July 2010 Updates
As the Day draws near...
[ The following entry is based on a comment Rashi made regarding the "Days of the Messiah" in this week's Torah reading (parashat Eikev). I hope you find it helpful... ]
07.30.10 (Av 19, 5770) Our actions invariably reveal what we are believing about the nature of reality. We will live what we believe... Put the other way around, what we believe will determine what we do. Nearly all of our conscious intentions are future-directed. We assume that the future will resemble the past, and therefore we make our plans and set our agendas. And yet to what end? What is the purpose of our lives? Where are your actions taking you?
Questions like these concern your personal philosophy of life. Every person makes choices based on their vision and expectation of a future good. Every person therefore lives by a creed that speaks toward the future.... Sadly, many people live for the immediate moments of life: cheap thrills, fast food, and mindless entertainment. "Let's eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Cor. 15:23). Others may enjoy fine art, reading, and learning - hoping thereby to improve themselves. Most people live in order to love others, friends and family... But apart from God, none of these otherwise good things will ultimately satisfy our hearts. "Disordered love" comes from setting the heart's affections on the transitory, the ephemeral, and the unabiding; but God has set eternity within our hearts (Eccl 3:11). The Lord has "wired" us to experience discontent when our heart's deepest need goes unmet.
On a larger scale, philosophers have asked whether life itself - all of it - has any meaning or purpose. "Why is there something rather than nothing - and for what reason?" Is the universe essentially a random set of events, or is there some overarching purpose and design to everything? Is history linear or cyclical? Does it have a goal or destination, or is this entirely unknowable to us? Are human beings evolving - and if so, to what? Is there a spiritual dimension to reality, or is everything causally determined by matter and motion? Do we have "free will" or are we entirely conditioned to do what we do? Various answers have proposed to deal with these questions over time, including mythological polytheism (e.g., Zoroastrianism, Egyptian/Greek mythology, animism, paganism), cyclical impersonalism (e.g., Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, reincarnationism, Stoicism), various types of materialism (e.g., scientific naturalism, pragmatism, evolutionism, nihilism), humanism (Buddhism, secular humanism, atheistic existentialism), romantic idealism (Marxism, Hegelianism), mysticism (theosophy, new age thinking, popular Kabbalah), and so on.
The traditional Jewish view of history may be called (for lack of a better term) "monotheistic personalism." There is one Supreme God who is the personal Creator and Ruler of all that exists. God is both immanent (sustaining creation) and transcendant (above creation). This God has a Name (YHVH), a mind, and a moral, purposive will that imbues all of creation. God is LORD over all time and space, the King of Glory, who is Master of all possible worlds. Since God knows and providentially controls everything, human history is a controlled process that leads to a destination. History is therefore progressive and eschatological - leading to a future goal.
But where is everything "going?" In particular, what is the destiny of the human race? If there is a characteristically "Jewish philosophy of history," it decidedly centers on the vision of Zion as the restoration and fulfillment of the lost paradise of Eden. The relationship between Adam and God will be fully restored in the coming theocratic utopia called "heavenly Jerusalem." This is heaven, the place of our deepest longing:
בִּלַּע הַמָּוֶת לָנֶצַח
וּמָחָה אֲדנָי יהוה דִּמְעָה מֵעַל כָּל־פָּנִים
bil·la ha·ma·vet la·ne·tzach,
u'ma·chah Adonai Elohim dim·ah mei·al kol pa·nim
"He will destroy death forever.
The Lord GOD will wipe the tears away from all faces" (Isa. 25:8)
Download Reading Card
As I've mentioned before, the word "Zion" is mentioned over 160 times in the Scriptures. That's more than the words faith, hope, love, and countless others... And since Zion is a poetic form of the word Jerusalem, the number of occurrences swells to nearly 1,000! It is therefore not an overstatement to say that God Himself is a Zionist.... "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2). Zion represents the rule and reign of God in the earth and is therefore synonymous with the Kingdom of God. The entire redemptive plan of God -- including the coming of the Messiah Himself and our very salvation -- is wrapped up in the concept of Zion. It is the "historiography" of God -- His philosophy of history, if you will.
In a sense, Zion is the heart of the Gospel message and the focal point of God's salvation in this world. Zion represents our eschatological future -- our home in olam haba (the world to come). Even the new heavens and earth will be called Jerusalem -- "Zion in her perfection" (Rev. 21). "This is what Adonai Tzeva'ot says: I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure" (Zech. 1:14-15). "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (Isa 62:1). "The builder of Jerusalem is God, the outcasts of Israel he will gather in... Praise God, O Jerusalem, laud your God, O Zion" (Psalm 147:2-12).
The outworking of humanity's history is essentially a conflict between good and evil. It traces back to paradise lost and the eventual construction of Bavel in ancient Shinar, where Nimrod attempted to collectivize humanity under autocratic rule. Yeshua referred to it (among other things) as a conflict between the Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים) and the kingdom of Satan (John 8:34-6). The Apostles likewise spoke of "children of darkness" and "children of light" (Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13, 1 Thess. 5:5, etc.). Politically speaking, St. Augustine described the cosmic conflict as one between the "City of Man" and the "City of God." World politics nearly always involves some form of violence against those who belong to God (Matt. 11:12).
The Tanakh and New Testament represent "sacred history" (though not necessarily chronologically understood). It is thematic and spiritual history, though it is rooted in historical fact, not myth and legend. For example, the findings of archaeology regularly reinforce historical events mentioned in the Scriptures. Our faith is based on historical, empirical, verifiable evidence.
Jewish tradition has long held that human history (olam hazeh) would endure for 6,000 years - from the time of the impartation of the neshamah (soul) to Adam in the Garden of Eden to the coming of the Messiah. There were two primary arguments for this view of history.
First, the sages argued that a "divine day" (יוֹם) equaled 1,000 years based on Psalm 90:4: "A thousand years (אֶלֶף שָׁנִים) in your sight is as a day (i.e., k'yom: כְּיוֹם)." They reasoned that since man was made in the image of God, and the Torah describes six days of creation followed by a day of divine rest, mankind (as a whole) was therefore allotted 6 x 1,000 years (i.e., 6,000) for "works" to be established in the world, followed by a 1,000 year Shabbat (Sanhedrin 97a, Rosh Hashana 31a). The ancient Seder Olam Rabbah (c. 240) catalogs historical events from the start of Creation according to the 6,000 years of history. Humanity will have his time of reign on earth for 6,000 years and then the Messiah will begin his reign in the 7th millennium, a "Sabbath" of sacred history. Later midrash goes along with this basic outline: "Six eons for going in and coming out, for war and peace. The seventh eon is entirely Shabbat and rest for life everlasting" (Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer). The Apostle Peter may also have had this outline in mind when he wrote, "With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (2 Pet. 3:8; Psalm 90:4).
Second, the Jewish mystics argued that since there are 6 Alephs (א) in the very first verse of the Torah, and each Aleph (אלף) represents 1,000, there must be 6,000 years of human history. The Zohar states, "The redemption of Israel will come about through the mystic force of the letter "Vav" [the sixth letter of the Aleph-bet, corresponding to the sixth Aleph] in the sixth millennium. Happy are those who will be left alive at the end of the sixth millennium to enter the Shabbat, which is the seventh millennium; for that is a day set apart for the Holy One on which to effect the union of new souls with old souls in the world" (Zohar, Vayera 119a).
So according to both the rabbis and the mystics, human history will last for 6,000 years - 1,000 years for each day of creation - followed by a 1,000 year "Shabbat" that represents the Messianic Age of global and universal peace. After the Messiah appears, there will be peace on earth, and all the promises of God given through the prophets will be fulfilled.
It is worth noting that in the discussion from the Talmud, the 6,000 years of human history are divided into three epochs of 2,000 years each. The period of "tohu" occurred from the time of the fall of Adam until the call of Abraham; the period of "Torah" occurred from Abraham until the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, and the period of the "Messiah" refers to the time when the Messiah could appear before the Kingdom is established in Zion. The time immediately preceding the appearance of the Messiah will be a time of testing in which the world will undergo various forms of tribulation, called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some say the birth pangs are to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years being the most intense period of tribulation -- called the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The climax of the "Great Tribulation" (צָרָה גְדוֹלָה) is called the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל) which represents God's wrath poured out upon a rebellious world system. On this fateful day, the LORD will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19) and worldwide catastrophes will occur. "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). Only after the nations of the world have been judged will the Messianic kingdom (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) be established upon the earth. The remnant of Israel will be saved and the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will then commence (Rev. 20:4).
Note: Some Christian scholars such as the late Dr. Clarence Larkin have divided the days somewhat differently and have added an additional "day" based on the coming eternal state of the "Heavenly Jerusalem." Hence Larkin's depiction of the Eight Days of Creation:
As for the exact timing of these events, "no one knows the day or hour." In fact, various Jewish sages have argued for "missing years" in the prophetic calendar (due to periods of exile or other factors) and therefore they say that the Day of the LORD may be delayed on account of national sins. For example, based on the gematria of the first two words of a verse from this week's parashah (i.e., וְהָיָה עֵקֶב, Deut. 7:12) Rashi explained that the 2,000 years of the Days of Messiah actually began 198 after the destruction of the Second Temple. "198 years after the destruction of the Temple the bells of the Messiah will be heard" (i.e., the days of the Messiah would begin). According to Rashi, the delay was the result of Israel's sin. (On the other hand, many ultra-Orthodox Jews believe they can "hasten" the Messiah's appearance through acts of teshuvah: "Moshiach Now!").
Since Jewish tradition states that the "days of Messiah" began after 4,000 years of history (i.e., four "days"), we can better understand the Messianic fervor among the Jews during the first century in Judea. The Essenes were awaiting the advent of the "Teacher of Righteousness" and the "Zealots" wanted to establish the Kingdom of God by force of arms. Even the common people of Israel were full of expectation that the Messiah would soon appear to redeem captive Israel. It was in this context, in the "fulness of time" (Gal. 4:4), that Yeshua began His earthly ministry as the Suffering Servant who redeemed us from the "curse of the law" (Gal. 3:13).
Messianic Hope: The King of the Jews
The Medieval rabbi and scholastic philosopher Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or "Rambam") is considered to be a mainstream voice of traditional Judaism. Maimonides' "Twelfth Principle" of the Jewish faith is his affirmation that the Messiah is coming to restore Israel to greatness beyond that known in the days of King Solomon. "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may delay, nevertheless I wait for his coming every day." The following statement by Maimonides is probably the definitive rendering of the traditional Jewish view on the subject:
If a king will arise from the House of David who is learned in Torah and observant of the mitzvot, as prescribed by the written law and the oral law, as David his ancestor was, and will compel all of Israel to walk in the way of the Torah and reinforce the breaches; and fight the wars of G-d, we may, with assurance, consider him the Messiah. If he succeeds in the above, builds the Temple in its place, and gathers the dispersed of Israel, he is definitely the Messiah. ... If he did not succeed to this degree or he was killed, he surely is not the redeemer promised by the Torah..." (Mishneh Torah).
The concept of the King Messiah, the "Anointed One" who would one day come to deliver his people from oppression at the beginning of an era of world peace has been the sustaining hope of the Jewish people for generations. King Messiah is the instrument by whom God's kingdom is to be established in Israel and in the world. This hope runs throughout the entire Tanakh. According to rabbinical Judaism (following Maimonides), this Messiah figure is not divine, though he certainly has divine powers and attributes. Indeed, he functions as Israel's Savior who would be empowered by God to:
- Restore the Kingdom of David (Jer. 23:5, Jer 30:9, Ezek. 34:23)
- Restore the Temple in Zion (Isa. 2:2, Micah 4:1, Zech. 6:13, Ezek. 37:26-28)
- Regather the exiles (Isa. 11:12, 43:5-6, 51:11)
- Offer the New Covenant to Israel (Jer. 31:31-34)
- Usher in world peace and the knowledge of the true God (Isa. 2:4; 11:9). This will include the entire world speaking Hebrew (Zeph. 3:9).
- "Swallow up" death and disease (Isa. 25:8)
- Raise the dead to new life (Isa. 26:19)
- Spread Torah knowledge of the God of Israel, which will unite humanity as one. As it says: "God will be King over all the world -- on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One" (Zech. 14:9)
Note: In the Tanakh, the key passage on which the idea of the Messianic king who would rule in righteousness and attain universal dominion is found in Nathan's oracle to David (2 Sam. 7:11 ff). This covenant cannot have been fulfilled by Solomon, and therefore the Seed of which the oracle refers is another anointed King who would sit on the throne forever and ever. (Contrary to the heresies of "Covenant Theology" and "amillenialism," Yeshua is not presently sitting on the throne of David as Zion's King, and therefore the Jewish hope of the Messiah has not been fulfilled, just as the New Covenant terms have not yet been entirely fulfilled.)
Dual Aspect of Mashiach
How could the Jewish sages have missed the advent of Messiah, especially in light of the fact that their own eschatology expected the Messiah to appear some 2,000 years after the Torah was given to Israel (i.e., the first century AD)? Even the Babylonian stargazers were able to discern the appointed time (Matt. 2:1-2).
Perhaps the sages got confused about how to interpret the Hebrew prophets. This shouldn't surprise us, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the prophets were regularly misunderstood and persecuted by the sages in Jewish history. Still, the sages might have missed the coming of Yeshua because there seems to be two distinct pictures of the Messiah given in the visions of the prophets. On the one hand, Messiah is portrayed as a great king, deliverer, and savior of the Jewish people who comes in triumph "in the clouds" (Dan. 7:13), but on the other he is depicted as riding a donkey, lowly and humble (Zech. 9:9), a suffering servant, born in lowliness, despised and rejected of men. These two images of Messiah eventually lead to various oral traditions that there would be two Messiahs: Messiah ben Joseph (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף) and Messiah ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד).
Mashiach ben Yosef is identified with the Suffering Servant, of whom the patriarch Joseph prefigured (and of whom Isaiah plainly spoke in his four "Servant Songs"). In some traditions of Judaism, Mashiach ben Yosef is recognized as a forerunner and harbinger of the final deliverer, Mashiach ben David. Ben Yosef suffers for the sins of Israel and ends up getting killed in the battle against evil (Isaiah 53). Of course Christians see Yeshua as the prophesied "Man of Sorrows" and Suffering Servant who would bear the sins of many.
Mashiach ben David, on the other hand, is identified as the great military ruler and King of Israel of whom King David prefigures. This greater "son of David" will regather the exiles, set up the Temple, and deliver Israel from all her enemies. This is the Messiah that the sages of Judaism have long been expecting. Christians believe Yeshua the Messiah in His second coming will completely fulfill this description of Mashiach ben David.
In other words, since the prophecies concerning the Messiah are twofold or "dual aspect," we discern that they would be fulfilled in two distinct ways. Yeshua is both Mashiach Ben Yosef (the Suffering Servant - at His first coming) and Mashiach Ben David (the Reigning King - at His second coming). He is also the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King as foreshadowed by other me'shichim in the Tanakh. Both traditional Jews and Christians are awaiting for the appearance of the Messiah, though Christians, of course, will welcome Yeshua back!
According to this general framework of history, we are currently living in the "days of the Messiah," just before the time of great worldwide tribulation that will lead to the prophesied acharit hayamim (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים), or the "End of Days." This is the age in which the spirit of the Messiah is available to all. These are "days of God's favor" that are ending soon. According to traditional Jewish sources (Pesachim 54b; Midrash Tehilim 9:2), no one knows the exact time when the Messiah will appear -- though there are some hints. The condition of the world during the end of days will be grossly evil (2 Pet. 3:3; 2 Thess. 2:3-4, 2 Tim. 3:1-5). The world will undergo various forms of tribulation, collectively called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some sages say the birth pangs will last 70 years, with the last 7 years as the most intense period -- the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). Just before the arrival of Yeshua as Mashiach ben David, a period of tribulation and distress for Israel will occur. After this "great tribulation" period, however, Yeshua will usher in Yom YHVH, the "Day of the LORD," and the sabbatical millennium, the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will commence (Rev. 20:4).
