "the secret things belong to the LORD our God" (Deut. 29:29).

The second kind of darkness is the absence of the constraining power of light. It suggests God removing His protection and care, which allowed the powers of hell to be unleashed for a season.  Such darkness symbolizes intellectual, moral, or spiritual incomprehension. "They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days..." (Exod. 10:23).

Perhaps the answer to the original question is both: God both drew near and God withdrew from Egypt.  Though He indeed fills the heaven and the earth, the LORD is both a "God who is near" (קָרוֹב) and a "God who is far" (רָחוֹק) (Jer. 23:23-24). To those who welcome Him, the LORD gives light and freedom, but to those who recoil from Him, the LORD is a blinding power that immobilizes. While Egypt was covered in darkness for three days, "all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings" (Exod. 10:23).
 

אֲנִי יהוה וְאֵין עוֹד
יוֹצֵר אוֹר וּבוֹרֵא חשֶׁךְ
עשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם וּבוֹרֵא רָע
אֲנִי יהוה עשֶׂה כָל־אֵלֶּה

ani Adonai v'ein od
yotzeir or u'vorei choshekh
oseh shalom u'vorei ra
ani Adonai oseh khol-eleh
 

I am the LORD and there is no one else;
I form light and create darkness,
I make peace and create evil;
I the LORD do all these things.
(Isa. 45:6-7)
 

Regardless of how we might try to understand this paradox, it is clear that the moral and spiritual depravity of Egypt was so great that God judged the "world below" with the divine command: "Let there be darkness" (וִיהִי חשֶׁךְ) - a direct reversal of His very first recorded command, "Let there be light" (יְהִי אוֹר). The absence of the Divine Light suggests a hellish gloom, a realm entirely devoid of God's presence, the chaos of the world before God began fashioning it (Gen. 1:2).

This is not unlike the political conditions that appear to be operating in the world today. Modern day America has become a place of untold depravity and corruption, with moral and spiritual blindness in "high places."  Whenever the leaders of nations attempt to usurp the authority of God and enslave people, judgment from heaven is imminent: "Let there be darkness..." Among the nations, blindness and apostasy are ubiquitous.  Collectively, the powers of the world speak as Pharaoh of old: "Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice?" (Exod. 5:2). As it is written: "The kings of the earth station themselves, and the rulers take counsel against the LORD, and against His Mashiach, saying, 'Let us break the cords of their yoke and shake off their ropes from us'" (Psalm 2:2). Regarding the realm of the Spirit, dwelling in spiritual darkness is ultimately a moral choice: "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness more than the light, because their works were evil" (John 3:19). A future time of catastrophic and worldwide judgment is appointed for the End of Days. This time is drawing near, and for all the more reason we should appeal to the LORD God of Israel to preserve us as He did Israel in the land of Goshen. May the LORD help us all abide in His light, until our change finally comes (Job 14:14).
 

מִגְדַּל־עז שֵׁם יהוה בּוֹ־יָרוּץ צַדִּיק וְנִשְׂגָּב

migdal-oz shem Adonai, bo-yarutz tzaddik v'nisgav

"The Name of the LORD is a tower of strength;
the righteous one runs into it and is safe" (Prov. 18:10)
 


Note:  The idea of imminent judgment on the world may be frightening, though we are assured by God that He will never leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5, Psalm 37:28, Isa. 41:10). We are citizens of a different Kingdom and our King reigns over all the kingdoms of this world (Phil. 3:20, Rev. 11:15). He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and all the world's riches belong to Him (1 Chron. 29:11-12, Psalm 50:10). There is no fear when we are trusting in God's invincible love: φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ (1 John 4:18).




Fear Thou Not...


 

[ The following mediation is connected to this week's Torah reading (Bo).  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.19.10  (Shevat 4, 5770)  Most of understand that loving God is our essential obligation, the end or "goal" of all the other commandments, the very reason why God has spoken and why we exist.  Yeshua plainly taught that this was the point of "the law and the prophets," the rest being commentary (Matt. 7:12, Matt. 22:36-40). However, while love is the greatest commandment, you might be surprised to learn that the most frequent commandment is simply al-tirah, "Be not afraid." Over and over again in the Scriptures we hear the LORD saying to those who trust in Him, al-tirah, "be not afraid."

Of course this doesn't mean that we should pretend that evil doesn't exist or that there's no real danger in this world. No, the Scriptures are clear that such things are indeed real. There are spiritual enemies in the world and we are engaged in a genuine spiritual war. The devil walks about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). But despite these things or rather, in light of them al-tirah, "Be not afraid."

"There is no fear in perfect love," as the Apostle John wrote (1 John 4:18). If we love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19), then we find courage because of the heart He imparts to us. This was part of the very mission of the Messiah, to "deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:15). True, we are to fear the LORD, but this does not denote a cringing terror of God's judgment but rather a reverential awe as He daily condescends to be involved in our lives.

A midrash says that the Ten Plagues were needed not to convince Pharaoh that the LORD was God but rather to convince the children of Israel of God's love!  After all, without faith in that, Israel would never have ventured to leave Egypt. The same could be said of the greater Exodus given through the Cross: the suffering of Jesus was not only payment for sin but also the means to be recreated in God's love.

Sometimes God reveals His care for us in spectacular ways, but He always provides "hidden miracles" that uphold us every day. God didn't just create the universe and then remove Himself from its care: Yeshua is sustaining all things by the Word of His power at all times (Col. 1:17). Living in the light of God's Presence reveals the daily bread that comes from Heaven, but those who refuse the truth find no lasting sustenance for the world to come... We all must believe that God is making miracles for us to live and grow in this age; otherwise we are living in fear.

Nachman of Breslov once said that "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge, and the point of life is never to be afraid." Likewise we understand Yeshua to be the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He calls out to us in the storm of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). When Peter answered the call and attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt (lit., think twice)?"

We must be careful not to let the light in us become darkness (Luke 11:35). The love and acceptance of God is the answer to our fear, not the thought of being judged by Him or attempting to merit his favor through religion. God's love is our hope, and this hope gives us courage to persevere the storms of the day...

May God help us to hear Him saying, al-tirah, "Be not afraid."




Hardening of Heart...

Thutmose III
 

[ The following provides additional commentary to week's Torah reading (Bo).  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.19.10 
(Shevat 4, 5770)  The term hashgachah (הַשְׁגָּחָה) is sometimes used to refer to God's providential decrees.  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 "butterfly effect" apart from His hand.

In Jewish theology, there is elaborate discussion about how God's decrees (gezerah merosh) do not violate man's free will (bechirah chofshit). 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" (Pirke Avot 3:19).

 

Though this idea of reconciling God's omniscience and human freedom may seem paradoxical, the Scriptures actually go further and state that God's decrees can overrule human decision entirely. "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He directs it to whatever He wishes" (Prov. 21:1).

During the account of the Exodus, in several places the Torah says that the LORD "hardened Pharaoh's heart" (וַיְחַזֵּק יהוה אֶת־לֵב פַּרְעה) so that he would not change his mind and set the Israelites free.  How do we make sense of this idea? Does this imply that people do not have free will (בְּחִירָת חָפְשִׁית) after all?

The midrash (Shemot Rabbah) notes that God indeed hardened Pharaoh's heart, but only after the despot had already hardened it by refusing the message of the first five plagues (Exod. 7:22, 8:15, 8:19, 8:32, 9:7). After the sixth plague, however, the text reads, "And the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart" / וַיְחַזֵּק יהוה אֶת־לֵב פַּרְעה (Exod. 9:12). Notice that the word "hardened" comes from chazak (strong), suggesting that Pharaoh's will was made more resolute, defiant and obstinate.