קָרוֹב יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל קָרוֹב וּמַהֵר מְאד
קוֹל יוֹם יהוה מַר צרֵחַ שָׁם גִּבּוֹר׃
ka·rov yom Adonai hag·ga·dol, kar·ov u'ma·her me·od,
kol yom Adonai mar tzo·re·ach sham gib·bor
"The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud." (Zeph. 1:14)
Although "Day of the LORD" is often associated with Tishah B'Av and the catastrophic destruction of the Jewish Temple, the words of the prophets were only partially fulfilled, and there awaits another Day coming when God will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19). "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). For those who are godless, the great Day of the LORD is a time of horrific judgment, but for those who belong to the LORD, it represents a day of victory and great blessing. Regarding that day the prophet Malachi said, "Then you will trample down the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I do these things" (Mal. 4:3).
כַּעֲבוֹר סוּפָה וְאֵין רָשָׁע וְצַדִּיק יְסוֹד עוֹלָם
ka·a·vor su·fah v'ein ra·sha, v'tzad·dik ye·sod o·lam
"When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone,
but the righteous stand firm forever." (Prov. 10:25)
Ultimately the Great Tribulation period is redemptive and healing (called yissurei ahavah, "the troubles of love"). The prophets wrote that Zion will go through labor and then give birth to children (Isa. 66:8). Thus the Vilna Gaon wrote that the geulah (national redemption) is something like rebirth of the nation of Israel. This accords with the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur as the Day of Judgment and time of Israel's national conversion. In the verse from prophet Jeremiah regarding the "Time of Jacob's Trouble," it's vital to see the goal in mind - "yet out of it he is saved" (וּמִמֶּנָּה יִוָּשֵׁעַ). When Yeshua returns to Zion, all Israel will be saved (Rom. 11:26). The sages note that childbirth is a time of radical transition and struggle for the baby -- from the time of relatively peaceful existence within the womb into the harsh light of day -- and therefore a similar transition between this world and the Messianic world to come is about to take place....
וְהָיָה יהוה לְמֶלֶךְ עַל־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ
בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יִהְיֶה יהוה אֶחָד וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד
ve·ha·yah Adonai le·me·lekh al kol ha·a·retz,
ba·yom ha·hu yi·he·yeh, Adonai e·chad u·shmo e·chad
"Then the LORD will be king over the whole world. On that day
there shall be one LORD with one name." (Zech. 14:9)
The Fear of the LORD
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Eikev. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... ]
07.28.10 (Av 17, 5770) What does it mean to "fear" God? Does it mean that we should be afraid of God's disapproval of us? Should we live in dread over the prospect of future judgment for our sins? In order to consider some of these questions, let's consider a verse from this week's Torah portion:
וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל מָה יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ שׁאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ כִּי אִם־לְיִרְאָה
אֶת־יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ לָלֶכֶת בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו וּלְאַהֲבָה אתוֹ וְלַעֲבד
אֶת־יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ׃
ve·at·tah Yis·ra·el: mah Adonai E·lo·he·kha sho·el me·im·makh, ki im le·yir·ah
et Adonai E·lo·he·kha, la·le·khet be·khol de·ra·khav u·le·a·ha·vah o·to. ve·la·a·vod
et Adonai E·lo·he·kha, be·khol le·vav·kha uv·khol naf·she·kha
"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear
the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve
the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 10:12)
In this summary statement of what the LORD requires of us, the fear of the LORD (i.e., yirat HaShem: יִרְאַת יהוה) is mentioned first. First we must learn to properly fear the LORD and only then will we be able to walk (לָלֶכֶת) in His ways, to love (לְאַהֲבָה) Him, and to serve (לַעֲבד) Him with all our heart and soul. Again, the requirement to fear the LORD your God (לְיִרְאָה אֶת־יהוה) is placed first in this list...
Indeed, "the fear of the LORD is said to be the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה)." Without fear of the LORD, you will walk in darkness and be unable to turn away from evil (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 14:27, 15:33; 16:6). The Scriptures plainly declare that "the fear of the LORD leads to life" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה לְחַיִּים, lit. "is for life"):
יִרְאַת יהוה לְחַיִּים וְשָׂבֵעַ יָלִין בַּל־יִפָּקֶד רָע
yi·rat Adonai le·cha·yim, ve·sa·ve·'a ya·lin bal yi·pa·ked ra'
"The fear of the LORD leads to life, and the one who has it rests satisfied
and is untouched by evil" (Prov. 19:23)
The word translated "fear" in many versions of the Bible comes from the Hebrew word yirah (יִרְאָה), which has a range of meaning in the Scriptures. Sometimes it refers to the fear we feel in anticipation of some danger or pain, but it can also can mean "awe" or "reverence." In this latter sense, yirah includes the idea of wonder, amazement, mystery, astonishment, gratitude, admiration, and even worship (like the feeling you get when gazing from the edge of the Grand Canyon). The "fear of the LORD" therefore includes an overwhelming sense of the glory, worth, and beauty of the One True God.
Some of the sages link the word yirah (יִרְאָה) with the word for seeing (רָאָה). When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant . In this sense, "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv) before the LORD is a description of the inner awareness of the sanctity of life itself (Psalm 2:11, Phil. 2:12).
Abraham Heschel wrote, "Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for transcendence, for the mystery beyond all things. It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple: to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe" (Heschel: God in Search of Man). He continued by quoting, "The awe of God is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10) and noted that such awe is not the goal of wisdom (like some state of nirvana), but rather its means. We start with awe and that leads us to wisdom. For the Christian, this wisdom ultimately is revealed in the love of God as demonstrated in the sacrificial death of His Son. The awesome love of God for us is the end or goal of Torah. We were both created and redeemed in order to know, love, and worship God forever.
According to Jewish tradition, there are three "levels" or types of yirah. The first level is the fear of unpleasant consequences or punishment (i.e., yirat ha'onesh: יִרְאַת הָענֶשׁ). This is perhaps how we normally think of the word "fear." We anticipate pain of some kind and want to flee from it. But note that such fear can also come from what you believe others might think about you. People will often do things (or not do them) in order to barter acceptance within a group (or to avoid rejection). Social norms are followed in order to avoid being ostracized or rejected. One implication of this type of fear is that "people will value justice not as a good but because they are too weak to do injustice with impunity" (Plato: Republic). As a thought experiment, would you act differently if you were given a magical ring that could make you invisible? Would the "freedom to do whatever you like with impunity" lead you to consider doing things you otherwise wouldn't do? If so, then you might be acting under the influence of this kind of fear....
The second type of fear concerns anxiety over breaking God's law (sometimes called yirat ha-malkhut: יִרְאַת הַמַּלְכוּת). This kind of fear motivates people to do good deeds because they are afraid God will punish them in this life (or in the world to come). This is the foundational concept of karma (i.e., the cycle of moral cause and effect). As such, this kind of fear is founded on self-preservation, though in some cases the heart's motive may be mixed with a genuine desire to honor God or to avoid God's righteous wrath for sin (Exod. 1:12, Lev. 19:14; Matt. 10:28; Luke 12:5). In the commandment not to curse the deaf or place a stumblingblock before the blind, for example, the Torah adds, "you shall fear the Lord your God" (Lev. 19:14). God does not wink at evil or injustice, and those who practice wickedness have a genuine reason to be afraid (Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9; Gal. 6:7-8). God is our Judge and every deed we have done will be made known: "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil" (2 Cor. 5:10). When we consider God as the Judge of the Universe, "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31).
The third (and highest) kind of fear is a profound reverence for life that comes from rightly seeing. This level discerns the Presence of God in all things and is sometimes called yirat ha-romemnut (יִרְאַת הָרוֹמְמוּת), or the "Awe of the Exalted." Through it we behold God's glory and majesty in all things. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) are linked and united. We are elevated to the level of reverent awareness, holy affection, and genuine communion with God's Holy Spirit. The love for good creates a spiritual antipathy toward evil, and conversely, hatred of evil is a way of fearing God (Prov. 8:13). "For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God" (John 3:20-21). In relation to both good and evil, then, love (אַהֲבָה) draws us near, while fear (יִרְאָה) holds us back.
Back to our original verse. What does the word yirah mean in Deut. 10:12? Are we to regard it as fear or as awe? Should we fear God in the sense of being threatened by Him for our sins and wrongdoing, or are we are to regard Him in awe, reverence, and majesty? This question is vital, since how we answer it will affect how we are to walk (לָלֶכֶת) in God's ways, how we are to love (לְאַהֲבָה) Him, and how we are to serve (לַעֲבד) the LORD with all our heart and soul (Deut. 10:12).
Both Jewish and Christian traditions have tended to regard yirah to mean fear of God's retribution for our sins. "For we know him who said, 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge his people' (Heb. 10:30). God is the Judge of the Universe, and people will be recompensed according to their deeds, whether good or bad. Our lives should be governed by the rewards and punishments that await us in the world to come. We should tremble before the LORD because we are entirely accountable for our lives. We should fear sin within our hearts. Our actions matter, and we should dread the thought of angering God. There will be a final day of reckoning for us all...
The Chofetz Chaim warns that even though the fear of God's punishment may deter us from sin in the short run, by itself it is insufficient for spiritual life, since it is based on an incomplete idea about God. It sees God in terms of the attributes of justice (אלהִים) but overlooks God as the Compassionate Savior of life (יהוה). After all, if you are avoiding sin only because you fear God's punishment, you may clean the "outside of the cup" while the inside is still full of corruption... Or you might attempt to find rationalizations to excuse yourself from "legal liability." You may appear outwardly religious (i.e., "obedient," "Torah observant," "righteous"), but inwardly you may be in a state of alienation and rebellion. "The heart is deceitful above all things..."
Yeshua taught that we need a spiritual rebirth in order to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). This is the new principle of life from God (i.e., chayim chadashim: חַיִּים חֲדָשִׁים) that operates according to the "law of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 7:23, 8:2). God loves His children with "an everlasting love" (i.e., ahavat olam: אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws us to Himself in chesed (חֶסֶד, i.e., His 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, same word) by the Father" (John 6:44). God's chesed seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act of creation, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). God is always preeminent.
Those who understand the mission of Yeshua understand yirah in the highest sense of reverence and awe. Only at the Cross may it be said: חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ - "love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). For at the Cross of Yeshua we see both God's fearful wrath for sin as well as God's awesome love for us. "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe (μετὰ αἰδοῦς καὶ εὐλαβείας) - for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:28-29).
חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ
che·sed ve·e·met nif·ga·shu, tzedek ve·sha·lom na·sha·ku
"Love and truth have met, justice and peace have kissed." (Psalm 85:10)
Download Blessing Card
Rabbi Hanina wrote: "Everything is in the hand of heaven except the awe of heaven, as it says, 'And now, Israel, what does the Eternal your God require of you? Only to be in awe of the Eternal your God" (Berachot 33b). It is a struggle to see and think clearly. Many of us have become so dulled and jaded by our worldly concerns that we can barely open our eyes to behold the glories all around us. We walk around half asleep, yawning our way through the cosmic glory that surrounds us.
We must cultivate awe in our hearts by consciously remembering the LORD's Presence and salvation. As King David said:
שִׁוִּיתִי יהוה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט
shi·vi·ti Adonai le·neg·di ta·mid, ki mi·mi·ni bal e·mot
"I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand,
I shall not be shaken." (Psalm 16:8)
Some of the sages interpret this verse to mean that we should picture the Shekhinah Presence in front of us at all times. In Jewish tradition, a type of meditative artwork called "shivitis" have been designed to remind us that we are standing in the Presence of God. Often these are placed on the eastern wall of a synagogue. Shivitis are artistic renderings of the statement, "Know before whom you stand" (in Hebrew: דַּע לִפְנֵי מִי אַתָּה עוֹמֵד - da lifnei mi attah omed). Sometimes shivitis are also performed orally, as the repetition of a particular verse of Scripture. These techniques are meant to instill within us the sense that God's glory fills the whole earth and that we owe our lives to Him. Since each person is created b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), Martin Buber regards each person that stands before us as a "shiviti" - a reminder of God's presence.
Note the paradoxes involved in this verse. We set the LORD always before us (shiviti Adonai lenegdi tamid) so that we will not be shaken, and yet we are to revere the LORD with fear and trembling (Psalm 2:11, Phil. 2:12). Likewise, we draw near to the LORD God as the Righteous Judge - in fear and trepidation - yet in the full confidence of His love as demonstrated by the Cross of Yeshua. God is a Consuming Fire, but also our Comforter.
In the Talmud it is written, "As to the one who reveres God, the whole world was created for that person's sake. That person is equal in worth to the whole world" (Berachot 6b). This might be hyperbole, but it reminds me of the Chassidic tale that says says that every person should walk through life with two notes, one in each pocket. On one note should be the words bishvili nivra ha'olam (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם) -- "For my sake was this world created," and on the other note the words, anokhi afar ve'efer (אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר) -- "I am but dust and ashes."
Similarly, it is evident that both senses of yirah are called for within our hearts. We must fear the LORD as our Judge and yet be in awe of the cost of His Redemption. We draw close to God while regarding Him with exalted reverence. We should constantly fear sin. We should be afraid of stumbling and dishonoring God with our lives. We should be vigilant, alert, awake, mindful, and attentive to the Presence of the LORD in all things. Sin "misses the mark" regarding our high calling and status as God's children.
"Know before whom you stand" - da lifnei mi attah omed. A reverent and focused attitude means "practicing the Presence of God" in our daily lives. The whole earth is filled with His glory, if we have the eye of faith to see (Isa. 6:3). We are surrounded by God's loving Presence and nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:38-39). In Him we "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). God will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He has said, "Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand" (Isa. 41:10).
When we identify with the substitutionary death of Yeshua as our Sin-Bearer before the Father, we accept God's righteous verdict for our sin. My sin put Yeshua on the cross. My sin caused Him to bleed, to suffer, and to die... Yeshua took my place on the cross so that I would not have to endure the penalty warranted for my crimes. This is a fearful thing, connected with the punishment for sin, and therefore answers to the heart's fear of God as the Righteous Judge (yirat ha-malkhut: יִרְאַת הַמַּלְכוּת). The fearful consequences of sin comes first, since it is only by means of the sacrificial death of Yeshua that we may hope for forgiveness...
The good news is that the sacrifice of Yeshua reconciles us to God by exchanging God's judgment for your sin with the righteousness of Messiah. Indeed, the Greek word translated "reconciliation" is katallage (καταλλαγή), which means to exchange one thing for another (Rom. 5:10; 1 Cor. 7:11; 2 Cor. 5:18, 20, Col. 1:21, etc.). This "exchange" is imputed to you solely through faith in the merit of Yeshua as your Sin-Bearer before the Father. Yeshua "entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thereby securing an eternal redemption (αἰωνίαν λύτρωσιν for גְּאוּלַּת עוֹלָם). This was part of God's eternal plan to redeem the world from the curse of sin (Eph. 1:4; Heb. 9:12; John 17:24; Col. 1:22; Heb. 9;26, 10:10; 1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8). Therefore "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear is connected to punishment (κόλασις / הָענֶשׁ), and and whoever fears in this way has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). The judgment against your sin was made at the Cross and you are now declared righteous by faith (2 Cor. 5:21, Col. 1:22). God regards you in light of the sacrifice of His Son, and the payment for your sins has been fully made (Rom. 5:6-10; 1 Pet. 2:24; 3:18; Col. 1:20-22; 1 Tim. 2:6; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 9:12). If you are trusting in God's salvation, your fear of punishment for your sins comes will come to an end...
But the good news gets even better. The "divine exchange" of our sin for Yeshua's righteousness also means that we exchange our natural life with the life represented by Yeshua's resurrection... Yeshua came to destroy the one who has the power of death (the devil) and "to deliver those who through fear of death are subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection demonstrates that God is LORD over the law's judgment of sin (and therefore the "authority of death"). Yeshua's death as our Sin-bearer before the Law's verdict was answered by the power of the resurrection (Col. 2:13-14). "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law" (1 Cor. 15:56). Once Yeshua made satisfaction for sin through obedience to the Law, He rendered death powerless. God's love overcomes the law's verdict (and God's wrath) by bearing it on our behalf. Yeshua's victory over the law is the victory of God's ransoming love. The resurrection ensures that the sacrifice made by God to God was one where love and justice kiss (Psalm 85:10). We are now free to serve God according to the "law of the Spirit of Life" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים) -- apart from the "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת) -- by means of the resurrection power of God's life within our hearts (Rom. 8:2). We are now free to come boldly before the "Throne of Grace" to find mercy and grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
If anyone is "in the Messiah" he is briah chadashah (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה), a "new creation." The old has passed away, behold - all things are made new (2 Cor. 5:17). The very power that raised Yeshua from the dead now dwells in you (Rom. 8:11). The miracle of new life is "Messiah in you - the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). Ultimately the goal of salvation was not simply to save us from the power of sin and death, but to unite us with God in eternal love. You were redeemed to be a true child of God, no longer a slave to fear of death...
It is the combination of fear and love that leads us to the place of genuine awe. At the Cross we see God's passionate hatred for sin as well as God's awesome love for sinners. The resurrection of Yeshua represents God's vindicating love. We stand in awe of God because of His love and His righteousness. He is both "just" and the "justifier" of those who are trusting in His salvation (Rom. 3:21-26).
We usually make a distinction between "faith" and "fear," but this distinction needs to be somwhat qualified. Sometimes fear implies the absence of faith, and we are commanded to banish such from our hearts: "Al Tirah: Fear not, for I am with you" (Isa. 41:10). But when we approach God, we should be in fear (yirah), showing reverence and humilty. Our faith in God's love should never remove awe and reverence from our hearts. On the contrary, true faith is intimately connected with the vision of God's majesty and glory, and that glory is most clearly seen in the sacrificial death and resurrection of His Son....
May you fall before the cross in fear of your sins, but may you be raised up by the power of God's salvation... May you then walk in awe of God's ways, "to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Amen.
07.26.10 (Av 15, 5770) Please keep this ministry in your prayers... I am dealing with chronic pain issues as well as some other challenges. Thank you. - John
Parashat Eikev - עקב
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Eikev. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... ]
07.26.10 (Av 15, 5770) The Torah portion for this coming Shabbat (Eikev) includes the famous statement: "Man does not live by bread alone, but from everything that comes from the mouth of the LORD shall he live" (Deut. 8:3). Note that Yeshua quoted this verse when he was tested with physical hunger in the wilderness (Matt. 4:3-4).
כִּי לא עַל־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל־כָּל־מוֹצָא פִי־יהוה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם׃
ki lo al-ha·le·chem le·va·do yich·yeh ha·a·dam;
ki al-kol-mo·tza fi-Adonai yich·yeh ha·a·dam
"Man does not live on bread alone, but by everything that comes
from the mouth of the LORD does man live" (Deut. 8:3)
Although physical food helps us survive, we must ask the question, for what end? Do we live for the sake of eating (and thereby live to eat for another day, and so on), or do we eat in order to live? If the latter, then what is the goal of such life? What is the source of its nutrient and where is it taking you? What does your soul or "inner man" feed upon to gain the spiritual will to live?
Both the written Torah and Yeshua (who is the embodiment and expression of Torah) make it clear that we receive sustenance from the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים), the Source of spiritual life. But the word of God itself is a message of the very love of God (אַהֲבַת הָאֱלהִים) that is always sustaining us -- whether we are conscious of this or not. After all, for those of us who understand our brokenness and radical dependence, what "word" could we possibly endure were it not His words of hope, consolation, and even endearment? The Love of God is our life, chaverim, and the love of God is most clearly seen in the life and sacrificial death of Yeshua the Messiah...
God cleaves to us and therefore calls us to cleave to Him in return (devakut). Some scholars think that the Hebrew word for seeing (ראה) and the word for fearing (ירא) share the same root, and therefore we can close our spiritual eyes by not revering the works of the LORD. Similarly, we can close our spiritual ears by not heeding to His words of love for our soul...
Our very spiritual life -- its source and its end -- depends upon receiving the word of the Living God who is King of Eternity (אֱלהִים חַיִּים וּמֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם). He speaks words of hope and love to those who attend themselves to His Presence. May you hear Him speaking to you now!
Shabbat Va'tomer (שׁבּת וַתּאמֶר)
The weekly haftarah portion (reading from the Prophets) is usually connected with the weekly Torah portion. However, beginning from the 17th of Tammuz until the end of the Jewish year, the connection changes. First three haftarot of rebuke are read during the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" (between the 17th of Tammuz and Tish'ah B'Av), and then seven haftarot of comfort (Shiva D'Nechemta) follow until the end of the year (i.e., until Rosh Hashanah). These seven selections from the prophets foretell the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (the ingathering of the exiles), the future redemption of Israel, and the coming of the Messianic Era.
This week (the second of the Seven Weeks of Comfort) is called Vatomer Tzion (וַתּאמֶר צִיּוֹן, "And Tzion shall say"), which commands us to never regard Zion as abandoned.... "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:15-16). The Haftarah concludes by Isaiah saying that the LORD will comfort the Mountain of Zion by making it like the Garden of Eden, with joy and happiness within her, along with thanksgiving and the sound of song.
Note: The month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., on August 10th this year), and Rosh Hashanah itself occurs in just six weeks (Sept. 8th at sundown). These seven Haftarot of comfort are intended to encourage us to get ready for the High Holiday Season.
A Jewish "Valentine's Day"?
07.26.10 (Av 15, 5770) Hebrew letters can be used to express numbers. Joining the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6), for example, equals the number 15, sometimes written as the acronym "Tu" (ט"ו). The phrase "Tu B'Av" (ט"ו באב) indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (אָב), a "full-moon" holiday that has been celebrated as a day of love and affection since Biblical times (i.e., chag ha-ahavah: חַג הָאַהֲבָה). In modern Israel it is customary to send a bouquet of red roses to the one you love on Tu B'Av. Romantic songs are played on the radio and parties are held in the evening throughout the country. This year Tu B'Av occurs July 26th, 2010.
The first mention of Tu B'Av is found in the Mishnah, where Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted as saying, "There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife... (Taanit, Chapter 4).
Since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, prophetically Tu B'Av pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), the LORD Yeshua our beloved Messiah. On a soon-coming day those who belong to the LORD and are faithful to follow His ways will be blessed with the unspeakable joy of consummating their relationship with Him. This is heaven itself - to be in the Presence of the LORD and to be His beloved (Rev. 19:6-9).
For more about Tu B'Av, click here.
Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'av. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.23.10 (Av 12, 5770) During Tishah B'Av we restrict our study of Torah to the grave matter of God's judgment for our sins. We read the prophet Jeremiah and grieve over the destruction of the Temple. We weep over the lost vision of Zion - and the exile of the Jewish people. This is a somber time of national mourning for Israel...
But there is always hope, even in our darkest hour.... The Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Nachamu (שבת נחמו ), "the Sabbath of Comfort," because we take time to remember Israel's prophetic future. The Haftarah therefore begins: Nachamu, nachamu ammi (נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי) "Comfort, comfort, my people, says your God" (Isa. 40:1). And because the study of Torah brings comfort and joy to our hearts, the sages chose parashat Vaetchanan to be read at this time to emphasize our duty to study the Torah (תַּלְמוּד תּוֹרָה) and to rejoice in the revelation of God:
פִּקּוּדֵי יהוה יְשָׁרִים מְשַׂמְּחֵי־לֵב
מִצְוַת יהוה בָּרָה מְאִירַת עֵינָיִם׃
pik·ku·dei Adonai ye·sha·rim, me·sa·me·chei lev;
mitz·vat Adonai ba·rah, me·i·rat ein·na·yim
"The enumerations (פִּקּוּד) of ADONAI are right, rejoicing the heart;
The mitzvah of ADONAI is pure, bringing light (אוֹר) to the eyes." (Psalm 19:10)
The Torah portion begins with Moses' plea to the LORD to be allowed entry into the Promised Land, despite God's earlier decree (Num. 20:8-12; 27:12-14). The Hebrew word va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), which means to beseech or implore. It derives from the noun chen (חֵן), grace, implying that the supplication appeal's to God's favor, not to any idea of personal merit (in Jewish tradition, tachanun (תַּחֲנוּן) are prayers recited after the Amidah begging for God's grace and mercy). Moses was asking God to show him grace by reversing the decree that forbade him to enter the Promised Land.
Note that in Jewish tradition, the idea of appealing to God's grace is not without expending personal effort. The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) -- which suggests (according to some of the sages) that Moses offered tachanunim (supplications) no less than 515 times to be allowed into the Promised Land. Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun," who was clearly a picture of the Messiah.
Moses was forbidden into the land because symbolically the covenant made at Sinai was insufficient to fulfill the promise of God. This insufficiency, however, was not the fault of God's Torah, which is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but rather because of the weakness of the human condition (i.e., the law of sin and death). "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). The New Covenant was needed to bring people to Zion, and this required a "change in the Torah" and a new priesthood (Heb. 7:12). "The former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness - for the law made nothing perfect - but a better hope is introduced, and that is how we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19).
The sages refer to the principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children." The entire Exodus story amounted to a sort of parable: "As below, so above" (and conversely). In Jewish midrash, the rock is called the "well of Miriam" because the water was said to have run dry upon her death. But this is simply a midrash, and we know from the New Testament that both the manna (i.e., lechem ha-chayim: לֶחֶם הַחַיִּים) and the living water (i.e., mayim ha-chayim: מַיִם הַחַיִּים) both represented the Presence of Yeshua (John 6:35; 7:38). "Our fathers ... passed through the sea and ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was the Messiah" (1 Cor. 10:1-4). This Rock was not given to Israel in the merit of Miriam, but rather foreshadowed the sustenance of life given through the One who would be stricken for His people (Isa. 53:4 and 1 Cor. 10:4). The Torah states that Moses' sin that led to his exile was that he "struck the rock twice" (Chukat), and this implied that the Savior of Israel would need to be stricken a second time to give life the people. No! The Rock that was once smitten for the people was now to be spoken to as the "Living Rock" (Num. 20:8, 1 Cor. 10:4).
Even in the face of exile, we know that God's correction and judgment is not the last word for those who turn to Him in trust (Lam. 3:22-23). In the end, the Jewish people will be saved (Rom. 11:26), just as Moses was indeed later admitted to the Promised Land where he met with Yeshua on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-5). The LORD is faithful and true, and He will never break His promise to the children of Israel...
חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לא־תָמְנוּ כִּי לא־כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו׃
חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ׃
chas·dei Adonai ki lo-ta·me·nu, ki lo-kha·lu ra·cha·mav,
cha·da·shim la·be·ka·rim rab·bah e·mu·na·te·kha
"The faithful love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23)
Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!
Jeremiah and Jesus...
[ It is hard to overstate the significance of the destruction of the Jewish Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC. Its demolition - and the exile of Judah - is perhaps the central calamity of the entire Tanakh (even today Judaism grapples with its implications). The prophet of that dark period of Jewish history was Jeremiah, sometimes called the "weeping prophet." In many profound ways Jeremiah prefigured the prophetic ministry of Yeshua. The following entry continues the theme found in the Haftarah of Tishah B'Av.... ]
07.22.10 (Av 11, 5770) Francis Schaeffer once identified Jeremiah as the quintessential prophet for the postmodern age. "Jeremiah," he wrote, "provides us with an extended study of an era like our own, where men have turned away from God, and society has become post-Christian" (Schaeffer: Death in the City). The rabbis called him the "Weeping Prophet," and not without reason. His entire mission was to herald sorrow, destruction, and hardship for the people of God... As he finally saw the Holy Temple burn to the ground, it surely must have seemed as if his entire ministry had failed...
The prophet Jeremiah (i.e., Yirmiyahu ha-navi: יִרְמְיָהוּ הַנָּבִיא) is generally regarded as one of the three "major" Jewish prophets (the other two being Isaiah and Ezekiel). He lived from about 640-570 BC and began serving as God's prophet during the 13th year of King Josiah's reign. Jeremiah's long ministry would subsequently span the reigns of five different kings of Judah: Josiah (640–609 BC), Jehoahaz (609 BC), Jehoiakim (609-598 BC), Jehoiachin (598-597 BC), and Zedekiah, the last king of Judah (597-586 BC).
Over the course of his 40 year ministry, Jeremiah saw the abrupt fall of the Assyrian Empire and the steady rise of Babylonian dominance in the Ancient Near East. He witnessed prince Nebuchadnezzar's rise to power and understood the significance of his military campaign against Egypt at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BC. He foresaw that the political future of Judah would turn on the conflict between Babylon and Egypt:
Jeremiah was living in Jerusalem when Nebuchadnezzar (who by then had become king of Babylon) returned to capture the city in 597 BC. At that time Nebuchadnezzar deposed the Jewish king Jehoiachin and installed Zedekiah (צִדְקִיָּה) as his vassal (2 Kings 24:12,17). During Zedekiah's rule, Jeremiah advised the leadership of Judah to submit to Babylonian rule and not to look to Egypt as a political ally (Jer. 2:18,36; 37:7-8; etc.). Judah needed to accept the fact that its destruction was imminent and inevitable (Jer. 5:15-17). Because of his doom-laden prophecies, Jeremiah was regarded as a fatalist and a defeatist. The leaders of Judah rejected his message and regarded him as a traitor. His religious critics (i.e., the Levites and Temple administration) regarded him as a false prophet who did not believe in the doctrine of Zion's invincibility (Jer. 7:4). In particular, Jeremiah took issue with those who believed that the Temple functioned as some sort of "good luck charm" to ward off the threat of destruction from Judah.
"Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD.' For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. But you trust in deceptive words to no avail" (Jer. 7:5-8).
Do not trust in these deceptive words: "This is the temple of the LORD,
the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD." - Jer. 7:4
Jeremiah went on to condemn the "lip service" exemplified by the corrupted Temple and its public worship services: "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my Name, and say, 'We are delivered!' - only to go on doing all these abominations? I will do to the house that is called by my Name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out your kinsmen, the offspring of Ephraim" (Jer. 7:9-15).
Jeremiah's condemnation is clearly similar to that of Yeshua, who overthrew the money changer's tables, stopped the daily sacrifice, and charged the priestly leadership with making His Father's house a "den of robbers" (Jer. 7:11, Matt. 21:13, Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46). Like Jeremiah, Yeshua insisted that the "kingdom of God is within you," that is, a matter of the heart of faith. There is no inherent sanctity of a physical place apart from a heart that is trusting in the LORD's love and righteousness (Jer. 7:4-7; Luke 17:21). Indeed, Yeshua's harshest words were directed to religious leaders who made a pretense of their devotion to God, but were inwardly full of greed and self-deception:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt. 23:25-28).
The "outer is not the inner," and vice versa. God abhors those who pretend to know Him but who are spiritual impostors (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:11-12; Luke 6:46). Because of such rampant hypocrisy, both Jeremiah and Yeshua denounced the Temple as utterly corrupt and foretold its destruction (Jer. 25:9,11; Matt. 24:1-2).
Yeshua warned us about the "leaven" (i.e., doctrine - διδαχή) of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and politicians of his day (Matt. 16:6-12; Mark 8:15). In Luke's Gospel, this leaven is defined as hypocrisy (ὑπόκρισις): "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1)." But what is hypocrisy? The word might come from the Greek prefix ὑπὸ (under) combined with the verb κρίνω (to judge), and hence refers to the inability to come to a decision and exercise genuine conviction. It is a state of being "double minded," duplicitous, and insincere... Later the word connoted playing a part, "putting on a show," feigning righteousness, acting with insincerity, reusing "canned answers" or repeating the party line. Hypocrisy is therefore a form of self-deception. It is institutionalized prejudice dressed up as religion; it is counterfeit thinking that cheats the truth; it is ethnocentric nonsense that despises others as unworthy, inferior, etc. The "leaven of the Pharisees" is like old sourdough added to the community -- it "puffs people up" and is therefore based on human pride. The message of both Jeremiah and Yeshua was marked by repentance, humility, and the sincere desire to love and serve God.