Such hardening of heart is a form of punishment (or correction). If someone refuses to submit to God and strengthens his or her resolve to do so, God may ratify the person's decision and foreclose repentance for a season...  As Shemot Rabbah 13:5 says:

    The Holy One, blessed be He, gives someone a chance to repent, and not only one opportunity but several chances: once, twice, three times. But then, if the person still has not repented, God locks the person's heart altogether, cutting off the possibility of repentance in the future.

    Amenhotep II
     

Proverbs 28:14 says, "Happy is the man who fears always, but the one who hardens his heart will fall into evil."  If we find ourselves opposing God, our punishment might be prolonged through the process of hardening. This is the phenomenological aspect of our own inward rebellion.  Often we are not conscious of it within ourselves, and then -- when we are made conscious -- we find ourselves helpless to change our direction. The sages wrote, "God leads men along a path which they themselves choose. If a man wants to be good, God leads him toward goodness; if he wants to travel an evil road, God helps him do that, too."  "The heart of a man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps" /  לֵב אָדָם יְחַשֵּׁב דַּרְכּוֹ וַיהוה יָכִין צַעֲדוֹ (Prov. 16:9).

What the sages perhaps overlooked is that the hardening of heart can eventually lead to a sense of brokenness and despair -- i.e., the realization that the strength of own self-sufficiency is proven to be of no avail.  Turning to the LORD in despair of ourselves is a mark of humility. When we are emptied of ourselves, we are delivered from pride and thereby enabled to confess our need for God's help... This is a miracle, since most of us have "a little Pharaoh inside," clamoring that we be the center of our universe and refusing to submit to the Presence of the LORD...


 

Finally, it should be remembered that the Apostle Paul addressed this very question in the Book of Romans (chapter 9). When discussing God's sovereign election of Israel, Paul quoted the prophet Malachi who wrote, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:13, Mal. 1:2-3). This, of course, refers back to the ancient struggle within Rebecca's womb, the prophecy that the "elder shall serve the younger," and the blessing Jacob received from Isaac (see parashat Toldot). Though Esau and Jacob were not yet born and had done neither good nor bad, God sovereignly chose Jacob to be the recipient of the divine blessing (Rom. 9:11). Paul anticipates the objection that God's love seems rather arbitrary by rhetorically asking whether God is unfair in this matter of election (ἐκλογὴν). By no means, he insists, and refers back to the revelation of the Divine Name given to Moses (Exod. 33:19): "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). "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy." Paul then applies this principle to the case of Pharaoh by quoting Exodus 9:16, a verse from this week's Torah: "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."


 

Paul anticipates the problem of our self-sufficiency (i.e., "hardheartedness") in this matter. Again he rhetorically asks, "Why does God still find fault? For who can resist his will?"  In other words, if God hardens a person's heart, how can God find fault with the person's hardened condition?  Paul then quotes the prophet Isaiah: "Woe to him who strives with him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots! Does the clay say to him who forms it, 'What are you making?' (Isa. 45:9). In other words, it is the prerogative of the Divine "Potter" to use the same "lump of clay" to create some people for "honored use" and others for "dishonorable use." If God wants to show his wrath and make His power known to some people (as He did with Pharaoh) for the purpose of making His glorious mercy known to others (as He did with Israel), then that is His business.  But for those who are called, both Jew and non-Jew, this constitutes a glorious promise: "Those who were not my people (Lo-Ammi) I will call 'my people' (Ammi Attah) and her who was not beloved (Lo-Ruchama) I will call 'beloved'.  And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people' (Lo-Ammi attah) there they will be called 'sons of the living God' (b'nei El-chai)" (Rom. 9:25-26; cp. Hos. 2:23, Hos. 1:10).

God has always had a remnant of Israel (she'arit Yisrael) that were His own; just as He has chosen some among the Gentiles to become part of His glorious kingdom of the redeemed. Both groups are sovereignly "grafted into" the Olive Tree of Israel, made "one new man" in Messiah, and are co-heirs of God's glory. 


 

Inclusion in the Kingdom turns on our heart's response to Yeshua the Messiah, the true Lamb of God (seh ha-Elohim). Yeshua came and shed His blood on the cross so that we can partake of the greater Exodus from slavery to this world and bondage to sin. We apply the blood to the "door posts" of our heart through faith, thereby escaping the Angel of death and wrath of God (2 Cor. 5:21, John 3:36). Paul again quotes the prophet Isaiah: "Thus says the Lord God, 'Behold, I am the one who is laying as a foundation (יְסוֹד) in Zion, a stone (אֶבֶן), a tested stone (אֶבֶן בּחַן), a precious cornerstone (פִּנַּת יִקְרַת), of a sure foundation: The one who believes (הַמַּאֲמִין) will not be in haste (i.e. will not panic or fear)" (Isa. 28:16, cp. Rom. 9:33). Yeshua is Rosh Pinnah (ראשׁ פִּנָּה) - the chief cornerstone of God's Temple made without hands (John 2:21). Those who belong to Him are called out from the world by the Father Himself (John 10:27-30; 15:16). Salvation is a gift of God, not based on personal merits -- just as it was given to the Jews in Egypt (Eph. 2:8; Titus 3:5). In the case of the Israelites in Egypt, God dramatically intervened, instituted the Passover, and the people were delivered. All this was meant to foreshadow the greater deliverance that would include the entire world: God intervened, died on the cross, and gives spiritual deliverance to all who call on His Name. Paul later quotes the prophet Joel, כּל אֲשֶׁר־יִקְרָא בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה יִמָּלֵט / "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved" (Rom. 10:13, cp. Joel 2:32). The Lord is Yeshua - YHVH in the flesh - King of the Jews.

I began this discussion with the question of what the Torah means when it says that "God hardened Pharaoh's heart." After looking at some traditional Jewish views on the subject, I considered the Apostle Paul, surely the greatest Torah sage of his day, and his words in Romans 9.  In light of the Torah, Paul understood the Exodus and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart as part of God's greater sovereign plan for the ages, especially for ethnic Israel.  Paul was unapologetically a believer in divine election (ἐκλογὴν) and predestination (προορίζω), though these concepts were broadened to make room for the Gentiles who trust in the Jewish Messiah.  In the end, there will be one Olive Tree, one Israel, one flock, one people of God -- though in terms of human history, this plan is still being worked out.... The "church" constitutes those who are grafted into the original covenantal blessings and promises given to Israel.

So what application does this all have for those of us of faith? What existential difference does this make?  Well, primarily this is a matter of the heart before God. If you are someone who genuinely trusts in Yeshua and His salvation, then you can be assured that you were personally chosen by God Himself to be part of His family.  You are now a child of the Living God.  You are partaker of Israel: you share the Jewish heritage with the great Jews of history. Most importantly, you can rest in His love and grace and kindness toward you....  Please, for the sake of Messiah, accept that you are accepted.

Intuitively we believe in the utter sovereignty of God.  Whenever we confess the Shema and rightfully regard the LORD as the Master of the Universe, we confess that He is the Authority of the universe. When we are on our knees, we confess that God alone sustains all things by the Word of His power (Col. 1:17). We realize that our heartbeat, our breathing, indeed, our very thoughts and words are the result of God's will alone. "Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether" (Psalm 139:4). "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him," said Jesus.

 

Here's a pop-quiz question for you. Was Abraham a Jew or a Gentile?  He was a Gentile, of course, before he became a Jew. It was brit milah (circumcision) - literally the "Covenant of the Word" (בּרית מילה) - that transformed him into being a Jew. Abraham is also called the father of a multitude, and those who trust in the Mashiach are named among his descendants (Gal. 3:7). A Jew (יְהוּדִי) is one who praises (יָדָה) God in the truth, not merely someone who was born of Jewish parents (Rom 2:29). Circumcision itself foreshadowed a deeper work of the Holy Spirit given to those who would become members of the new and better covenant (Col. 2:11, Heb. 8:6). The issue of salvation centers on Yeshua and your relationship to Him... All other matters are secondary.

Time is short. If you have not already done so, I urge you to call upon the Name of the LORD Yeshua to be saved.... Whether you were born a Jew or not, eternal salvation comes solely through His Name (Acts 4:12).




Parashat Bo - בא


 

[ The following explores some things in week's Torah reading (Bo).  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

01.17.10 
(Shevat 2, 5770)  The Torah reading for this week is parashat Bo, the third of the Book of Exodus.  In this portion of Torah, we arrive at the glorious conclusion of the LORD's campaign to free Israel from bondage in Egypt.  The redemption through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb is the climactic point of the narrative, which immediately follows the outpouring of God's wrath in the form of the ten plagues.  The word בּא ("go") and פרעה ("Pharoah") together equal the gematria of משׁיח ("mashiach"), providing a hint of the coming Messianic redemption that was foreshadowed in Egypt.

Regarding the sequence of the plagues, Rabbi Bechaye (11th century, Spain) wrote that they followed one another over a twelve-month period.  On Nisan 15 God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and commissioned him to go to Pharaoh. On Nisan 21, Moses told his father-in-law Yitro (Jethro) of his mission and left for Egypt.  Near the end of the month of Nisan, Moses immediately went before Pharaoh and warned him to release the Jews.  For the next three months (Iyyar, Sivan, and Tammuz), Moses went into hiding. The plague of blood began on the first of Av and lasted seven days. A respite of three weeks occurred before the next plague (frogs). This was the pattern for all the ten plagues (i.e., roughly a week-long plague for each month). The last plague - that of the death of the firstborn - occurred in the month of Nisan, a year after Moses first warned Pharaoh (Exod. 4:22-23). The period of the plagues therefore totaled twelve months (Tzenah Urenah).

The story of Yetziat Mitzraim (the Exodus from Egypt) is to be retold to every generation, and its lessons are to be applied to every age and place.  Hence the Passover Seder and its focus on the needs of children.  The Hebrew word for "education" is chinukh, a word that shares the same root as the word "chanukah" (חֲנֻכָּה, dedication). We "tell the story so that we may know" that the LORD is God (Exod. 10:2).  Education is ultimately devotional. God called the people of Israel to cleave to Him and walk in His ways....

The first commandment given to the nation of Israel (as opposed to patriarchs or individual leaders such as Moses and Aaron) was that of Rosh Chodashim (i.e., the Biblical New Year that begins on the first new moon of Spring). "This month shall be the beginning of months for you" / הַחדֶשׁ הַזֶּה לָכֶם ראשׁ חֳדָשִׁים (Exod. 12:2). Our corporate identity therefore begins with a shared consciousness of time from a Divine perspective. The mo'edim (festivals of the LORD) all are reckoned based on the sacred calendar given to the redeemed Israelite nation. As the psalmist declared: "He made the moon for the appointed times" / עָשָׂה יָרֵחַ לְמוֹעֲדִים (Psalm 104:19). Yeshua followed this calendar, as did His first followers.

Parashat Bo begins with the LORD commanding Moses to go (bo) before Pharaoh to announce further apocalyptic judgments upon Egypt. The purpose of this power encounter was to vindicate God's justice and power (deliverance/salvation) by overthrowing the tyranny of unjust human oppression.  Pharaoh's nightmare of "one little lamb" outweighing all the firstborn of Egypt was to be fulfilled. 


 

According to midrash, the plague of darkness (i.e, the last plague before the death of the firstborn) lasted six days. During the first three days, the land was dark and it was difficult to breathe.  The stars were not visible. During the last three days, the darkness became "thick" and severe.  If a person were sitting, he couldn't stand up, and it he were standing, he couldn't sit down. Many "Egyptianized" Israelites who did not want to escape from Egypt with their brothers also died during this plague.  Why not seven days of plague, like the previous judgments?  The seventh day was reserved for the time when the Egyptians pursued the Israelites at the Sea of Reeds....

Before the LORD administered the final plague - the dreaded makkat bechorot (death of the firstborn) - he instructed Moses to "please ask the Israelites to borrow from the Egyptians gold and silver..." (Exod. 11:12). According to the sages, this request was made so that God's promise made to Abraham would be fulfilled (i.e., that his descendants would escape from their bondage and afterwards come out with great possessions (Gen. 15:13-14)). According to midrash, when Moses announced the final plague, all the firstborn of Egypt gathered and demanded that the Israelites be set free. "Let the people go, for all that Moses speaks is fulfilled." The firstborn then began striking their fathers and took their jewels, silver, gold, etc. -- which they then entrusted to Moses.  On the night they were killed by the plague, Moses was left with their wealth.  The booty taken by the Israelites was regarded as uncollected wages for hundreds of years of forced labor.

The blood of the korban Pesach - the Passover lamb - was to be smeared on the two sides and top of the doorway, resembling the shape of the letter Chet.  This letter, signifying the number 8, is connected with the word חי (chai), short for chayim (life). The blood of the lamb (דַּם הַשֶּׂה) not only saves from the judgment of death, but also is a symbol of divine life:


 

At the very moment when God "passed over" the houses of the Israelites, all the idols of the Egyptians were destroyed. According to the Zohar, the Passover lamb was intended to demonstrate the inadequacy of the Egyptian sheep god (Khnum).

Khnum sheep god - wealth
 

The bones of the sacrificed lamb were to be left unbroken and then thrown outside. The Egyptians would then see the bones of their "god" being chewed by dogs....

The Kingdom of Heaven is not the same as the kingdom of man. Judgment is coming upon the world, as it was in the days of Pharaoh. It's just a matter of time... The greater question is whether you are accounted as part of redeemed Israel or as part of the corrupt world system.




Rosh Chodesh & the World to Come


 

[ Note: Since this week's Sabbath occurs on the "new moon," it is customary for an additional Torah reading to be read during services: "At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the LORD" (Num. 28:11). In addition, the last chapter of the Book of Isaiah is read (as the Haftarah) because it mentions the new moon celebrations that will be observed by the entire world after the Messiah returns to establish the Kingdom of God on the earth. ]

01.14.10 
(Tevet 28, 5770)  When King Solomon first dedicated the Holy Temple, he acknowledged the LORD's transcendence over all things: "Can God really dwell on earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven (הַשָּׁמַיִם וּשְׁמֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם) cannot contain You, how much less this House that I have built!" (1 Kings 8:27). Likewise, in our Haftarah portion, the LORD says: הַשָּׁמַיִם כִּסְאִי וְהָאָרֶץ הֲדם רַגְלָי / "Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool"; אֵי־זֶה בַיִת אֲשֶׁר תִּבְנוּ־לִי / "Where is this house you will build for Me?"; אֵי־זֶה מָקוֹם מְנוּחָתִי / "Where is this place of My rest?" (Isa. 66:1). As the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the LORD is the Ground of all being and existence. The LORD is constantly "carrying all things" (φέρων τὰ πάντα) by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3).

The medieval commentator Radak states that the LORD is here interrogating the wicked who make a pretense of serving God: "Do you imagine that your temple is large enough to accommodate Me, the Creator of the Universe? Your idea about Who I am is woefully inadequate. Your "god" is too small and resembles a powerless idol...  I reject your insincere rituals and regard them as idolatrous. Though I am great beyond your reckoning, I abide with those who are humble and contrite in spirit, with those who tremble at my word (Isa. 66:2). How dare you offer sacrifices to Me, while you constantly oppress the weak!" God does not care about splendid buildings, religious ceremonies, "church" programs, etc., as much as He desires that people walk justly, act humbly and live in awe of Him (Micah 6:8).