The prophet Jeremiah clearly foreshadowed the prophetic ministry of Yeshua our Messiah. Both Jeremiah and Yeshua were called to deliver the judgment of God upon sinful man. Both lived in a time of political upheaval and unrest for Judah. In a sense, both were "prophets of doom" who became "enemies of the Jewish state." Both condemned hypocrisy and foretold disaster unless the people turned away from sin and turned to God with all their hearts (Matt. 15:8; Jer. 7:9-15). Both were "weeping prophets" who lamented over the City of Jerusalem (Jer. 9:1; Luke 19:41). Both were misunderstood and persecuted by the people of their day. Both prophets were plotted against by the citizens of their own hometowns (Jer. 11:21; Luke 4:28-30), and both were rejected by the religious and political leaders of their day (Jer. 20:1-2; John 18:13, 24). Both rejected the Temple worship as corrupt and beyond repair. Both condemned the "religious" reinterpretation of the Torah (Jer. 8:8; Matt. 23:2-3;23; Mark 7:5). Both were forcibly taken into Egypt because of political persecution (Matt. 2:13; Jer. 44). Both were falsely accused, arrested, and unjustly beaten (Jer. 37:12-15; Matt. 26:61; 27:26). Both were rejected by the secular Jewish king of the Jews (Jer. 32:2-4; Luke 23:8-11). And yet both never abandoned the Jewish people and ultimately offered God's comfort and hope (Lam. 3:22-25, John 14:1,27). Jeremiah and Yeshua both preached the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) of God that would transform a heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Jer. 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; Heb. 8:6-13; 9:15, etc.). Both foresaw that the true Temple of God was made without hands, built from material of hearts of those who truly serve God in Spirit and in truth... The destruction of the First Temple was the central catastrophe of the older covenant, just as the destruction of the Second Temple was the central catastrophe of the New Covenant. Because of the suffering and sacrificial death of Yeshua, the inner veil of the Temple has forever been rent asunder, and access to the Presence of God has been made available to all who trust in Him....
Because of his radical prophecies of doom, king Zedekiah eventually arrested Jeremiah and put him in the palace prison. Later Jeremiah witnessed the destruction of the city in fulfillment of his prophecies (Jer. 32:2-5; 38:28).
Like other prophets of the LORD, Jeremiah decried the false teachers and injustices of his day. "No one relents of his evil saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse rushing for battle" (Jer. 8:6). And though he was of priestly lineage himself, he regarded the Temple in Jerusalem to be as corrupt as the Northern Kingdom's shrine at Shiloh (Jer. 7:4-15). He rejected the priest's narrow interpretation of the law as entirely deceitful (Jer. 8:8). Indeed, the entire culture was based on greed and deception, "from prophet to priest," everyone dealt falsely. "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace" (שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם וְאֵין שָׁלוֹם). This lead to Jeremiah's apocalyptic warning of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people (Jer. 25:9,11).
Around 590 BC, Zedekiah and the Jewish leadership of Judah openly rebelled against Babylon (2 Kings 24:18-20). This act of defiance prompted Nebuchadnezzar to besiege Jerusalem in 588 BC (on the 10th of Tevet; 2 Kings 25:1). After the two-year siege, Jerusalem ran out of food, and the walls were breached (on the 17th of Tammuz). Zedekiah's family was killed, and the king was blinded, bound, and sent to Babylon (2 Kings 25:7). The Temple, the palace, and all of the houses of Jerusalem were destroyed (on the 9th of Av), and the remaining treasures from the Temple were taken to Babylon (2 Kings 25:8-17). The majority of the Jews were displaced to Babylon and "only the poorest people of the land" remained. Nebuchadnezzar installed a man named Gedaliah to function as his governor (2 Kings 25:22). Zedekiah proved to be Judah's last king...
Jeremiah did not go with the Jews into exile, however, but was released from Zedekiah's prison to function as a liaison under a Gedaliah (Jer. 39:13-14; 40:6). He urged the Jews who remained in the land to submit to Babylonian rule and not to rebel (Jer. 27:11; 38:17). Despite his warnings, however, Gedaliah was murdered by Ishmael the son of Netaniah (who apparently regarded himself as a Davidic heir to the throne) and his gang of ten zealots (2 Kings 25:25). After Gedaliah's murder, the local Jews feared reprisal from Nebuchadnezzar and considered fleeing to Egypt to save themselves. Jeremiah warned them not to flee since the sword from which they were running would slay them there (Jer. 42:16-22). Unfortunately, the people disregarded Jeremiah's words and fled to Egypt anyway. Worse still, they abducted the prophet and took him with them (Jer. 43:2-7). A few years later Babylon conquered Egypt and tens of thousands of these Jewish refugees were killed (on the 3rd of Tishri). Jewish tradition says that Jeremiah was later stoned to death in Egypt for denouncing the idolatry of the surviving Jews who had fled there (Jer. 44).
Jeremiah's prophecies (as compiled by his faithful scribe, Baruch) were later collected into the "Book of Jeremiah" which is part of the Jewish canon of Scripture. The material in the book is thought to cover 30 years, though not in chronological order. Jeremiah is also credited as the author of the acrostic poem found in the scroll of Eichah (i.e., the "Book of Lamentations"). In Jewish tradition, Jeremiah is not regarded to be as great as Isaiah: "All the harsh prophecies which Jeremiah would prophecy against Israel, Isaiah preceded and provided the healing" (Eichah Rabati 1:23).
Midrashim about Jeremiah
Jeremiah was born in the small town of Anatot, about 3 miles northeast of Jerusalem. He is identified as a descendant of Rahab the harlot (רָחָב הַזּוֹנָה) by her marriage with Joshua, the successor of Moses (Sifre, Num. 78). His father Hilkiah was a Temple priest. According to midrash, he was prophetically born on Tishah B'Av to foreshadow his ministry of doom (Jer. 20:14). According to legend, it was evident that Jeremiah was destined for greatness from birth, since he born circumcised (Avot d'Rabbi Nosson). "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jer. 1:5). Jeremiah is said to have emerged from his mother's womb with a "great cry," which was said to foreshadow his lament for the destruction of Jerusalem. As a very young boy Jeremiah is said to have looked intently at his mother and said: "Mother, Mother, you did not conceive me in the way of women, and your path was that of the wayward woman. You set your eyes on another man and strayed from your husband. Why do you not drink the bitter waters of the sotah? You have been brazen-faced." When his mother asked, "Why do you speak to me this way?" Jeremiah replied, "I am not speaking about you, Mother; I am prophesying about Zion and Jerusalem" (Pesikta Rabbasi). Later God commanded Jeremiah not to marry and have a family because the coming judgment on Judah would sweep away the next generation (Jer. 16:1-4). Jeremiah often expressed his anguish of spirit which lent itself to his designation as the "weeping prophet" (Jer. 4:19; 9:1; 10:19-20; 23:9, etc.)
The sages sometimes compare Moses and Jeremiah. "Everything that is written about Moses is written about Jeremiah. As Moses was a prophet for forty years, so was Jeremiah; as Moses prophesied concerning Judah and Benjamin, so did Jeremiah; as Moses' own tribe (the Levites under Korach) rose up against him, so did Jeremiah's tribe revolt against him (Jeremiah was a kohen); Moses was cast into the water, Jeremiah into a watery pit; as Moses was saved by a female slave (the slave of Pharaoh's daughter), so Jeremiah was rescued by a male slave (Jer. 38:7-13); Moses reprimanded the people in discourses, so did Jeremiah (Pesikta d'Rav Kahana). We may add that Jeremiah expressed the same reluctance as Moses to become a prophet and offered the same kind of excuses (God gave Aaron to be Moses' mouthpiece but directly put words into Jeremiah's mouth (Exod. 4:14-16, Jer. 1:8-9). Some scholars have said that Jeremiah might have even regarded himself as the coming prophet whom Moses foretold (Deut. 18:18).
As a young man, the LORD appeared to him and said, "Listen closely, Jeremiah. While you were still in your mother's womb, I sanctified you to be a prophet for My people. The time has now come for you to go forth and prophecy." Deeply moved and afraid of this responsibility, he replied: "Master of the universe, how can You send me to rebuke the Jews? They will kill me! They even threatened to kill Moses and Aaron, who led them from Egypt, and they mocked Elijah and Elisha. Who am I to deliver your message to them? I am young - only a child. Who will listen to me?" (Jer. 1:6). The LORD reassured Jeremiah: "Be not afraid. You shall indeed go wherever I send you. I have chosen you precisely because you are so young and innocent. Go to them and pour out my wrath upon them (Jer. 1:7-10).
Jeremiah was dismayed that he must be the "prophet of doom." "He said, 'Master of the Universe, what sins have I done that in the days of all the prophets who preceded me and those who will follow me, you did not destroy Your House, but only through me?' The LORD answered, 'Even before I created the world, you were prepared for this mission'" (Pesikta Rabati 27:5). Nonetheless, Jeremiah begged the LORD not to send him: "The day on which I was born was an evil one (Jer. 20:14); May this day never be blessed (Tishah B'Av)" He continued to protest. "Consider the differences between Moses and me. In his time, the Jews were told, 'May the LORD bless you (Num. 6:24),' but I must bring them a curse (Jer. 29:22). In Moses' day, You promised to protect your people and give them peace (Num. 6:26), but I must bring them news of evil days which will come to pass, days of darkness and death, of war and great tragedy (Jer. 16:5). Woe is me to be destined for such a bitter task! I am like a priest who discovers in the course of punishing the unfaithful woman that she is none other than my own mother! So I am consigned to deliver the news of exile and destruction to my people, who are as dear to me as my own mother!"
Jeremiah tried to make the people repent from their detestable Molech worship, the "king of fire" (the word "molech" is thought to be a corruption of the Hebrew word for king, melech: מֶלֶךְ, with the vowels of word "shame," boshet: בּוֹשֶׁת, added). This gigantic statue apparently had an ox's head, a hollow belly, and outstretched arms. It was said to have stood within a Canaanite temple that had seven chambers.
According to the Yalkut Shimoni (an collection of midrashim), a person who brought the "god" a gift of flour was allowed into the first chamber; a person who brought a gift of doves could enter the second chamber. A sheep gave access to the third, a ram to the fourth, a calf to the fifth, and a bull to the sixth. But if a true worshipper brought his infant son for sacrifice, he would be granted access to the seventh "grand" chamber of the Ammonite temple. The priests of Molech would heat up the belly of the idol and then burn the child to death in the idol's outstretched arms. Their frenetic drumming and shouts to the idol drowned out the screams of the baby. God sent prophets to warn the people to turn away from this horrible sin, which "had never entered His mind" (Jer. 32:35; Lev. 18:21; Deut. 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; 2 Chron. 33:6), but the people refused to repent. Nonetheless, God heard the cries of the babies and decreed that in punishment for these atrocities the Holy Temple itself would be sent up in flames....
When he saw the Jews so crazed with the fires of their idolatry, Jeremiah asked them, "Why do you pursue idols? What attracts you to such emptiness? The Jews replied, "We have forsaken the LORD and He is angry with us. That is why we seek comfort in our idols..." (Jer. 8:14). This midrash reveals the profound connection between our faith in God's love for us and our tendency toward sin. Despair over oneself can lead to shame, and shame leads to shameful actions (Prov. 13:5; 23:7). A person who abandons hope in the LORD and His love becomes a prey to the devil himself. If he no longer believes God can give him comfort, he will turn to the grossest forms of immorality to assuage his sense of abandonment.
According to Devarim Rabbah, "The Holy One, blessed be He, sent Jeremiah to the people when they sinned and said to them, 'Go tell my sons to repent.' The people said to Jeremiah, 'Should we return to the Holy One, blessed be He, with these faces? [i.e., we are ashamed to show our faces to Him].' The Holy One, blessed be He, sent Jeremiah again to tell them, 'My sons, if you return, is it not to your Father in heaven that you are returning? For He has never rejected you... By your lives, I will not deny my relationship with you. ' Nonetheless, despite such appeals, the people mocked Jeremiah and clung to their shame. It was the shame of sin that led to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, just as it was the shame of sin that led to the death of the exiles in Egypt....
Note: This is presently unfinished... If God wills, I will add more later. Shalom for now...
More Spiritual Warfare...
07.21.10 (Av 10, 5770) I just spent the last nine hours dealing with an apparent hacker attack on an uplink from my web hosting service... Oy! I was forced to restore hundreds of pages of content over here because of "unexplained" data loss on the server side. To make matters worse, I often could not restore the content because the attack was causing the server to be flooded... Finally, after hundreds of retries, I managed to get everything back (thank you, Lord). Please keep this ministry in your prayers, chaverim. The warfare is often intense (and exhausting) as I do this work. Thank you so much!
Note: I hope to add some additional commentary on this week's Torah portion (Vaetechan), as well as some fascinating information about Jeremiah the prophet later this week, if it pleases God. Shalom for now...
God's Lament for His People...
07.20.10 (Av 9, 5770) The tears of the prophet Jeremiah represent God's compassionate love for the Jewish people; the Book of Lamentations is really God's cry... God cares about the suffering of His people: b'khol tzaratam lo tzar (בְּכָל־צָרָתָם לוֹ צָר) - "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isa. 63:9). Even after all the horrors that befell the people of Judah due to God's disciplinary judgment, the LORD still encouraged them to seek Him again. "The faithful love of the LORD (חַסְדֵי יהוה) never ceases, and his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). Our response to the faithful love of the LORD is teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "turning [shuv] to God"). In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question. God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer. We return to the LORD when we truly acknowledge that He is our Father and our King:
הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יהוה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם
ha·shi·ve·nu Adonai e·ley·kha ve·na·shu·vah, cha·desh ya·me·nu ke·ke·dem
"Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself, And let us come back;
Renew our days as of old!" (Lam. 5:21)
Let us join the lament of the Jewish people at this time. Understand Tishah B'Av as a cry for the return of Yeshua and for the salvation of Israel.. Presently He hides His face as a "diguised Egyptian" to his brothers, but one day He will be revealed as the true King of the Jews (מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים). "Salvation is from the Jews" (הַיְשׁוּעָה מִן־הַיְּהוּדִים), and among other things that means that God has unfinished business with ethnic Israel and with Jerusalem. As Yeshua lamented, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, Barukh Habah b'shem Adonai (בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יהוה): 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'" (Matt. 23:37-39.
אָנָּא יְהוָה הוֹשִׁיעָה נָּא אָנָּא יהוה הַצְלִיחָה נָּא׃
בָּרוּךְ הַבָּא בְּשֵׁם יהוה
an·na Adonai ho·shi·ah na, an·na Adonai hatz·li·cha na
bar·rukh ha·ba be·shem Adonai
"Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!" (Psalm 118:25-26)
The LORD God of Israel is faithful to His promises, and when He returns to earth one day, it will be to Jerusalem (not to Rome, New York, London, or anywhere else). Just as God is faithful to those who trust in His Son for eternal life, so He is faithful to His original covenant people. May Yeshua return speedily, and in our day. Amen.
Torah Readings for Tishah B'Av
[ The fast of the month of Av (Tishah B'Av) begins Monday July 19th at sundown and lasts 25 hours. The rules for observing fast are similar to those of Yom Kippur. ]
07.19.10 (Av 8, 5770) Tishah B'Av allows us to express heartfelt grief over the loss of Zion and therefore over the fraility of our human condition. During this time it is appropriate to grieve over our sins and to shed tears that attest to lev nishbar v'nikdeh, a "broken and crushed heart" (Psalm 51:17). Indeed, during the entire "Three Weeks of Sorrow" we read selections from the prophets that forewarn of the coming destruction of the Temple (i.e., churban: חֻרְבָּן) and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people (i.e., galut: גָּלוּת). During this time of the year, we listen to the lamentations of the prophet Jeremiah crying out for our repentance...
During Tishah B'Av synagogue services, the lights are dimmed and the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is draped in black (in some synagogues the parochet (curtain) is removed as a sign of mourning). The crowns with tinkling bells are removed from Torah scrolls. Congregants remove their leather shoes and do not greet each other. The cantor leads the prayers readings in a low, mournful voice. The cantillation for the Scripture readings are set to elegiac, sorrowful melodies.
In the morning service, the Torah portion of Deuteronomy 4:25-40 is read (Moses' prophecy regarding Israel's future iniquity and exile) followed by the Haftarah of Jeremiah 8:13-9:24 which describes the desolation of Zion.
The Haftarah for Tishah B'Av
As mentioned above, the Haftarah (prophetic reading) for Tishah B'Av comes from the prophet/priest Jeremiah (יִרְמְיָהוּ), who was an eyewitness to the destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent exile of the Jewish people. Here is a little bit of background.
The Northern Kingdom had already been judged and sent into exile (c. 722 BC) and the Kingdom of Judah was following the same self-destructive path. Sometime after King Josiah established Torah reform in the land (c. 626 BC), the LORD commissioned the Jeremiah to confront the people of Judah for their ongoing apostasy and idolatry. He was just a child at the time (Jer. 1:6-9). Jeremiah's long ministry (over 40 years) would subsequently span the reigns of five different kings of Judah: Josiah (640–609), Jehoahaz (609), Jehoiakim (609-598), Jehoiachin (598-597), and Zedekiah (597-586). During these years Jeremiah was routinely ignored, slandered as a false prophet, and abused. He was physically attacked, thrown into a well, put into stocks, imprisoned by king Zedekiah, threatened with death, and finally abducted into exile to Egypt by Jewish zealots who ignored his warnings not to rebel against the Babylonians (see the Fast of Gedaliah).