Those who offer the prescribed sacrifices but whose heart is insincere are as offensive as those who murder people or pour pig's blood upon the holy altar (Isa. 66:3). Because they have chosen their own ways and not the way of truth, God will choose for them a state of delusion and bring their fears upon them (i.e., the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians; Isa. 66:4). Those who mock the true worshippers by saying, "Let the LORD be manifest so we can see your joy" shall be put to open shame (Isa. 66:5).

Despite the imminent destruction of Zion at the hands of the Babylonians, Isaiah foresees a great future for the Jewish people and for Zion. Using the metaphor of a mother painlessly giving birth, the prophet describes the sudden redemption and rebirth of the Jewish people in the End of Days.  Jerusalem will one day again become the praise of the earth, the center of God's redemptive activity.  God is likened to a Mother who comforts her newborn children (Isa. 66:13). The people of Israel will be reborn and comforted (Rom. 11:26)!

After this, Isaiah describes the punishment of the enemies of God who plot a final campaign against the Jewish People in the battle of Gog and Magog. The LORD will then return in glory as an Avenger to pour out indignation upon His enemies (Isa. 66:14-17). "See, the LORD is coming with fire -- His chariots are like a whirlwind -- to vent His anger in fury, His rebuke in flaming fire." Many shall be the slain of the LORD (Isa. 66:16). God will then gather all the nations and they shall come and behold His glory (Isa. 66:18). This pertains to the Second Coming of the Messiah after the Great Tribulation period, the "time of Jacob's trouble." The survivors of this great battle will be sent out as emissaries to declare the glory of the LORD God of Israel and to bring back the remnant of Jews left in their dispersion among the nations (Isa. 66:19-20). Some of these non-Jewish emissaries will be made priests and Levites to serve in the Temple that the Messiah will rebuild in the Millennial Kingdom (Isa. 66:21, Zech. 6:12-13). As the prophet Jeremiah attests: "At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imaginations of their evil heart" (Jer. 3:17).

 

The Haftarah closes with the gathering of all nations to behold the glory and truth of the LORD God of Israel.  And just as the promise of a new heaven and a new earth is sure, so the Jewish people are assured to remain forever (Isa. 66:22). In the Messianic Kingdom, on each Shabbat and on each Rosh Chodesh, all of humanity will come to Jerusalem to bow before the LORD God of Israel and to worship Him alone (Isa. 66:23). As they leave, they will look on the corpses of the people who rebelled during the Great Tribulation period. "For their worm will never die, and their fire will never be quenched; but they will be abhorrent to all humanity" (Isa. 66:24). Jewish tradition restates part of verse 23 in order to end the Book of Isaiah on a positive: "Every month on Rosh Chodesh and every week on Shabbat, everyone living will come to worship in my presence," says the LORD.

The New Moon is called in Hebrew nolad (נולד) a "newborn," and therefore foretells of the inevitable rebirth of the Jewish people and the centrality of Jerusalem at the End of Days.  "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great king" (Psalm 48:2). On Rosh Chodesh most synagogues recite "Hallel" (Psalms 113-118), which includes the great vision of all the nations of the earth coming before the LORD in the Messianic Kingdom:
 

הַלְלוּ אֶת־יהוה כָּל־גּוֹיִם
שַׁבְּחוּהוּ כָּל־הָאֻמִּים׃
כִּי גָבַר עָלֵינוּ חַסְדּוֹ
וֶאֱמֶת־יהוה לְעוֹלָם
הַלְלוּ־יָהּ׃

halelu et-Adonai kol-goyim
shabchuhu kol-ha'umim
ki gavar aleinu chasdo
ve'emet-Adonai le'olam
halelu-yah

Praise the LORD, all you nations;
extol Him, all you peoples,
for great is His loyal love toward us;
the truth of the LORD endures forever.
Halleluyah! (Psalm 117)
 


Postscript: There are several different "Temples" of the LORD described in the Scriptures. First there is the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle), the pattern of which Moses received in visions at Mount Sinai (Exod. 25-40). King David later extrapolated from this original design the concept of the "First Temple," which his son Solomon later constructed at Moriah (2 Chron. 3:1). After the First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC (2 Chron. 36:18-19), it was rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Joshua as the "Second Temple" (Ezra 5:1-2). This Temple was later refurbished by Herod during the time of the Messiah Yeshua but was later destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD (Matt. 24:1-2). There is yet to come a "Third Temple" (i.e., the Tribulation Temple) which the Messiah of evil will desecrate in the End of Days (2 Thess. 2:3-4, Rev. 11:1-2), and a "Fourth Temple" (i.e., the Temple described in Ezekiel 40-48 that will be set up during the reign of the Messiah in olam haba). It should be noted that Yeshua metaphorically referred to His body as the Temple (John 2:19-21), and his followers are collectively regarded as members of this Temple (Eph. 2:19-22, 1 Cor. 6:19-20). Note further that some Christian theologians do not believe that a Fourth Temple will be literally built by the Messiah, though this conclusion is usually derived by "allegorizing" the words of the prophets and by regarding the church as "Israel."


Personal Update: I once again ask for your prayers, chaverim. I've been taking some heavy antibiotics due to a medical issue the last few weeks, and I am still not well.  I am trying to add some probiotics to my diet now since my stomach really hurts.  It's been difficult to focus on my writing.  Your prayers for this ministry are deeply appreciated.




Chesed and Sacrifice


 

01.12.10  (Tevet 26, 5770)  One of my favorite Hebrew words is chesed (חֶסֶד), a word that refers to God's loyal love for His people. This word was first translated using the word eleos (ἔλεος) in the ancient Greek translation of the Tanakh (i.e., the Septuagint) and was later translated as misercordia in Latin. Chesed finally ended up as the word "mercy" in English, at least in the King James Version (KJV). This is somewhat unfortunate, however, since the word "mercy" does not adequately define the scope of this Hebrew word.  For example, Psalm 136 repeats the refrain, כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ / ki le'olam chasdo, usually translated, "For His mercy endures forever." But the idea of praising God for His mercy when he killed the firstborn sons of Egypt (136:10), overthrew Pharaoh's armies (136:15), and killed various kings (136:17-18) sounds a bit strange, especially since in English "mercy" means not getting what you deserve, i.e., showing compassion and forgiveness toward those who have offended you. If we keep in mind that chesed refers to God's faithful love to those who are in covenant relationship with Him, these refrains make more sense. Indeed, God's chesed is the motive for His deliverance of Israel from her enemies -- as well as for His redemptive actions performed on their behalf.  Those who respond to God and are in a genuine relationship with Him are called chasidim (חֲסָדִים), "faithful" or "loyal" ones. Acts of love in service to God are called gemilut chasadim (גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים).

To see how this makes a difference, consider how the Pharisees attempted to rebuke Yeshua because He allowed his disciples to "pluck grain" on the Sabbath (Matt. 12:1-7). "Look! Your followers are violating the laws of Shabbat!"  Yeshua responded to his legalistic critics by reminding them that: 1) King David entered into the Holy Place of the Tabernacle and ate "showbread" - despite the law's clear prohibition of doing so, 2) the priests themselves were ordained by God to work on the Sabbath and yet were regarded as blameless, and [therefore] 3) since both King David and the priests acted in chesed (i.e., loyal love for others), the Pharisees should have understood Yeshua's purpose for doing so as well. Indeed, Yeshua pointed out that His mission as the Redeemer of Israel transcended even the laws of the Temple itself (Matt. 12:6). In other words, love for people is more important that mere "rule following behavior," regardless of whether it's written in the Torah or not!   There are "weightier matters" of the law, and these concern the practice of love (i.e., gemilut chasadim: גְּמִילוּת חֲסָדִים). King David was no sinner when he "broke the law" for the love of his friends, no more than Yeshua was when He healed people on the Sabbath day. Yeshua repeatedly said: "I desire mercy (ἔλεος) and not sacrifice" (Matt. 12:7) -- directly quoting Hosea 6:6: כִּי חֶסֶד חָפַצְתִּי וְלא־זָבַח / "I desire chesed and not sacrifice." Walking in love toward others is more important than the various laws and statues governing the operation of the altar of the Temple (and by extension, all of the "less weighty" commandments written in the Torah of Moses). Love trumps the technicalities of the law, and indeed, the law is intended to serve the greater purposes of love...

God's love is the goal or end of the Torah.  The Talmud (Makkot 23b-24a) says, "Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isa. 33:15-16), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah reduced them again to two (Isa. 56:1); but it was Habakkuk who gave the one essential commandment: v'tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh, literally, "the righteous, by his faithfulness - shall live" (Hab. 2:4). In the New Testament, the apostle Paul had (earlier) distilled the various commandments of the Torah to this same principle of faith (Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, and Heb. 10:38). Yeshua reduced the Torah to the practice of chesed: "Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12, John 15:10, 1 John 5:2-3; etc.).
 

 יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יהוה עָלֵינוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ׃

yehi-chasdekha Adonai aleinu ka'asher yichalnu lakh

May your chesed, O LORD, be upon us, as we hope in You (Psalm 33:22)

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Revelation of the Name YHVH



 

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

01.11.10 
(Tevet 25, 5770)  The Torah reading for this week is parashat Va'era, the second portion of the Book of Exodus.  It begins:

    God (אֱלהִים) spoke to Moses and said to him, "I am the LORD (יהוה). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai (אל שׁדּי), but by My Name the LORD (יהוה) I did not make myself known to them" (Exod. 6:2-3).

 
This is a puzzling statement, especially since it is apparent that each of the avot (i.e., the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) called upon the Name of the LORD (see Gen. 12:7-8, 26:25; 28:16, 32:9, 49:18, etc.). Traditionally understood, the sacred Name (YHVH) reveals God's attributes of compassion and immanence, whereas the name Elohim reveals God's attributes of justice and transcendence. According to most of the sages, the Name YHVH is directly revealed in God's compassionate redemptive activity, especially as it relates to Exodus from Egypt. Indeed, consider how the phrase, "I AM THE LORD" (אֲנִי יְהוָה) is directly connected to God's personal revelation and deliverance given to the enslaved Israelites (Exod. 6:6-8):

  1. "I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה). I will free you (hotzeti) from the burdens (sevalot) of the Egyptians." Note that according to midrash the oppression and slavery stopped on Rosh Hashanah, six months before the Exodus that occurred on Nisan 15. The word translated "burdens" can also refer to "tolerance," "acceptance" or "dragging along," i.e., the psychological state of being a slave (Exod. 16:3). The LORD would free the people not only from physical bondage but also from regarding themselves as slaves.
  2. "I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה). I will deliver you (hitzalti) from their bondage." This refers to the physical drawing out, snatching away, and escape of Israel from the clutches of Egypt.
  3. "I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה). I will redeem you (ga'aliti) with an outstretched arm and great judgments." This refers to the ten plagues and especially the Passover sacrifice.
  4. "I will take you (lakachti) to be My people, and I will be your God.  And you shall know that I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD (וִידַעְתֶּם כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם) who freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians." This refers to the adoption of Israel as God's particular nation and the giving of the Torah at Sinai.
  5. "I will bring you (heveti) into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession. I AM THE LORD (אֲנִי יְהוָה)." This refers to the eventual conquest of the land of Canaan and the original covenant promise made to Abraham that his descendants would inherit this land forever.
     

In this regard the patriarchs did not directly experience the "greater power of YHVH," even though they indeed knew His Name.  The Name El Shaddai (as I've written about before) refers to God's sufficiency and care for the fledgling nation, that is, to the families of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Though the first patriarchs called upon the Name of the LORD, they did not directly experience his revelation and saving acts since these were uniquely given to Moses (and to the Israelites) at the time of the Exodus.

It is interesting to note that when Moses and Aaron came to the elders of Israel to announce this news, the Torah reports that the Israelites did not listen to them because of "shortness of breath" (מִקּצֶר רוּחַ). Part of the reason for this (besides the cruel bondage and hard labor imposed on them) was that the Israelites did not know how to calculate the duration of their 400 year exile (as was prophesied to Abraham during brit bein ha-besarim, "the covenant between the parts" in Genesis 15:12-14). According to midrash, 30,000 members of the tribe of Ephraim tried to escape from Egypt some 30 years before the redemption but were all killed by the Philistines (Shemot Rabbah, 20:11). Many of the Israelites then began to lose hope and accept their status as perpetual slaves...


 

There is an old story of the Magid of Brisk who each year would bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah would come that year. Once a certain Torah student asked him, "Rabbi, every year you bring proof from the Torah that the Messiah must come that year, and yet he does not come. Why bother doing this every year, if you see that Heaven ignores you?" The Magid replied, "The law states that if a son sees his father doing something improper, he is not permitted to humiliate him but must say to him, 'Father, the Torah states thus and so.' Therefore we must tell God, who is our Father, that by keeping us in long exile, he is, in a sense, causing injustice to us, and we must point out, "thus and so it is written in the Torah," in hope that this year he might redeem us." This same principle, of course, applies to those of us who are living in exile and who eagerly await the second coming of the Messiah Yeshua. We should continue asking God to send Him speedily, and in our day, chaverim...

During their initial encounter with Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron said, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel (אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל), 'Let my people go..." But Pharaoh replied, "Who is the LORD (יהוה) that I should obey him? (Exod. 5:2). The Talmud (Chillin 89a) states that God said to Israel, "I love you because even when I bestow greatness upon you, you humble yourselves before me. I bestowed greatness upon Abraham, but he said to me, 'I am mere dust and ashes'  (Gen. 18:27). I did the same to Moses and Aaron, but they said, 'We are nothing' (Exod. 16:8). But the heathen react differently. I bestowed greatness on Pharaoh, and he said, 'Who is the LORD that I should obey Him?'

In the case of Pharaoh (and all those who harden their hearts in pride), God's attribute of mercy (YHVH) is revealed as the attribute of justice (Elohim), whereas for the Israelites (and those who humble themselves), God's attribute of justice would be revealed as the attribute of mercy...  When we bless the LORD we "bend" (barekh) our knees before Him. "The prayers of the tzaddikim (righteous) turns Hashem's mind from the attribute of strict justice to the quality of mercy" (Ibn Ezra, Sotah 14).

The Hebrew word Va'era (וארא) means "I appeared" and has a numerical value of 208, the same value as the name Yitzchak (יצחק). This suggests a connection between the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) and the redemption (גְּאֻלָּה) of YHVH that culminated in the original Passover ritual given in Egypt.  The ultimate Passover sacrifice of Yeshua as the Lamb of God finally and forever reconciled the attributes of God as Elohim (justice, holiness, transcendence) and God as YHVH (mercy, love, compassion).  Only at the Cross of Yeshua at Moriah may it be said: חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ - "mercy and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10).

Recall from last week's Torah (Shemot) how the midwives "feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but kept the male children alive" (Exod. 1:17). Later, despite the persecution and bondage of the Israelites, the Torah notes that because the midwives did so, "God made them houses" (וַיַּעַשׂ לָהֶם בָּתִּים, Exod. 1:21). The sages note that when someone fears a person, they cannot remain calm, because fear is the opposite of being calm. But the fear of Heaven (yirat shamayim) brings calm to the soul. Because they feared God, "He made them houses," implying calm. The fear of heaven eliminates the fear of Pharaoh and his decrees... During the cataclysmic judgments of God upon Egypt, the Israelites dwelt safely in Goshen. Likewise, today we can direct our fear to the proper Source -- thereby finding peace and saftey in the midst of the judgments coming upon the princes of this world... Yeshua prepares a place for us, chaverim....