In the Haftarah for Tishah B'Av, we read how Jeremiah inwardly struggled while trying to reach the Jewish people. The LORD likened the Jews living in Judah to a withered fig tree that born no figs. "What I gave them has passed away from them" (Jer. 8:13; cp. Matt. 21:19). The people were in despair and complained that God has given them the "water of gall" (מֵי־ראשׁ) to drink because of their sins (Jer. 8:14). This water may be an image of crying (i.e., mei rosh literally means "tears from the head") or it may allude to the water given the sotah (i.e., the suspected adulteress) as explained in Numbers 5:12-31. If such a woman was indeed guilty of adultery, she would die a painful death: her body would swell, her face would become ashen, and her limbs would weaken. "We looked for peace, but no good came; for a time of healing, but behold, terror" (Jer. 8:15). God then stated that He would send the Babylonians from the north to devour the land and send serpents to bite the people (Jer. 8:16-17).
Jeremiah expressed grief over the destruction of his people and his heart was sick within him (Jer. 8:18). In his visions he heard the cry of the people asking for God's help from Zion, and he wondered how God would answer, but the LORD was angry because of Judah's ongoing idolatry and vanities (Jer. 8:19). Some time passed, but there was still no response from heaven: avar katzir kalah kayitz, v'anachnu lo noshanu (עָבַר קָצִיר כָּלָה קָיִץ וַאֲנַחְנוּ לוֹא נוֹשָׁעְנוּ): "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, but still we are not saved" (Jer. 8:20). Jeremiah wondered why there was no "balm in Giliead," no medicine to be found, that might heal the people (Jer. 8:22). Was all hope gone? As Isaiah earlier lamented, "the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint" (Isa. 1:1-9).
Jeremiah wished he had a "head full of water" so that he could weep day and night over the death of his people (Jer. 9:1). He also wished to run away and hide in the desert (Jer. 9:2). The people were full of adultery and treachery. "Falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil and they do not know me, declares the LORD" (Jer. 9:3). "Everyone deceives his neighbor and no one speaks the truth... they refuse to know me, declares the LORD" (Jer. 9:5-6). Because the people spoke deceitfully and schemed against their neighbors, the LORD chose to punish them. Jerusalem was decreed to become a heap of ruins. The Temple will be razed and all the cities of Judah would become desolate (Jer. 9:11).
Jeremiah tried to save the people from punishment. He argued that none of the people were wise enough to understand God's teachings and therefore none of them would learn from God's punishment, either (Jer. 9:12). God rejected his intercession on their behalf, however, since the people willingly forsook the Torah and chose to disregard its commandments (Jer. 9:13). They had stubbornly hardened their hearts to follow after their own lusts. Therefore God would feed them with "wormwood" and give them "the water of gall" (מֵי־ראשׁ) to drink (Jer. 9:15). Since the people willingly broke the covenant terms given at Sinai (Jer. 11), the LORD would scatter them among the nations, just as He promised He would to Moses (Jer. 9:16; cp. Lev. 26:33; Deut. 4:27; 28:64).
After being rejected time and again, the LORD instructed Jeremiah to call for the "professional wailers" to raise a lament for Zion. "How we are ruined! We are utterly shamed, because we left the land, because they have cast down our dwellings" (Jer. 9:17-19). God then explained to them that the hour of judgment has come (Jer. 9:20-22).
The Haftarah ends with a reminder that God's Torah called for faithful love, justice, and righteousness (חֶסֶד מִשְׁפָּט וּצְדָקָה), but Israel rejected God's way of life. "Thus says the LORD: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices loyal love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,' declares the LORD" (Jer. 9:23-24). According to Rambam and other commentators, this verse indicates that of all the various human achievements (represented by intellectuals, warriors, and merchants), the knowledge of God's love (chesed), justice (mishpat), and righteousness (tzedakah) is the best and most important.
According to midrash, Jeremiah was commanded by the LORD to return home to Anatoth because his merit was so great that God could not destroy Jerusalem as long as he was in the city (Pesikta d'Rav Kahana). Once he left, however, Jerusalem was conquered and and city was set on fire. When Jeremiah returned, he saw smoke rising from the Temple and rejoiced, thinking that the people had repented and were offering sacrifices. He wept bitterly when he realized he was mistaken...
As a result of Judah's continued and unrepentant idolatry, Jerusalem was destroyed and the horrific visions of Jeremiah were fulfilled before his eyes... "The LORD has done what he planned; he has fulfilled his word, which he decreed long ago. He has overthrown you without pity, he has let the enemy gloat over you, he has exalted the horn of your foes" (Lam. 2:17). In the Book of Lamentations (i.e., Eichah: אֵיכָה), Jerusalem is personified as a woman who "weeps" for the destruction to come. She became like a widow who was left comfortless (Lam. 1:1-2). She saw babies and sucklings languish in the squares of the city (Lam. 2:10-11). All joy and hope were now lost as the people became enslaved to their captors (Lam. 5:1-4; 15-16).
Thankfully, the Book of Lamentations is not devoid of hope. Even after all the horrors that befell the people of Judah, God still encouraged them to seek Him again. "Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). "The LORD is good to those waiting for him, to those who are seeking him out" (Lam. 3:25). "Let us search and examine our ways, And turn back to the LORD; Let us lift up our hearts with our hands To God in heaven: We have transgressed and rebelled, but You have not yet forgiven" (Lam. 3:40-42). The book ends with the great Hashivenu appeal to the LORD. When the reader reaches the word "Hashivenu" (the first word of the penultimate verse of the book), he pauses and the congregation recites the verse in unison: Hashivenu Adonai, elecha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21). Often this verse is repeated and sung to a haunting melody as the scroll is returned to the Ark.
Tishah B'Av and Yeshua's Return
When Yeshua read the Haftarah in the synagague and announced that the Messianic expectation was being fulfilled, He read only part of the passage from Isaiah 61:1-3 and then "closed the book," leaving verse "unfinished" (Luke 4:18-21). In other words, Yeshua read the following:
"The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor..."
but He did not go on to finish the passage:
"...and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion - to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified."
Yeshua will finish "reading" this verse when He returns at the end of the age (Yom Adonai, at the end of the Great Tribulation) to establish Zion as praise of the earth. At that time, the all the fast days surrounding the destruction of the Temple will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19).
The word "Zion" is mentioned over 160 times in the Scriptures. That's more than the words faith, hope, love, and countless others... And since Zion is a poetic form of the word Jerusalem, the number of occurrences swells to nearly 1,000! It is therefore not an overstatement to say that God Himself is a Zionist.... "Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth" (Psalm 50:2). Zion represents the rule and reign of God in the earth and is therefore synonymous with the Kingdom of God. The entire redemptive plan of God -- including the coming of the Messiah Himself and our very salvation -- is wrapped up in the concept of Zion. It is the "historiography" of God -- His philosophy of history, if you will. And this perhaps explains why the world system (and its agency, the devil) routinely mischaracterizes and condemns "Zionism" as a form of racism or injustice...
God loves Zion since it symbolizes His redemptive program in human history. In a sense, Zion is the heart of the Gospel message and the focal point of God's salvation in this world. Zion represents our eschatological future -- our home in olam haba (the world to come). Even the new heavens and earth will be called Jerusalem -- "Zion in her perfection" (Rev. 21). "This is what Adonai Tzeva'ot says: I am very jealous for Jerusalem and Zion, but I am very angry with the nations that feel secure" (Zech. 1:14-15). "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch" (Isa 62:1). "The builder of Jerusalem is God, the outcasts of Israel he will gather in... Praise God, O Jerusalem, laud your God, O Zion" (Psalm 147:2-12).
Friends, how can we forget Zion, "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem" (Heb. 12:22)? Is she not "our mother" (Gal. 4:26)? Are we not her citizens, indeed, her exiles in this age? As the psalmist said, "If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!" (Psalm 137:5-6). Of course we are instructed to "pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 126:6), but we are further told to "badger" the LORD until he makes Zion "the praise of the earth" (Isa. 62:7).
Israel still has prophetic destiny that awaits fulfillment. One day all Israel will be saved and comforted by God. Yeshua will return as Israel's Messiah and all the words given to the Hebrew prophets will literally be fulfilled. Zion will indeed become the praise of the earth!
Addendum: It is clear that we are living in a time that is not unlike that of ancient Judah before God's hammer of judgment fell. Like ancient Judah, we have little time left for us to repent before complete destruction of our nation occurs before our very eyes. Time is very short, chaverim. Though we may expect the rapture, this does not guarantee that our nation will not undergo judgment from heaven and we will face serious tribulation in the days to come... In light of the progressive judgments from heaven that continue to befall the United States, it is imperative for us to carefully heed the message and warning of Tishah B'Av. Please pray for repentance to come to this land, chaverim, before it's too late...
Tishah B'Av: July 19th-20th
[ The fast of the month of Av (Tishah B'Av) begins Monday July 19th at sundown and lasts 25 hours. The observance begins with the Seuda Ha-Mafseket, the last meal eaten before sunset. The rules for observing fast are similar to those of Yom Kippur. ]
07.18.10 (Av 7, 5770) "On the Ninth of Av it was decreed that our fathers would not enter the Land of Promise, the Temple was destroyed [both] the first time and the second time, Beitar (the stronghold of the Bar Kochba rebellion) was captured, and the city of Jerusalem was plowed under" (Talmud Taanit 26b).
Tishah B'Av (תשעה באב, the "ninth [day] of [the month of] Av") is an annual day of mourning that recalls the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the centuries, but most especially the destruction of the Holy Temple and the ongoing galut (exile) of Israel. This year Tishah B'Av begins Monday July 19th at sundown and runs 25 hours until Tuesday, July 20th, one hour after sundown.
Tishah B'Av is generally regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that the Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were forced into exile. The root of these tragedies is said to go back to the Exodus from Egypt, when the LORD decreed a 40 year exile from the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies on the ninth of Av. In addition, Aaron died on Av 1 (Num. 33:38), and this was said to foreshadow the destruction of the Temple. The sages call this prophetic principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children."
The ninth of Av is the lowest point of a three week period of mourning that began with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (undertaken to recall the first breach in the walls of Jerusalem by the Babylonians before the First Temple was destroyed). The "Three Weeks of Sorrow" is intended to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) and to prepare for the Messianic redemption to come.
Parashat Vaetchanan - ואתחנן
[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'av. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.18.10 (Av 7, 5770) The Torah portion for this Shabbat (Vaetchanan) includes some of the most fundamental texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, Moses' prediction of the galut (exile) of national Israel and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the End of Days) is provided in this portion.
The word Vaetchanan (ואתחנן) does not appear elsewhere in the Tanakh, though it is derived from the verb chanan (חָנַן), meaning to find favor or grace (i.e., chen, חֵן). The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) -- which suggests (according to some of the sages) that Moses offered tachanunim (supplications) no less than 515 times to be allowed into the Promised Land (note that the word "tachanun" comes from the same Hebrew root as Vaetchanan). Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun."
Why did Moses, the great leader of Israel, need to plead and supplicate the LORD so earnestly? Moses' sin that led to his exile was that he "struck the rock twice" (Chukat). This mistake might not seem like such a big deal until we remember that everything that happened to the Exodus generation was highly prophetic and held portentous meaning for the future of Israel. The sages call this prophetic principle: ma'aseh avot siman labanim (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים): "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children."
The rock that was struck was a picture of the Mashiach who would be stricken for His people (Isa. 53:4 and 1 Cor. 10:4). Moses' second striking suggested that Yeshua would need to be stricken a second time in order to provide the needs of the people. No! The Rock that was once smitten for the people was now to be spoken to as the Spiritual Rock (1 Cor. 10:4). The entire Exodus was a parable: "As below, so above" (and conversely). Moses conveyed the wrong message, suggesting that the first striking had been insufficient and that something more was needed. The price he paid for this disobedience was severe: Exile from the Promised Land. And so it is to this day: those who attempt to add to the work of the LORD by affecting works of their own righteousness will likewise find themselves in a state of exile from grace.... (For more on this subject, see the additional article on Parashat Vaetchanan called "A New Son will Arise.")
Shabbat Nachamu - Sabbath of Comfort
The prophet Zechariah foresaw the future Messianic Era when the various fast days of the Jewish year will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19):
"Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Yom Kippur), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing, and for pleasant appointed seasons, and the truth and the peace they have loved (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ)."
Because of this prophecy of coming consolation, immediately following the Fast of Av we recall the promise of coming comfort from the LORD. Therefore the sages named the Sabbath that follows Tishah B'Av Shabbat Nachamu (שבת נחמו ) the "Sabbath of Comfort," and assigned as Haftarah the reading of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." (Isa. 40:1). The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both of the Temples that were destroyed. Thematically, this Shabbat invites us to rejoice over the hope of our anticipated comfort: Despite our present tribulations, in the end the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.
Shabbat Nachamu marks the starts of a series of seven weekly readings from the prophets called "The Seven Haftarot of Consolation" (i.e., "Shiva D'nechemta"). From the Sabbath following Tishah B'Av until Rosh Hashanah, we read words of comfort from the prophets. These selections foretell the restoration of the Jewish people to their land (the ingathering of the exiles), the future redemption of Israel, and the coming of the Messianic Era. May Yeshua return soon, chaverim!
Judge Righteous Judgment
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Devarim. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.16.10 (Av 5, 5770) The Torah teaches that because of the Sin of the Spies, the entire generation of Israelites rescued from Egypt was sentenced to die in the desert. According to the Midrash Eichah Rabbah, every year until the fortieth year (after the Exodus), on the eve of the Ninth of Av, Moses would command the people, "Go out and dig," and the people would leave the camp, dig graves, and sleep in them overnight. The following morning a messenger would proclaim, "Let the living separate from the dead!" Fifteen thousand would die that very night, but the survivors would return to the camp for another year.
This occurred year after year, but in the fortieth year no one died. Since they thought they might have miscalculated the days, they slept in their graves an additional night. This went on for five nights until the fifteenth of Av, when they saw the full moon, realized that there calculations were correct, and rejoiced that no more of the first generation would die. They subsequently declared Tu B'Av a day of celebration. The "desert generation" had finally died off and the new generation was finally ready to enter the land!
Moses knew that he could not go with the Jews into the Promised Land because of his sin at Meribah-Kadesh (Num. 20:10-13, Deut. 3:23-28). He therefore was aware that he had little time left to exhort the next generation before he died. The book of Deuteronomy therefore records Moses' final messages to the Jewish people and has the tone of a farewell discourse. In fact, unlike the previous four books of the Torah, the speaker in Deuteronomy is Moses himself, and even the recounting of various laws and ordinances are recorded as part of the addresses he gave.
The book of Deuteronomy opens with the Israelites in the land of Moab, just east of the Jordan river, shortly before they would enter the Promised Land. It begins, "These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel" / אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר משֶׁה אֶל־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵל (Deut. 1:1). Two things are important to note at the outset. First, the book begins with the statement that these are the words of Moses rather than the continuation of the historical narrative of the Torah (which essentially ended with the Book of Numbers). Grammatically, it begins with the word eleh (אֵלֶּה, "these") rather than v'eleh (וְאֵלֶּה, "and these"), and this indicates that the book should be regarded as its own entity. In a sense, Deuteronomy functions as Moses' commentary on the Torah, giving voice to his 40 years of experience as the leader of Israel. Second, Moses' words were addressed the children of the original Exodus generation. As already mentioned, the original generation was decreed to die out in the desert because of their unbelief. And since Moses knew he likewise would soon die, he sought to inspire the new generation of Israel to go forward and take possession of the promise of Zion. Since the first generation was disqualified because of their lack of faith, Moses' summary of the Torah's message focused on the importance of trusting and obeying the LORD. Moses emphasized the importance of cheshbon ha-nefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ, "soul searching") in order to help the Jews to take possession of the promises of God.