Note: Tomorrow I hope to add some commentary about the very important Haftarah reading for this week's Torah portion. Shalom for now, chaverim.




Rosh Chodesh Shevat Torah Readings


 

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

01.11.10  (Tevet 25, 5770)  Since this week's Sabbath occurs on the "new moon" of Shevat (see below), an additional Torah reading (maftir) is read after the regular Torah portion. This additional reading describes the special Rosh Chodesh offerings given at the Tabernacle: "At the beginnings of your months, you shall offer a burnt offering to the LORD" (Num. 28:11). In addition, a different Haftarah portion (Isaiah 66) is also read for this Sabbath. This last chapter of the Book of Isaiah foretells of a great pilgrimage to Jerusalem after the End of Days, when Yeshua will be reigning upon the earth as Israel's Savior and Messiah: "From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD" (Isa. 66:23).


Mishneh Torah

The month of Shevat (שְׁבָט) is the eleventh month of the Jewish calendar counting from the month of Nisan (Zech. 1:7), though on the civil calendar, Shevat is the fifth month (counting from the month of Tishri).

According to Jewish tradition, Moses began his summary of the Torah (i.e., Mishneh Torah, or the sermon recorded in Book of Deuteronomy) on the first day of this month. The sages therefore associated the 1st of Shevat with the holiday of Shavuot (i.e., the sixth of Sivan), since on both these dates God appealed to Israel to receive the message of the Torah.


 


Tu B'Shevat - New Years for Trees

The "Rosh Hashanah for Trees" occurs on the 15th of Shevat (i.e., טו בשבט, Tu B'Shevat), which this year falls on Friday, Jan. 29th at sundown. The 15th of Shevat was originally the date selected when tithes (ma'aser) from fruit trees were due to be given to the priests, though now it is observed throughout Israel as a sort of national Arbor Day. It is customary to eat a new fruit from the Land of Israel on this date and to recite the Shehecheyanu blessing. Since the Torah alludes that human life is like "the tree of the field," i.e., כִּי הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, Deut. 20:19), some of the sages mark the fifteenth of Shevat as sort of mystical holiday as well.
 




Empathy...

Marc Chagall - Jeremiah Weeps detail
 

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

01.11.10 
(Tevet 25, 5770)  I mentioned earlier that the Hebrew word va'era (וארא) means "I appeared" and has a numerical value of 208, the same value as the name Yitzchak (יצחק). This suggests a connection between the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac) and the redemption (גְּאֻלָּה) of YHVH that culminated in the original Passover ritual given in Egypt. The story of yetziat mitzraim (יְצִיאַת מִצְרַיִם) -- the Exodus from Egypt -- reveals the glory of God's great empathy for His people... How much more do we experience God's great empathy through the sacrificial life of His Son, Yeshua?

There is an old Chassidic story of two men sitting and enjoying a drink together.  One of them then says to the other, "You know, you're my best friend. I really love you, brother!" The other man responds, "Oh yeah?  If you really love me, tell me where I hurt..."

The point of this simple story is that we can't really say we love someone without taking the time to know them -- and that means knowing how they suffer. Most of us are suffering, of course, but are we able to transcend our own pain to genuinely empathize with others? Conversely, how many people do we trust enough to to confide our own pains and heartaches?  The Law of Messiah (תוֹרת המשׁיח) is to bear one another's burdens (τα βαρη, "weights," Gal. 6:2), and that means making ourselves vulnerable -- and making room inside our hearts for the vulnerability of others. James tells us that personal healing comes from confessing outwardly (εξομολογεισθε) our sins (τας αμαρτιας) to one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16). Of course it's humbling to acknowledge our sins, our failures, and our hurts to another, but without an audience for the inner voice of our pain, we suffer all the more...

If someone loves us, they will know "where we hurt"; and if we love them, we will know where they hurt, too. This same principle can also be applied to our relationship to Yeshua...  We take comfort that Yeshua sticks closer to us than a brother, interceding on our behalf and "knowing where we hurt."  But if we say that we love him, are we are not claiming that we know him and "where he hurts?" Does Yeshua suffer today?  The Apostle Paul wrote: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col. 1:24). What is "lacking in Christ's afflictions" is our present sacrifice for the sake of others... Yeshua hungers with those who are hungry, thirsts with those who are thirsty, feels loneliness with those who are abandoned, shivers with those who are cold, weeps with those who are forlorn, is imprisoned with those who are incarcerated, is sick with those who are ill, and so on (Matt. 25:31-ff). Yeshua feels the pain of even the "least of these my brothers." This is where he hurts, chaverim...

The essential difference between the righteous and the unrighteous is revealed in their response shown to those in need. After all, on the Day of Judgment, both the righteous and the unrighteous will account for their choices in light of the selfsame needy and pain-riddled world.  The destiny of each person will be determined by whether he or she took the time to genuinely engage the suffering of others... May the LORD help us to share His heart and passion for a lost and hurting world.

Addendum: Time is short, chaverim... We cannot afford the "luxury" of resentment to dwell within our hearts any longer.  Very soon the wheat will be separated from the chaff.... Yeshua is coming soon! If you haven't experienced the miracle of new life in the Messiah, I appeal to you to turn to Him and ask Him for the gift of salvation today.




The Gift of Life...

Family pictures, Jan 2009
 

01.08.10  (Tevet 22, 5770)  When I look into the eyes of my two sons, I'm sometimes reminded of a quote from Abraham Heschel: "Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. To get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.... Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be filled with wonder."

Indeed, nothing is trivial. There are no inconsequential moments of life.  Every thought, feeling, and decision we make is an irrepeatable venture.  As it is written, "We live once, and then we face judgment" (Heb. 9:27). Wonder, significance, worth, value -- all come from seeing with a "good eye" (ayin tovah). It is faith that gives life to the understanding, not the other way around.  Faith sees the miracle: "Let it be done for you as you have believed"(Matt. 8:13), and yet faith itself is poignant and often difficult in light of suffering (Mark 9:24). Life in olam hazeh (this world) is inherently paradoxical: Everything passes and everything matters; everything turns to dust and everything is of infinite value and importance.

An old chassidic tale says that every person should walk through life with two notes, one in each pocket. On one note should be the words, אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר / anokhi afar ve'efer -- "I am but dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27).  On the other note should be the words:  בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם / bishvili nivra ha'olam -- "For my sake was this world created." 

We can only appreciate the gift of this life in light of God and eternity. Ironically, those who worship (i.e., absolutize) the world can neither truly love nor know it, since such a world literally does not exist -- it's an illusion, a vanity, a fiction of mind. The same is true of the inward "world" of the soul.  Making the ego our ultimate concern invariably leads to self-destruction.  It's only when we "give up the world" in the light of the redemptive love of Yeshua that we are able to find (εὑρίσκω) our souls (Matt. 16:25). Those who refuse to "pass through" this world - that is, those who absolutize their life here - ultimately find only disappointment. This world is not an adequate object of love; it is not a true home; it cannot fulfill the heart's need. Indeed, those who refuse to "give up the world" end up losing (ἀπόλλυμι) their own soul.

In a way, the LORD is ger v'toshav - a "stranger and sojourner" - in relation to the world.  He is the disguised King, or the King without a crown. He rules over the vicissitudes of life as the Sustaining Word of Creation, but He Himself remains unchanged.  He is both the Possessor of all and yet dispossessed from the hearts of men.  He is called the "God who is near" (אֱלהֵי מִקָּרב) and the "God who is far" (אֱלהֵי מֵרָחק); He is the LORD Most High (יהוה עֶלְיוֹן) and He is the one who humbled himself to die a shameful death on a cross. He is LORD of all possible worlds. There is no realm in which He is not King, though He has yet to fully realize His Kingdom. He is the Revealed Lord of Glory, yet He is a God who hides His face from us (hester panim). What is considered "great" in this world is reckoned as small in the Kingdom of heaven, and vice-versa.

Maybe it's because I am facing certain health problems, but I've become more and more conscious of the fragility and glory of life. Ha-kol oveir, chaverim - "everything passes." Each of us is given the choice to graciously accept the inevitable passage of time or confront life with inner protest and despair.

Yeshua told us we must "forget ourselves" in order to discover what really matters: "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross (צְלַב הַמָּשִׁיחַ) and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 16:24-25). Note that the phrase translated "deny himself" comes from a Greek word (ἀπαρνέομαι) that means "to affirm that you have no acquaintance or connection with someone," and is the same verb used when Peter denied the Messiah. To deny yourself, then, means to be willing to disregard your own personal interests in a given moment -- to "betray" the selfish impulse that seeks to rule the ego in your daily life. It is a "putting off" of the old nature and a "putting on" of the new nature, created in the Messiah (Eph. 4:22-24). We no longer know ourselves according to the flesh but according to the Spirit of God (2 Cor. 5:16-17). Happiness is a byproduct of serving and loving others.  If we seek our own happiness, we won't find more than self-gratification; but if we seek to love others, happiness will eventually come. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, "God can't give us peace and happiness apart from Himself because there is no such thing."  As Heschel said, "God is of no importance unless He is of supreme importance." There is no middle ground here.  "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matt. 6:21). "Seek first the Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת הַשֵּׁם) and His righteousness (צִדְקָתוֹ), and all these things shall be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).

May God help us value Him as our first love -- the passion of our lives. May we love the LORD bekhol-levavkha u'vekhol nafshekha u'vekhol me'odekha, with all our hearts and with all our soul and with all our strength (Shema). Time is short, no matter when Yeshua comes back to earth....  I earnestly pray that we won't squander the opportunities we have today to walk with God.




Divine Name Theology?


 

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

01.05.10  (Tevet 19, 5770)  Every once in awhile I get an email from someone who wants to correct or challenge my understanding regarding the Name of the LORD. Usually I am told that YHVH (יהוה) should be pronounced some particular way or another, and some even go so far as to claim that if I don't pronounce the Name according to their preferred transliteration, I am literally a "lost soul." Oy vey... This sort of "holier-than-thou" thinking really angers me, since it is divisive and is based on the deadly mixture of ignorance and pride.

This week's Torah portion (the first of the Book of Exodus) is called Shemot (שְׁמוֹת, "names") because it begins with a list of the "names" of the descendants of Jacob who came to dwell in the land of Goshen: וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה / "These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt" (Exod. 1:1). Now while it's true that the Torah here lists the various names of the sons of Jacob, this portion of Torah more importantly refers the Names (plural) of the LORD God of Israel Himself.

To see this, let's consider the central story of this portion of Torah, namely, the commissioning of Moses at the Burning Bush (see Exod. 3:1-20). Note that the Torah states that it was the Angel of the LORD (i.e., Malakh Adonai: מַלְאַךְ יהוה) who appeared to Moses בְּלַבַּת־אֵשׁ מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶה / "in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush" (Exod. 3:1-2). But then the Torah goes on to say that the LORD (יהוה) saw Moses drawing near to the bush while God (i.e., Elohim: אֱלהִים) called out to him. God (i.e., Elohim) then commanded Moses to remove his sandals and identified Himself as the "God of Abraham (i.e., Elohei Avraham: אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), the God of Isaac (i.e., Elohei Yitzchak: אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק), and the God of Jacob (i.e., Elohei Ya'akov: אֱלהֵי יעֲקב)."  In this short and dramatic account we have several Names of God presented - the Angel of the LORD, the LORD, God (Elohim), and the "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" - all of which refer to the One true God!

When God commissioned Moses to be His shaliach (שָלִיחַ‎) - His emissary - to go before Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel back to the Promised Land, he objected that he was unfit for the task. He protested that he was kevad peh - "heavy of mouth" and kevad lashon, "heavy of tongue," and therefore unable to speak on behalf of the LORD (Exod. 4:10). God reminded him that He was the Creator of the mouth: "Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" (Exod. 4:11).

Perhaps it was because Moses was "heavy of mouth" that he continued to object to God's plan. After all, what would Moses say if he were asked what God's Name was?  Perhaps Moses couldn't speak well enough to properly enunciate the Divine Name?  It is revealing to understand the LORD's reply: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה / "Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh ('I will be what I will be'); and He said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM (אֶהְיֶה) has sent me to you.'" Then God (i.e., אֱלהִים) went on to "spell it out" for Moses: "Say this to the people of Israel, 'The LORD (יהוה), [namely] the God of your fathers, [namely] the God of Abraham (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם), [namely] the God of Isaac (אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק), and [namely] the God of Jacob (אֱלהֵי יעֲקב), has sent me to you.'  This is my name forever (זֶה־שְּׁמִי לְעלָם), and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations" (Exod. 3:14-15).

Now I included the Hebrew text here to help make it explicit that the distinct Names of God in this passage (i.e., יהוה, אֱלהִים, מַלְאַךְ יהוה, and so on) all refer to the One true God.  Indeed, the Torah makes it clear that the special Name of the LORD (יהוה) is associated with the phrase ehyeh asher ehyeh (rendered as "I AM THAT I AM" in the KJV), which derives from the Qal imperfect first person form of this verb hayah (הָיָה): "I will be."  In other words, there is a connection between the Name YHVH and being itself. YHVH is the Source of all being and has being inherent in Himself (i.e., He is necessary Being). Everything else is contingent being that derives existence from Him. The name YHVH also bespeaks the utter transcendence of God. In Himself, God is beyond all "predications" or attributes of language: He is the Source and Foundation of all possibility of utterance and thus is beyond all definite descriptions.

In Jewish thought, the numerous names of God revealed in Scripture (Elohim, Shaddai, Adonai, the King of Israel, etc.) are thought to reveal different aspects or attributes of God's character and will to us. They function as "short hand" for descriptions of His essence - revelations of the hidden mystery and glory of the LORD. Since taking the name of the LORD "in vain" is one of the Ten Commandments, certain conventions are used to restrict the use of any of the Names of God. These conventions derive from Jewish law (halachah) that requires that secondary rules (גְּזֵרוֹת - "fences") be placed around a primary law to reduce the chance that the main law will be violated. For example, it is common practice to refer to God as "Hashem" (the Name) or to deliberately alter the sound or spelling of a divine name. The name Havayah (היוה) is also sometimes used to refer to YHVH, which is formed by transposing the letters of the Tetragrammaton.
 
According to Maimonides, one of the greatest Jewish theologians of the Middle Ages, all the various names and titles of God with the exception of YHVH (יהוה) are appellations that denote the Divine attributes.  There is only one God revealed within Scripture and the multiplicity of names refers to different aspects of revelation rather than supposing that there is a multiplicity of deities. This idea also finds expression in the designation of God as Ein Sof (אֵין סוֹף), a theological term used to express that the essence of God is "without end" or "infinite." The revealed names of God therefore all represent some aspect of the divine nature to us in language that we can apprehend.

Some people seem to be preoccupied with finding out how to pronounce or utter the Sacred Name of the LORD (i.e., יהוה), though Jewish tradition maintains that the Divine Name is entirely ineffable and therefore intrinsically mysterious. Indeed, attaching a name to something "labels" it and claims authority over it (e.g., when David put his name over a conquered city). Since the LORD is utterly unique, without rival, the Creator and LORD who is answerable to no one, He cannot be named. The Jewish mystics say (perhaps as a form of hyperbole) that the proper Name of the LORD is all the letters of the Torah sounded at once -- without interruption.  This is called the "304,805 letter Name of God." That is, string together all 304,805 letters of the Torah - from the first letter of Bereshit (Bet) through the last letter of Devarim (Lamed) - and "read" this as a single "Word." Of course the point here is that no one can do this. Indeed, the Angel of the LORD asks, "Why do you ask my name, seeing it is incomprehensible?" (Judges 13:18).