A lot of commentators tend to regard the Book of Deuteronomy as Moses' final warning to Israel in light of their repeated failures and setbacks. Some (primarily Christian) commentators even go so far as to say that the book represents an indictment against the Jewish people that warrants regarding them as a cursed people. (This is essentially the odious doctrine of "replacement theology" that denies ethnic Israel has a future and a hope in God's plan of salvation.) Even many Jewish commentators, among them Rashi, seem to focus on Moses' rebuke (i.e., tokhachah: תּוֹכָחָה) of Israel and regard the book in a negative light. Because of this, it should be stressed at the outset that Moses' correction of Israel - including his review of the unseemly history of the desert generation - was primarily intended to remind the Jews of their high calling, their new identity, and their preciousness as God's people. As will be seen, Moses wanted Israel to remember its identity as am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה), God's "treasured possession among all peoples" (Exod. 19:5). Moses' admonition (מוּסָר) functions more like the plea of a father to his children to walk in a manner that is worthy of his name than a stinging rebuke of the sins of his children. "My son, despise not the discipline (musar) of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction (tokhachah). For whom the Lord loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights" (Prov. 3:11; cp. Heb. 12:5-6). "Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son (כַּאֲשֶׁר יְיַסֵּר אִישׁ אֶת־בְּנוֹ), the LORD your God disciplines you (מְיַסְּרֶךָּ)" (Deut. 8:5).
The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) says, "Whoever declares others unfit (פּוֹסֵל, "posel") declares them unfit with his own blemish." This is similar to Yeshua's warning about hypocrisy: "Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own?" (Matt. 7:3). In order to judge well, we must first "remove the log from our own eye" in order to see clearly (Matt. 7:5).
If you look for flaws or defects in others, you will find them (Prov. 11:27). "A bitter person makes himself miserable." In this connection, recall that when the Jews came to Marah, they "could not drink the water because it was bitter" (Exod. 15:23). The Hebrew, however, could be read, "they could not drink the water because they (i.e., the people) were bitter (כִּי מָרִים הֵם). The problem is often not "out there" but within the heart (Matt. 15:19-20). How we choose to see, in other words, says more about us than it does the external world. If you read the daily news and see only ugliness, you run the risk of becoming hardhearted. Your despair can eclipse the Presence of God....
As I have written about elsewhere, it is psychologically necessary to make various judgments in our lives. Some of these concern matters of fact, some are preconscious assumptions we make, and some regard value judgments about the actions of other people. Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh (כָּלּ יְִשְׂרָאֵל עֲרֵבִים זֶה בָּזֶה): "All Israel is responsible for one another" (Talmud Shavuot 39a). The Torah commands us to "reprove our neighbor" (תּוֹכֵחָה) because we love him as ourselves (Lev. 19:17-18). It's not a question, then, of whether we are to judge others (since we must), but rather how we will do so. Yeshua's statement, "Judge not that you be not judged" therefore cannot mean "seeing no evil" or refusing to correct our brothers and sisters. Indeed, showing indifference to other people's sin is itself a transgression. It is unloving to disregard the spiritual state of your neighbor. Whether we like it or not, we are our brother's keeper!
Instead of refusing to judge others (in the name of supposed tolerance), we are commanded judge people favorably by using a "good eye" (עַיִן טוֹבָה). As it is written in the Torah, "in righteousness judge your neighbor (בְּצֶדֶק תִּשְׁפּט עֲמִיתֶךָ)" (Lev. 19:15). Notice that the word translated "righteousness" is tzedek (צֶדֶק), a word that includes the heart motive of "charity" and love. We are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not just because it is "right," but it is right because it is based on God's love and care for others. Something is righteous, in other words, because it expresses the truth about God's love. We could read this commandment as "in love judge your neighbor." Our judgments should be based on compassion, empathy, and care for others - never as a verdict about someone's worth and status before God. We see with a redemptive eye, and that means seeing the potential of others and their inherent worth as God's children.
Similarly, Yeshua warned us not to judge by appearances, but to "judge with righteous (צֶדֶק) judgment" (John 7:24). In the context in which he spoke (i.e., teaching the crowd during the festival of Sukkot in Jerusalem), Yeshua justified healing someone on the Sabbath day as an example of understanding the "weightier matters" of the Torah. He appealed to the crowd to use their sense of charity (צְדָקָה) before coming to a decision. He was grieved that people often "turned off their hearts" by disregarding the pain of others (Mark 3:5). Yeshua warned us not to "judge by appearances," which was the very mistake Job's friends made when they regarded Job's suffering as deserved because of some hidden sin... Certainly such indifference to personal suffering is an implication of a merit-based religious system that was endorsed by some of the religious authorities of Yeshua's day. Even some of Yeshua's disciples mistakenly correlated suffering with sin (John 9:1-3).
Pirke Avot 1:6 says, dan kol ha-adam l'kaf zechut (דָּן כָּל הָאָדָם לְכַּף זְכוּת), literally, "judge every man with the hand of merit." In other words, judge other people favorably and always give them the benefit of the doubt. Extend kaf zechut - "the hand of merit" - to every person you meet. Use a "good eye" to see them in their best light. Do not focus on defects of character, but rather look for the good in the person. This will encourage them to live up to their real identity and give hope to them that change is possible.
Look for the good, even if the person is notoriously evil. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that it is impossible that an evil person has not done some good, and this represents his or her spiritual potential. Love draws out the good in others, not judgment. Focus on the good of others so that they might turn from despair and seek God.
This point is illustrated out by a story retold about a famous eastern European Jewish sage called the Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933). One day the saintly rabbi is said to have encountered a hardened ruffian at an inn. The man shouted roughly, drank whiskey, and approached the waitress inappropriately. Shocked at this man's behavior, the Chofetz Chaim prepared to correct the errant Jew. The innkeeper, fearing that harm would come to the rebbe, tried to dissuade him from intervening, explaining that the man's poor upbringing and the terrible suffering had made him incorrigible. Upon hearing this, the Chofetz Chaim approached the ruffian's table and greeted him warmly. He began to praise the man's service in the army and lamented his troubles and his lost opportunity to study Torah. "You've had a difficult life, but I see that you have never renounced your heritage. I envy the portion you will merit in the world to come!" Upon hearing this, the man began to shed burning tears of remorse and later became a sincere penitent.
We are told to "master the art of seeing good in others." Soren Kierkegaard tells the story of two young portrait artists who both sought to capture the essence of beauty in their paintings. One artist looked high and low for the "perfect face of beauty" but never found it. Tragically, he later gave up painting and lived in despair. The other artist, however, simply painted every face he saw and found beauty in each one. Now which of the two mastered the art of seeing the good in others? Which had the good eye, and which the evil?
If you find fault with others, you are a hypocrite; if you extend love to others, you will experience love in return. As you judge, so you will be judged; as you see others, so God you will be seen by God. "For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). This reciprocal principle of Kingdom life appears throughout Jesus' teaching. According to your faith, be it done unto you (Matt. 9:29). As you forgive, so you shall be forgiven (Matt. 6:14); as you judge, so you shall be judged (Matt. 7:2); as you show mercy, so you shall be shown mercy (Matt. 5:7); as you give unto others, so it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:38). This "as principle" works the other way around, too: "Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it" (Prov. 11:27).
Just before Moses began his reproof of Israel, he declared his love and faith in the people. "The LORD your God has multiplied you until you are today as numerous as the stars in the sky (כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם). May the LORD, the God of your fathers, make you a thousand times more as you are (כָּכֶם), and bless you, as He promised you" (Deut. 1:10-11). Moses first brought up God's love for the Jews before he began his admonition. Notice he used the word kachem (כָּכֶם, "as you are") in this blessing. May the LORD multiply you - as you are - a thousand times! You are beloved; you are worthy: may the LORD bless you a thousand times over! (How different is this picture of Moses than the typical cartoon made of him by many in Christianity, who envision him smashing the tablets as if that were his "last word" on the subject of the Torah to Israel!)
Were the people perfect then? Obviously not, as would be clear through Moses' later admonition to them. Nonetheless, Moses used a "good eye" to see their potential as God's chosen people. Here was this ragtag group of of desert wanderers, descendants of slaves from the "house of slavery," whom the LORD God Almighty personally redeemed to be His own treasured possession. Despite their failures in the past and all that went before, Moses reminded them that they were esteemed as mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh (מַמְלֶכֶת כּהֲנִים וְגוֹי קָדוֹש), a "kingdom of priests and a holy people" (Exod. 19:6).
Moses' approach gives us insight about how we might correct the people we truly love. Often people become defensive when they are criticized and stop listening. Adding sincere praise and encouragement helps them open up to our message, since it is grounded in a sense of respect and value for their well-being. God thinks highly of the Jewish people, and that is the very first thing to be heard. God greatly esteems us, too. Despite the fact that we are sinners, God truly loves us. He considers us worthy to be saved. Again, why else did Yeshua suffer and die on the cross if God did not value our lives so much?
Shame is never the goal of the Torah. As King David prayed: Elohai bekha vatachti; al-avoshah (אֱלהַי בְּךָ בָטַחְתִּי אַל־אֵבוֹשָׁה): "My God, I trust in you; let me not be ashamed" (Psalm 25:2). Some people use the idea of God's "law" as a sort of club to hammer a sense of guilt upon the soul. They insist that man is "totally depraved" and under God's death sentence. Such people then hope to explain the good news of the gospel to escape God's righteous wrath for sin. These people, perhaps well-meaning, forget that the LORD is "near" - karov- to the brokenhearted. This adverb means "close enough to touch." The same root is used for the word korban (קָרְבָּן), an offering that draws us near to God, as well as karov (קָרוֹב), a near kinsman. In other words, God's desire has always been for people to draw near to Him, and He has always provided a way for people to do so -- even those who lived under the terms of the Sinai Covenant.
Guilt (אַשְׁמָה) is an objective state of being sinful that may or may not be accompanied by feelings of remorse, but shame (בּוּשָׁה), at least in its toxic sense, is a state of soul that regards itself as fundamentally flawed, inadequate, and essentially unlovable. God does not want us to grovel in self-disgust or live in constant fear of His judgment. He does not want us to hate ourselves or to regard ourselves as unlovable. As His creation, He loves us and finds us of value and worth. Why else would he have given His Son up to ransom us from sin and death? Like a parent who loves his child but wants to correct him by saying, "this doesn't become you," so God wants us to remember who we really are. He wants us to "walk in love" as His "dear children of light" (Eph. 5:8). God's correction is meant to form His character within us, and this first must begin with our assurance of our value, dignity, and worth in His eyes.
We are commanded to judge with tzedakah, with love as our underlying assumption. If God so commands us, surely we can trust that He likewise judges us this way. God's love is his essence - "God is love" (ὁ θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν) - and He regards you as worthy to receive His love and blessing. He loves you b'ahavat olam - with "an everlasting love" (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם), and therefore in chesed he draws you to Himself (Jer. 31:3). Why else would Yeshua die on the cross unless He expressed God's desire to judge others favorably?
Be encouraged, chaverim. You are "fearfully and wonderfully made" and you have a future and a hope in the world to come (Jer. 29:11). "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). Keep hope. God's love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8).
Shabbat Shalom to you all!
Harden not your heart!
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Devarim. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.14.10 (Av 3, 5770) Our Torah portion this week describes how God hardened the heart of Sihon, king of Chesbon, in order to bring about his destruction (Deut. 2:30). Like the Pharaoh who stubbornly refused to heed the message of God's salvation, the LORD "hardened Sihon's spirit" (כִּי־הִקְשָׁה יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ אֶת־רוּחוֹ) so that he would not yield to the purposes and plans of God. Notice that the Hebrew word translated "hardened" (i.e., hikshah) here is the same word used to describe how Pharaoh's hardness of heart caused the death of the firstborn in Egypt (Exod. 13:15). For more on this subject, see Parashat Bo: "Hardening of the Heart."
People who do not know God are described as those who "walk in the futility (ματαιότης) of their minds" (Eph. 4:17). "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance (ἄγνοια) that is in them, due to their hardness of heart" (Eph. 4:18). This hardness of heart leads to a state of callousness or apathy (ἀπαλγέω, lit. the "inability to feel"), which is the very opposite of empathy or compassion (Eph. 4:19). Notice the progression of this process. People are darkened in their understanding and alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that comes from having a hardened heart. Put the other way around, having a hardened heart leads to ignorance, alienation from the life of God, darkened understanding, and a "futile" mind... But notice that the heart of man is central (Prov. 4:23) because it determines the "issues of life." It is the heart (לֵבָב), or the "inner man," that determines what to acknowledge and what to ignore (i.e., ignore+ance). Indeed, salvation itself is a matter of believing the truth of the gospel message from the heart (Rom. 10:9).
A heart that is insensitive, indifferent, unfeeling, and callous toward the needs of others is regarded as "hard." Both Pharaoh and Sihon refused to empathize with the suffering of the Jewish people and thereby they became enshrouded in darkness. The darkness within them led to cruelty which further alienated them from the life of God due to their willful ignorance.
Sometimes hardness of heart comes as a result of living in a fallen world. Many people live with abiding "scar tissue" that surrounds their heart, making them feel numb and unwilling to open up and trust others. Their affections have become disordered and their ego rationalizes blaming others or seeking various forms of entitlement. "Turning off your heart" can mean suppressing any positive regard for others (empathy) while nurturing anger and self-righteousness, or it may mean withdrawing from others as a lifeless shell (both approaches vainly attempt to defend the heart from hurt). Although Yeshua always showed great compassion, especially to the wounded and broken in spirit (Isa. 42:3), He regularly condemned the "hardness of heart" ("sclero-cardia," σκληροκαρδία) of the self-righteous and religious types who were opposed his work of healing and love. Such indifference toward the suffering of others caused Yeshua to feel grief (Mark 3:5). Did not the Torah explicitly state: לא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת־לְבָבְךָ / "you shall not harden your heart" against your poor brother (Deut. 15:7)? How much more should a man not "put away" his wife? Moses was forced to "change" the original intent of the Torah regarding the question of divorce as a concession to the hardheartedness of sinful men (Matt. 19:3-9).
Perhaps the telltale sign of having a hard heart is the refusal to listen (i.e., obey) God's word. The LORD said to the prophet Ezekiel: "But the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me: because all the house of Israel have a "strong forehead" (חִזְקֵי־מֵצַח) and a "hard heart" (קְשֵׁי־לֵב) (Ezek. 3:7, Cp. Jer. 5:23; 7:24). A hard heart has a form of "sclerosis" that makes it closed off and impermeable to love from others, and especially from God. Scripture uses various images to picture this condition, including a "heart of stone" (Ezek. 36:26, Zech. 7:12), an "uncircumcised heart" (Jer. 9:26), a "stiff neck" (Deut. 31:27), and so on. Stubbornness is really a form of idolatry, an exaltation of self-will that refuses to surrender to God.
For example, in the aftermath of the grievous Sin of the Golden Calf, the LORD threatened to wipe out the Jews because they were am k'she oref (עַם־קְשֵׁה־ערֶף), a "stiff-necked people" (Exod. 32:9). Various explanations for this term have been given, including the medieval commentator Sforno's description that a "stiff necked person" is someone who mulishly refuses to "move his head" and listen to those attempting to guide and help him. The neck, after all, is the "corridor" between the head and the heart, and having a "stiff neck" suggests an inflexible way of thinking and feeling... The rebels who enticed Aaron to create the golden calf were certainly "stiff necked" and obstinate. Despite witnessing the great miracles of the Exodus and experiencing the awesome revelation at Sinai, they obstinately insisted that Aaron make them "gods" that would return them to the "fleshpots of Egypt." Now that's some kind of chutzpah!
Later, Moses appealed to the people to "circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked'" (Deut. 10:16). This metaphor pictures removing a hard, outer covering so that the heart is "opened up" to feel once again. God wants us to experience compassion (com+passion: "feeling-with") and sympathy for other people's suffering... Heart circumcision represents a radical turning away from the insular realm of the self toward the emotional realm of others and God. The LORD wants us to open our hearts to the needs of other people in our lives. Indeed, the "law of the Messiah" (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) is to bear one another's burdens (Gal. 6:2).
Can believers in Yeshua have hard hearts? Yes, unfortunately, they can... When the disciples saw miracles, for example, they often did not understand because "their hearts were hardened" (Mark 6:52, 8:17). They had somehow "missed" the sense of awe, surprise, and wonder over the miraculous Presence of the LORD in their midst. They did not expect the miracles because their minds were made dull and unable to comprehend reality (John 12:40, Rom. 11:7, 2 Cor. 3:14, using the same Greek word, πωρόω). Yeshua linked this hardness to blindness, both physical and spiritual (John 12:40). Even after the resurrection, Yeshua rebuked his closest followers for their unbelief and hardness of heart (σκληροκαρδία), because they did not believe the testimony of Mary Magdalene and the other witnesses of His resurrection (Mark 16:11-14). The disciples somehow "forgot" Yeshua's repeated teaching that He must suffer, die, and be raised on the third day (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22).
Believers are furthermore warned not to become hardened (σκληρύνω) through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb. 3:13). Tolerance for sin causes the heart to become dull and deadened. Just as one mitzvah leads to another, so one sin leads to another... Allowing sin to go unchecked in your life (i.e., by "forgetting" to confess your sins) is to be under the influence of the "deceitfulness of sin" (ἀπάτῃ τῆς ἁμαρτίας). As Bonhoeffer wrote: "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."
In this sense, the deceitfulness of sin is really a form of self-deception (i.e., "fooling yourself"), since (by definition) sin requires the consent of the will to do its dirty business within the heart. When it comes to moral decisions, there really are no "accidental" sins. Can you imagine a man committing adultery and claiming that it was an "accident"? The deceitfulness of sin is also called the "lusts of deceit" (Eph. 4:22), from a Greek word (ἀπατάω) that means to be "cheated out" of something. Just as a hard heart refuses to see the miraculous Presence of God, so it refuses to see the danger of sin. Whether it disbelieves the miraculous in Yeshua or "winks at" the presence of sin, such hardness of heart inevitably leads to a sort of stupor or denial of reality. Such self-deception cheats you from living the life God calls you to live...
If we refuse to confess the truth about our inner condition to God in genuine humility, our correction may be prolonged through the process of further "hardening." Often we are not conscious of this process within ourselves, and then -- when we are made conscious -- we may find ourselves helpless to change our direction. This state of helplessness provides another opportunity for the heart to cry out to God for deliverance. If, however, we yet harden our hearts further, God may "give us over to a depraved mind" (ἀδόκιμος. lit. "tested to be found useless") that is no longer able to discern or resist the presence of evil (Rom. 1:28). This is a state of having an entirely dead heart and is the worst possible judgment from heaven. In this sense, the hardened heart is simply God's ratification of the will of the sinner. 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." According to their desires God rewards the wicked in this world and the righteous in the world to come. As C.S. Lewis once said, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" "The heart of a man plans his way, and the LORD establishes his steps" / לֵב אָדָם יְחַשֵּׁב דַּרְכּוֹ וַיהוה יָכִין צַעֲדו (Prov. 16:9).
If we cry out to the LORD for salvation, He has promised to hear us (Rom. 10:13, Joel 2:32). The awareness that we are hardhearted and self-deceived can lead to a (blessed) sense of brokenness and despair -- i.e., to the realization that own self-sufficiency is futile and ultimately self-destructive. 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 self-deception and thereby enabled to truly ask 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...
God wants us to have "soft" hearts that are malleable and subject to His touch and influence. Consider the Biblical analogy of a potter who works with clay (Isa. 64:8, Jer. 18:6). Hard clay is brittle and hard to work with, though soft clay can be molded and adapted for a variety of uses. Applied to our heart attitudes, soft clay represents being open and moveable, whereas hard clay represents being inflexible, intolerant, and so on. A "hard hearted" person is closed-minded, assured of his own righteousness, and unwilling to admit the possibility of being wrong. He is really a "fragile" soul who is often hidebound by traditions, unwilling to be corrected, and usually so driven by fear and suspicion that he is unable to look at other possibilities. When we find ourselves becoming rigid, inflexible, and intolerant, we may be demonstrating hardness of heart.
Hardness of heart is something all of us deal with, even those who believe in Yeshua. After all, believers are commanded to "put off the old self with its practices" (Col. 3:9) and are repeatedly urged not to harden their hearts (μὴ σκληρύνητε τὰς καρδίας) through unbelief (Heb. 3:8,15, 4:7). May the God's love help us keep our hearts soft and open toward others... May He give us a new heart, and put a new spirit within us. May He remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from us and give us a heart of flesh (לֵב בָּשָׂר). May we be lev echad (לֵב אֶחָד) - "one heart" - with one another and with the Father (Ezek. 11:19). May we be so sensitized to the Presence of God that we detect the slightest touch from His hand upon us. Amen.
Nine Days of Mourning
[ The following entry concerns the fast of Av (Tishah B'Av), which begins Monday July 19th at sundown this year (i.e., the 9th of Av). ]
07.11.10 (Tammuz 29, 5770) The last nine days of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" are a time of mourning for the Jewish people. Beginning with Rosh Chodesh Av (i.e., Av 1) and ending on Tishah B'Av (i.e., Av 9), observant Jews reflect on the destruction of Zion and begin emotionally preparing for the Fast of Av. Typically marriages are not held during this time, and many Jews deliberately refrain from pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, dancing, taking vacations, and sometimes even shaving. In fact, most Orthodox Jews will refrain from any activity that might require the recitation of the Shehecheyanu blessing.
Tishah B'Av is generally regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this date that the Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people were forced into exile. The root of these tragedies is said to go back to the Exodus from Egypt, when the LORD denied entrance into the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies. (מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children"). The nine days of mourning is intended to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) and to prepare for the Messianic redemption to come.
Parashat Devarim - פרשת דברים
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Devarim. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]
07.11.10 (Tammuz 29, 5770) The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat is Devarim ("words"), the first portion of the final book of the Torah. The Hebrew name of the book comes from the Hebrew phrase אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים (eleh ha-devarim, "these are the words...") found in the first verse. In our English Bibles, Devarim is known as Deuteronomy, a Greek word (δευτερονομιον) that means "repetition of the Torah" or "Second Law" (from the Hebrew phrase מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh ha-Torah in Deut. 17:18).
Parashat Devarim is read every year during the Three Weeks of Sorrow on the Shabbat immediately before Tishah B'Av. In Jewish tradition, this Sabbath is called Shabbat Chazon (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), "the Sabbath of Vision," since the Haftarah that is read comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the coming destruction of the Temple:
"Hear, O heavens and give ear, O earth,
For the LORD has spoken;
Though I brought up and raised My children,
They have rebelled against me." (Isa. 1:2)
When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction to come was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they refused to turn back to God, calamity overtook them. Today the Haftarah is traditionally chanted to the same haunting melody as Megilat Eichah (Lamentations), written by the prophet Jeremiah, who was an eyewitness to the destruction and fall of Judah and Jerusalem.
During the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow it is common to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Hashivenu Adonai, elecha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).
At the beginning of the Torah portion, Moses gives words of musar (rebuke or correction) regarding the Sin of the Spies. It was this sin of unbelief, you may recall, that led to the LORD's decree that the generation that left Egypt would not enter into the Promised Land. The New Testament calls this defining moment the "provocation" or "rebellion" (παραπικρασμος, Heb. 3:15-4:1). According to the Talmud, the LORD decreed that this date (the 9th of Av) would be one of perpetual mourning, foretelling the time when the people would grieve over the Temple that was destroyed in their midst.
In the midrash Pesikta Rabbati (פסיקתא רבתי) it is noted that Moses began his last book with the phrase eleh ha-devarim ("these are the words") because the Torah is compared to a bee (דְּבוֹרָה) whose honey is sweet but whose sting is poisonous (the word devarim (דְּבָרִים) looks like the word for bees (דְבוֹרִים)). The words of Torah give joy and sweetness to those who heed it (Psalm 19:10), but they are deadly poison to those who do not. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb. 10:31), and as Yeshua warned his followers, "from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him" (Luke 19:26).
Some of the sages suggest that we should only offer musar (correction) to others when we are close to our own day of death, just as Moses waited to the end of his life to offer rebuke to the children of Israel. We do this in order to avoid the dreadful sin of lashon hara (evil speech). This is why the Book of Devarim begins, "These are the words that Moses spoke," suggesting a distinction between his words and the words of the LORD. If we offer rebuke to others prematurely, we run the risk of making people feel shameful and discouraged, rather than encouraged to perform teshuvah and return to the LORD. Constructive criticism given at the end of one's life, however, does not induce shame and will retain itself in the loving memory of the one rebuked.
The Sanctity of Our Words
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, Mattot and Masei. Please read the two Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]
07.09.10 (Tammuz 27, 5770) Among other topics, this week's Torah portion mentions vows (i.e., nedarim: נְדָרִים) and oaths (i.e., shevuot: שְׁבוּעוֹת) made to the LORD (Num. 30:2-3). The sages distinguish between these by saying that a vow (נֶדֶר) represents a promise to do something (or to refrain from doing something), whereas an oath (שְׁבוּעָה) represents a sworn testimony that something is true (or false). Among Orthodox Jews, it is customary to say "bli neder" (בְּלִי נֶדֶר) after making any sort of commitment to avoid the risk of making a vow. Bli neder means, "I'll do my best to keep my word to you on this, though understand that I am not taking a vow..." Just before Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidrei service is intended to absolve legal liability for failing to keep personal vows. The Aramaic phrase kol nidrei (כָּל נִדְרֵי) means "all vows."
The Torah states that a whoever makes a vow or takes an oath "shall not break his word" (לא יַחֵל דְּבָרוֹ). The word translated "break" comes from the root chalal (חָלַל) which means to profane or make unholy. This is the same root used in the phrase chillul Hashem (חִלוּל הַשֵּׁם) which means to desecrate the Name of the LORD: "And you shall not profane (חָלַל) My holy name; but I will be sanctified (קָדַשׁ) among the children of Israel: I am the Lord who sanctifies you" (Lev. 22:32). Since it is chillul HaShem to break your word, keeping your word is a form of kiddush HaShem (קִדּוּשׁ הַשֵּׁם), "sanctifying the Name of the LORD."
The Torah links both vows and oaths with the soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). An oath is considered a "bond" or a binding obligation upon the soul (lit., "a bond on his soul," אִסָּר עַל־נַפְשׁוֹ). This statement leads to the question about the relationship between our words and the state of our souls....
In Genesis 2:7, the Scriptures describe the creation of man: "Then the LORD God formed (יֵצֶר) the man of dust from the ground and breathed (נָפַח) into his nostrils the breath of life (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), and the man became a living soul (נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה)." The word yetzer ("formed") refers to something shaped, like pottery fashioned by the hand of a potter. Just as a potter purposes a shape before forming an object, so God intended the image of man. The sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as a glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the breath (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) that comes from the LORD functions as spirit (רוּחַ) that forms the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). The Targum states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. Our use of words are directly linked to the "breath of God" within us, and therefore breaking our word defaces the image of God within us....
The LORD God of Israel is faithful and true (Deut. 7:9; Psalm 12:6; Matt. 24:35). He always keeps His word and therefore He wants us to do so as well. Indeed, Yeshua Himself is called the Word of God (דְּבַר הָאֱלהִים). As image bearers of God, our words likewise are to carry deep meaning and sanctity. Just as God's words are trustworthy, true, and lifegiving, so should be our words and communication. The sages say that the words we speak - whether good or bad - call for a response in the realm of spirit. This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "thing" (i.e., devar: דָּבָר), which also means "word." Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. Our thoughts and words "exhale" the breath of God that was given to each of us. In a very real sense they are "prayers" we are constantly offering...
Yeshua warned us to abstain from making any kind of vow or oath since our word alone should be enough (Matt. 5:33-37). He also spoke of "good and evil treasures of the heart" that produce actions that are expressed in our words (Luke 6:45). Our inward motive determines our thinking, which in turn affects the way we act and use words. Therefore He warned: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Our very salvation is based on confession of the truth, and therefore we must be sure to use communication as a means of expressing the love and grace of God (Rom. 10:9; Col. 4:6). We must be on guard to keep away from lashon hara (evil speech) by focusing on what is worthy, lovely, and of good report (Prov. 13:3, Phil. 4:8). As David prayed: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14):
יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יהוה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי
ye·he·yu le·ra·tzon im·rei fi ve·heg·yon lib·bi le·fa·ne·kha Adonai tzu·ri ve·go·a·li
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
May it please God to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May our words always be gracious and "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6). Amen. "Whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected" (1 John 2:5).
Shabbat Shalom and love to you, chaverim!
The use of the word "law" in the NT
[ A source of potential confusion for readers of the New Testament concerns how the word "law" is to be understood. Does "law" always refer to the Torah of Moses or the Old Testament? Put the other way, is it right to substitute the word "Torah" for the word "law" when we read the New Testament? The following is a bit technical, but it's important nonetheless.... ]
07.09.10 (Tammuz 27, 5770) The word nomos (νόμος, "law") has a range of semantic meanings in Koine Greek and therefore should not necessarily be regarded as an exact equivalent for the term Torah (תּוֹרָה). As explained elsewhere on this site, the word "Torah" is derived from the verb yarah (יָרָה) meaning to "shoot" (as an arrow), or to indicate direction. It is therefore a general term that refers to instruction or guidance, and should be carefully distinguished from other Hebrew words such as "commandment" (i.e., mitzvah: מִצְוָה), "statutes" (i.e., chukkim: חֻקִּים), "judgments" (i.e., mishpatim: מִשְׁפָּטִים), and so on. To traditional Jewish thinking, the legal aspect of Torah is generally called halakhah (from halakh: הָלַךְ, "to walk") and includes the ideas of case law (תַּקָּנָה), custom (מִנְהָג), and the use of tradition (מָסרֶת) as expressed within the Oral Law. The legal aspects of Torah have roots in the system of judges (הַשּׁפְטִים) that Moses commissioned (Exod. 18:13-24; Deut. 16:18, 19:17-18, etc.) and in the Bet Din (בֵּית דִן), or religious system of justice that culminated in the supreme court of Israel called the Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין). These legal aspects of Torah are usually distinguished from the homiletic or exegetical understanding of the Scriptures (e.g., midrash), which is generally called aggadah (אֲגָּדָה).
In light of these distinctions, it is unfortunate that the ancient Jewish translators of the Scriptures (i.e., the Septuagint) chose to use the word "law" (i.e., nomos) for the word Torah, since this can lead to essential misunderstanding about the meaning of the Scriptures. For example, they chose to translate the Hebrew name of the last book of Moses (i.e., devarim: דְּבָרִים, "words") as "the Second Law" (i.e., Δευτερονόμιον, fr. deutero + nomos), since many Hellenistic Jews at that time regarded the book as a summary (or retelling) of the various laws of Moses. Indeed, in most cases the Septuagint translates the word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) as "nomos" (νόμος). In Deuteronomy 4:8, for instance, the word nomos is used to denote to the collection of mishpatim, chukkim, and mitzvot representing all of Israel's covenantal obligations before the LORD. This idea that "Torah" meant "nomos" was carried over to New Testament usage, of course, and the distinction between the idea of "law" and "instruction" was thereby made unclear...
To the classical Greek mind, nomos referred to an idealized standard, often linked with the ontology of Plato's forms or the laws of nature, though in other senses it referred to social standards and norms of the community (i.e., the legal definition). The Jewish Hellenistic theologian Philo of Alexandria (20 BC - 50 AD), for example, attempted to harmonize Platonic philosophy with the Torah, and therefore combined the idea of moral law with cosmic law and the order of nature (i.e., λόγος). For Philo, the idea of "Torah," then became reduced to the concept of natural law (i.e., nomos as expressed as logos in Greek speculations).
In the New Testament, nomos is used in varied ways. James used it to refer to the moral will of God (James 2:9-11, 4:11). The Apostle John quotes Yeshua using it to refer to the Tanakh in general (John 10:34; 15:25), though it is most often used to refer to the writings of Moses in the Gospels (Matt. 11:13, Luke 16:16; 24:44; John 12:34; Acts 13:15; 28:23). Certainly the moral and ritual aspects of the writings of Moses are represented using the word (Matt. 7:12; 22:40; Luke 2:22,39;8:5; John 1:17; 7:19,23, etc.).
In Paul's letters, the use of the word nomos is likewise varied. In most cases it follows the Septuagint's usage by regarding it as the collective set of commandments given by Moses (Rom. 2:12-29; 3:19; 5:20; 7:7; Gal. 3:21; 1 Cor. 9:8; 14:34), whereas in other places it refers to the Tanakh in general (Rom. 3:19, 1 Cor. 14:21). Still in other cases, nomos appears to be used by Paul to refer to "principles," such as his description of the "law of sin and death" as opposed to the "law of the Spirit of life" (Rom. 7:23, 8:2). For Paul, the overarching principle of the law is the ethic of love (Gal 5:14; Rom. 13:8-10). In each case of Paul's use of the word nomos, however, we must carefully examine the flow of Paul's reasoning as well as the historical context of a given letter.