There are literally hundreds of names, titles, metaphors, similes, and so on in the Scriptures.  Though YHVH is God's special Name, it is clearly a play on the verb "to be" (hayah). We do not "invoke" the Name like a magician might utter a "divine spell." God is near to us -- He's in the wind, in the heavens and earth, as close to you as your own heart (Deut. 30:14; Rom. 10:8). The really hard part is to love and obey the LORD -- not to learn how to say His incomprehensible Name.  Indeed, what good would it be to know how to properly pronounce the Sacred Name of the LORD if you do not love and obey Him?  If you want to call upon the Name of the LORD, seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33).

The Hebrew word for "name" (שֵׁם) refers to more than sound made with the lips, but rather refers to truly understanding someone's reputation, character, and so on. The Name of the LORD (שֵׁם יהוה) represents the LORD God of Israel's glory, reputation, character, and mighty deeds of salvation for His people.  Knowing His Name means understanding His  glory as the Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם). Indeed, personally knowing the Name of the LORD means inwardly accepting that He has valliantly acted on your behalf by saving you from the cruel bondage of your shame and sins through Yeshua, the revealed Angel of the LORD.  In short, knowing who Yeshua is and what He has done for you is to know the Name of the LORD (Rom. 10:13; Phil. 2:10-11). You simply cannot know the "Name of the LORD" without knowing the Name of His Son (John 5:23; Prov. 30:4).

Postscript: The point of all this is to demonstrate that the "Name of the LORD" is none other than Yeshua (or Jesus). Yeshua = YHVH. Compare Isa. 45:22-23 with Phil. 2:10. The idea of "Name" means more than mere phonetics; it has to do with the deeds, acts, power, reputation, and glory of God. Those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father who sent Him (John 5:23). Denigrating Yeshua by even hinting that He is less than God Almighty is to desecrate the Name of God -- i.e., to engage in Chilull Hashem (חילול השם‎).


Personal Update: Please keep me in your prayers for healing, chaverim. Thank you.
 

חָנֵּנִי יהוה כִּי אֻמְלַל אָנִי
רְפָאֵנִי יהוה כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ עֲצָמָי

choneini Adonai ki umlal ani,
refa'eini Adonai ki nivchalu atzamai

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I languish;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones shake with terror. (Psalm 6:3[h])
 





Parashat Shemot - שמות


 

01.03.10  (Tevet 17, 5770)  The Torah reading for this week is the very first of the Book of Exodus, called parashat Shemot (שְׁמוֹת). This portion begins directly where the narrative in the Book of Genesis left off, by listing the "names" of the descendants of Jacob who came to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen.  The Book of Exodus tells the story of how the family of Jacob became the great nation of Israel.

In English the word "Exodus" ("going out") comes from the title of the Greek translation of the sages' name of the second book of Moses, Sefer Yetziat Mitzraim ("the book of the going out from Egypt"). Hence the Greek word ἔξοδος became "Exodus" in Latin which later was adopted into English. In the Hebrew Bible this book is called Shemot ("names"), following the custom of naming a book according to its first significant word.

Some of the greatest narratives of all the Scriptures are found in the Book of Exodus, including the Israelites' enslavement and subsequent deliverance with the ten plagues by the hand of the LORD.  The ordinance of Passover is given and Moses then leads the people out of Egypt, crossing the Sea of Reeds. The Jewish people arrive at Mount Sinai, where they receive the Torah. While Moses is on the mountain, the people worship a Golden Calf, and a period of repentance occurs until the covenant is reestablished. The remainder of the book describes the details and construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

There are forty chapters in the Book of Exodus (16,723 words, 63,529 letters), divided into eleven weekly readings.

Know before whom you stand
 

Note: If it pleases God I will add some additional commentary to Exodus later this week. Shalom for now, chaverim.
 




Hebrew Audio for Torah Portions


 

01.03.10  (Tevet 17, 5770)  I am beginning to add Hebrew audio recordings for each of the weekly Torah portions on the site. These recordings were made by Fr. Abraham Shmuelof (zt'l), an Orthodox Jew who accepted Yeshua as his Savior sometime during his years as a prisoner of the Nazis in the 1940's and later became a Catholic monk (you can read more about Abraham Shmuelof here). Fr. Shmuelof made the recordings of the Tanakh (and New Testament) in the 1970s and later entrusted them to the Carmelites in honor of St. Theresa of Lisieux (1873-1897). The original tapes were transferred to digital audio by Audio Scriptures International and then divided into chapters by the Academy of Ancient Languages.

Note: The links for the Torah portion audio files will be found at the bottom of the current week's Torah commentary page, directly following the "For Further Study" section. 




Everlasting Love - אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם


 

01.01.10 (Tevet 15, 5770)  Even though the Civil New Year is decidedly not a Biblical holiday (see "Happy New Year - for Ugo," below), it's always good to "rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4), and therefore we can confidently say at this time: הִגְדִּיל יהוה לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמָּנוּ הָיִינוּ שְׂמֵחִים / higdil Adonai la'asot imanu, hayinu semeichim: "The LORD will do great things for us and we shall rejoice" (Psalm 126:3). Our great captivity will soon be over when the LORD Yeshua returns for those who are trusting in Him... Meanwhile: Chazak v'ematz, "Be strong and of good courage," chaverim.

God loves us with "an everlasting love" (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us to Himself in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His unconditional, unfailing, gracious, and entirely faithful love and kindness). As it is written: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד / "I love you with an everlasting love; therefore in chesed I draw you to me" (Jer. 31:3). Note that the word translated "I draw you" comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea).  As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ) by the Father (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior...

May this season be one of drawing near to the Father through our beloved Lord Yeshua. May the LORD God of Israel bless you and help you in every way: כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ / ki le'olam chasdo: "For His love endures forever" (Psalm 136:25).
 

 כָּל־אָרְחוֹת יהוה חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת לְנצְרֵי בְרִיתוֹ וְעֵדתָיו

kol-orechot Adonai chesed v'emet le'notzrei ve'rito v'edotav

All the paths of the LORD are chesed and truth for those
who guard His covenant and His testimonies (Psalm 25:10)

 

     הִגִּיד לְךָ אָדָם מַה־טּוֹב וּמָה־יְהוָה דּוֹרֵשׁ מִמְּךָ
    כִּי אִם־עֲשׂוֹת מִשְׁפָּט וְאַהֲבַת חֶסֶד וְהַצְנֵעַ לֶכֶת עִם־אֱלהֶיךָ

higgid lekha adam mah-tov, u'mah-Adonai doresh mi-mekha
ki im-asot mishpat v'ahavat chesed v'hatzne'a lechet im Eloheykha

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do justice, and to love chesed, and to walk modestly
with your God (Micah 6:8)

 

 יְהִי־חַסְדְּךָ יהוה עָלֵינוּ כַּאֲשֶׁר יִחַלְנוּ לָךְ׃

yehi-chasdekha Adonai aleinu ka'asher yichalnu lakh

May your chesed, O LORD, be upon us, as we hope in You
(Psalm 33:22)



Note: I received a letter the other day asking me to make the text size larger on this site. For me to do so, however, will require a major site revision that might take several months to complete... Please, if the text size here is too small for your reading comfort, email me. If there proves to be sufficient need, I will begin reworking some of the site content to make it easier for you to read. Also, please keep me in your prayers, chaverim.  I have an internal infection and am experiencing pain. I am currently taking strong antibiotics.  Your prayers for my health are sincerely appreciated. Thank you so much.


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