Some have claimed that Paul sometimes used "nomos" to refer to a legalistic perversion of the law imposed by the oral tradition of the sages, and therefore the statement that "no one is justified by the law" (ἐν νόμῳ οὐδεὶς δικαιοῦται) should be understood in this light (Gal. 3:11). However, in Galatians 3:21, Paul clearly used nomos (νόμος) to refer to the Law of Moses (תּוֹרַת משֶׁה) since he referred to the law that "had been given" (i.e., mattan Torah) 430 years after the time of Abraham (Gal. 3:17). When Paul rhetorically asked if this law ("which had been given but was not able to impart life") was contrary to the original promise given to Abraham, it is again clear he is again referred to the Sinai revelation. "Legalism" wasn't given at Sinai, but the direct revelation of the will of God was. The Messiah came to redeem us from the curses contained in the Book of the Law (i.e., the sefer ha-brit of Moses detailing the various commandments), and this line of argument only makes sense if we understand nomos here to refer to the written law code of Moses.
Often it is helpful to study how a Hebrew word was translated into ancient Greek (i.e., the Septuagint) to get some idea of how the New Testament writers might have used the word. In the case of the word "Torah," however, this methodology breaks down, since the ancient Greek translators used a general word that was not an adequate equivalent, and this lack of precision makes it difficult to determine the precise sense of the word as it is used in the New Testament. For example, when Paul writes that "we do not nullify the law (nomos), but rather affirm it" (Rom. 3:31), and later writes that we are "dead to the law (nomos) by our faith in Yeshua" (Gal. 2:19; Rom. 7:4), and furthermore identifies a "law (nomos) of sin that works in our bodies" (Rom. 7:23; 8:2), then it's clear that we need to make some distinctions in our understanding of his use of the word "law" lest we become hopelessly befuddled. The only viable method here is to carefully consider the overall context of the passage for additional clues as to the author's meaning, and then compare Scripture to Scripture to attempt to discover the usage for the word in this particular case. It's a bit tedious trying to sort this all out, but God will give us wisdom if we sincerely ask Him!
The Most Important Mitzvah
[ There are many false teachers at work today, including many who teach error in the name of the "Messianic movement." These teachers invariably claim that something more is needed than simple faith in the truth of the gospel message. This entry is meant to appeal to those who are confused about the nature of salvation and to refute those who falsely claim that Christians are "under the law" of Moses rather than under the direct Lordship of Yeshua.... ]
07.08.10 (Tammuz 26, 5770) The single most important mitzvah of ALL of Scripture is to trust in Yeshua as your LORD and Savior. Everything else centers on this. The two "great commandments" are the Ve'ahavta ("Love the LORD with all your heart") and the obligation to love others as yourself (Matt. 22:36-40). These two commandments presuppose, however, that: 1) you believe that the LORD is real, personal, loving, and accessible, and 2) you are in fact able to love the LORD and others in the truth. As I mentioned recently, however, apart from genuine spiritual rebirth and the new life imparted through Yeshua (i.e., chayim chodashim: חַיִּים חֲדָשִׁים), it is literally impossible (οὐ δύναται) to fulfill these commandments. Those who are "in the flesh" cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). Indeed, the principle (νόμος) called the "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת) is invoked whenever someone attempts to draw close to the LORD apart from faith in His appointed Sacrifice and Mediator for sin. The idea that your "good deeds" can merit access to the LORD's Presence and favor is ultimately the negation of the cross. The Apostle Paul warned that those who perverted the message of the gospel by adding any form of "works of law" (מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה) were under a divine curse (Gal. 1:8-9). Yes, it's that serious of an issue...
The New Testament states that believers in Yeshua are "declared righteous" (δικαιόω) apart from the works of the law (Rom. 3:28, Gal. 2:16). The "declared righteous one" shall live by faith (Rom 1:17; Gal. 3:11; Heb. 10:38). The Hebrew word for "faith" (i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה), occurs for the first time in the Torah in connection with Abraham (Gen. 15:6). But what was the nature of Abraham's faith that God declared him righteous? Was it based on works of the law? After all, Abraham understood the commandments, statutes, and laws of God (Gen. 26:5). But what law called for human sacrifice? Could you imagine seeing Abraham on the way to offer Isaac upon the altar at Moriah? If you were to ask him what he was doing, what would he be able to reply? If you were to later see him slowly raising his knife to slay his son, would you think that he was obeying the law of God or rather that he had gone insane and lost his mind?
(Of course we know - after the fact - that Abraham's hand was stopped by the Angel of the LORD, but remember that he did not know the LORD's intervention was imminent. Abraham traveled three long days to Moriah with the intent to offer his "only begotten son" (בֵּן יָחִיד) as a sacrifice, and surely Isaac understood the purpose of the mission as well. We miss the incredible drama and significance of this test if we forget this.)
As Kierkegaard pointed out, "faith" is its own category or mode of existing: "Faith is the contradiction between the infinite passion of inwardness and objective uncertainty." When Abraham was tested with the Akedah, he was willing to give up his rational understanding of the moral law in obedience to God. He believed God could do the impossible (Matt. 17:20; Luke 1:37). Abraham was declared tzaddik (righteous) because he trusted that God would fulfill his promise made to him, even if he slew his promised heir upon the altar (Heb. 11:17-19). Through his faith, Abraham foresaw the redemption of the world (the Messiah) and believed in God's promise of salvation (John 8:56). As Paul states, "For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law (הַתּוֹרָה) but through the righteousness of faith" (Rom. 4:13). The works of the law (מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה) and the righteousness of faith (צִדְקַת הָאֱמוּנָה) are therefore antithetical and contrary concepts (Rom. 9:32). Those who accept this truth are called "the children of Abraham" and are partakers of his blessings (Gal. 3:7,9). Paul even went further by forcefully saying that "all who rely on works of the law (מַעֲשֵׂי הַתּוֹרָה) are under a curse" (Gal. 3:10). It was solely through the righteousness of Yeshua as Adonai Tzidkenu (יהוה צִדְקֵנו) that we are saved from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13).
Why, then, was the law at Sinai given? "It was added (προστίθημι) because of transgressions" (Gal. 3:19). The law was "set forth" to teach us about the holiness of God and to function as a mirror of our inward condition. The "lawful use of the law" is intended to convict us of our sin and thereby lead us to the message of the gospel (1 Tim. 1:8-11). It is only by means of the law's verdict against us that we recognize our need for God's salvation. The law itself is powerless to save, but it does speak the truth about God's righteous demands as our Creator and Judge.
The law was also given to serve as a "tutor" or "guardian" (παιδαγωγός) to lead us to the School of the Messiah (Gal. 3:19-25). Note that the Greek word used here ("paidagogos") referred to a trusted servant who would supervise the life and morals of boys belonging to the upper class. Before arriving at the age of manhood, boys were not allowed to leave their house without being escorted by their "paidagogos." Followers of the Messiah are admonished not to revert to childish thinking but to understand matters maturely (1 Cor. 13:11, 14:20, Heb. 5:12-14). We are now led by the Spirit of God as God's sons and are therefore no longer "subject" to religious regulations (δόγμα) that command us to "touch not, taste not, handle not." We are now called to seek those things that are above, where the Messiah reigns from on high (Col. 2:20-3:1). "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17). Yeshua came to bear witness to the truth: "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37). The truth sets us free to become co-heirs with the Messiah in the Kingdom of God (Rom. 8:17, Titus 3:7, John 8:32). If we love the Messiah, we will honor His covenant and His Torah (2 Cor. 10:5).
Many of us, I am afraid, don't really want to be free... It's so much easier for us to justify ourselves as pleasing to God on the basis of some litany of rules we are keeping (i.e., 'Torah Observance,' keeping 'kosher,' attending religious services, etc.) or through some ritual acts that we are performing (i.e., 'Shabbat observance,' 'communion,' 'liturgy," and so on). We feel more comfortable in a group, as part of a crowd. We do not want to live as truly free individuals before the LORD because this implies that we are responsible for our individual lives. But genuine freedom only comes through individual and personal faith (אֱמוּנָה). We must inwardly trust that we have direct access to the Throne of Grace (כִּסֵּא הֶחָסֶד) and are accepted by God as His own beloved child (Heb. 4:16, Rom. 8:15). God has made us "graceful" (χαριτόω) in the beloved (Eph. 1:6). This is the first step, and all the rest will take care of itself if we really do business there...
Trusting in the LORD is foundational to all that may rightly be called Torah. The Talmud (Makkot 23b-24a) says, "Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isaiah 33:15-16), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah reduced them again to two (Isaiah 56:1); but it was Habakkuk who gave the one essential commandment: tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh, literally, "the righteous, by his trust, shall live." In the New Testament (long before the compilation of the Talmud), the apostle Paul had first distilled the various commandments of the Torah to this same principle of faith (see Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, and Heb. 10:38).
וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה
ve·tzad·dik be·e·mu·na·to yich·yeh
ὁ δίκαιος ἐκ πίστεως ζήσεται
"But the righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4)
This small phrase, consisting of only three Hebrew words, is the central axis upon which our salvation turns, since it distills the requirement that we are justified by our faith in God's righteousness (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) and not by "works of righteousness (מַעֲשֵׂי הַצְּדָקָה) which we have done" (Titus 3:5). Regarding the righteousness that comes by faith and its relationship to the works of the law, Paul writes: "To the one who does not work (τῷ μὴ ἐργαζομένῳ) but trusts in him who justifies the ungodly (πιστεύοντι δὲ ἐπὶ τὸν δικαιοῦντα τὸν ἀσεβη), his faith is counted as righteousness" (Rom. 4:5).
There are many false teachers at work today, including many who teach error in the name of the "Messianic movement." These teachers invariably claim that something more is needed than simple faith in the truth of the gospel message. The author of the Book of Hebrews states: "For the law made nothing perfect, but now a better hope has taken its place. And that is how we draw near to God (Heb. 7:19). He goes on to warn: "For yet a little while, and the Coming One will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith (וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה), yet if he shrinks back my soul has no pleasure in him" (Heb. 10:37-40). Likewise, the Apostle Paul warned believers not to be seduced with the demands of the law once again: "Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:2-3). He goes on to liken those who wish to return to Sinai as slaves, whereas those who press on to Zion as free (see Paul's Allegory of Sarah and Hagar).
In yet another analogy, Paul says that a widow is released from her obligation to her deceased husband and is therefore free to remarry another: "Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law (ὑμεῖς ἐθανατώθητε τῷ νόμω) through the body of Messiah, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God" (Rom. 7:4). In terms of this analogy, a "return to the law" is like a form of spiritual adultery, since it betrays the new covenant that God has given to us who believe (Rom. 7:1-4).
When the Lord Yeshua came there was a change in the law, because there was a change in the priesthood (see Heb. 7:11-12). This priesthood of Yeshua is said to be after the "order of Malki-Tzedek" (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק), based on a direct oath from God, that predates the operation of the Levitical priesthood (for more information about the role of Yeshua as our High Priest, see the article "Yom Kippur and the Gospel"). This is not unlike the office of King/Priest that Moses held when he commanded the sacrifice of the Passover lambs during the Exodus. The korban pesach (sacrifice of Passover) was not originally instituted through the Levitical priesthood (i.e., the Mishkan), but rather predated the giving of the law to the priests. It is no coincidence that Yeshua explicitly referred to this (pre-Levitical priesthood) event to speak of His role as Seh Elohim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 3:1-12).
Indeed, the Levitical priesthood "made nothing perfect" and therefore a "new priesthood" was required to finally reconcile us back to God (Psalm 110:4). "For when there is a change (μετατιθεμένης) in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change (μετάθεσις) in the law as well" (Heb. 7:12). The word translated "change" here comes from the verb μετατίθημι (from meta, "after" + tithemi, to "set") which would be better translated as "transposed." The idea is the priesthood reverted back to the original priesthood of Zion and therefore required a corresponding "transfer" of authority (μετάθεσις) to the original kingship as well (Heb. 7:12). Yeshua is our great Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20; 7:1-28), just as He is our King and the final authority of the Torah. Those who follow Him are called to be mamlekhet kohanim v'goy kadosh, "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" forever (Exod. 19:6, 1 Pet. 2:9, Rev. 1:6, 5:10). Followers of Yeshua have an altar "from which those who serve in the Tabernacle are not permitted to eat" (Heb. 13:10).
Today 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. We have a better hope before the Throne of Grace (Heb. 4:16, 7:19). (For more on this important subject, see the article, Rabbis who Deny Blood Atonement). So what are you going to trust, your religious zeal for righteousness or God's gracious salvation? To put it another way, when you face the coming day of judgment, will you be trusting in your own merit or in the merit of Yeshua?
If you listen to some of the big-name Messianic teachers out there today, you'll hear that the Christian Church is either an entirely self-deceived social institution or else that "Christians" are woefully deficient regarding matters of spiritual truth. In short, these teachers insist that something more needs to be added, some additional knowledge, practice, awareness, insight, and so on. And of course these teachers position themselves as the ones who can "disabuse" you of your pagan misconceptions, etc. We see this trend in both the "Torah observant" schools of Messianic Judaism as well as in the "new wave" of "mystical Messianic Judaism" that is beginning to become more and more commonplace.
Such spiritual pride is insidious, seductive, self-flattering, and therefore dangerous. Indeed, the term itself is an oxymoron (e.g., like "bittersweet"), since genuine spirituality is always rooted in humility. The humble soul understands its finitude and radical contingency -- and therefore understands its absolute need for God's help. The proclamation of the Cross of Yeshua as the sole means of atonement with God is inherently offensive to the idea of "meritocracy" taught in traditional Judaism (and in other religions).
Let me repeat the main point I am trying to make here. The single most important mitzvah of ALL of Scripture is to trust in Yeshua as your LORD and Savior, since He alone is the one who gives us true spiritual life. "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39). Yeshua is the way (הַדֶּרֶךְ), the truth (הָאֱמֶת), and the life (הַחַיִּים); no one comes to Father apart from Him (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). As Jesus said, "The Father judges has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father" (John 5:23-24). "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12):
מִי אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ הַבֵּן יֶשׁ־לוֹ חַיִּים
וּמִי אֲשֶׁר אֵין־לוֹ בֶּן־הָאֱלהִים אֵין־לוֹ חַיִּים
mi a·sher lo ha-ben yesh lo chay·yim
u'mi a·sher ein lo ben ha-E·lo·him ein lo chay·yim
ὁ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν ἔχει τὴν ζωήν·
ὁ μὴ ἔχων τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ θεοῦ τὴν ζωὴν οὐκ ἔχει
Whoever has the Son has life; and whoever does not have
the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:12)
Finally, let me restate something important whenever we consider these things. We do not impugn the Torah when we say that God has made a better covenant based on better promises (Heb. 8:6). The LORD is the same yesterday, today, and forever: He is one.... The revelation and grace of God is manifest at Sinai as it is at Zion. What's changed is the covenant -- and our response to that new covenant in light of the full counsel of the Scriptures. An honest reading of the New Testament shows that Paul was not simply rejecting legalism, but any form of work-based salvationism. Israel should have known this, since the Torah (and prophets) prophesied that a new era of "circumcised hearts" would come. Therefore Paul puts forward the idea that salvation by the grace of God is in perfect harmony with the overall teaching of Torah.
Please do not be confused about all this. Torah study is good and Christians are expected to understand the writings of Moses (and the prophets) and how they reveal Yeshua as the Messiah (Luke 24:27; Acts 3:22). When Paul wrote to the Gentile churches, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17), he was of course referring to the Jewish Scriptures, since the New Testament had not yet been compiled for the church. By all means then should followers of the Jewish Messiah study the Torah of Moses and be aware of how it glorifies the LORD. But Torah study must be informed with the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת). Yeshua is the central character of the story of redemption, the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8).
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).
So does all this mean - in practical terms - that we can disregard the Torah 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.) Again, Yeshua plainly 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" of trust 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. May you turn to Him for life and peace now!
A Closing Thought: The Gospel is Jewish
When considering the contrasts between "the law and the gospel," it's vital that remember that we are discussing something inherently Jewish. The ideas of grace, salvation, faith, and so on are all 100% Jewish concepts given throughout the Jewish Scriptures -- both in the Tanakh and in the New Testament writings. "Two mountains, two covenants," yes - but both are Jewish... There is a unity of revelation in Scripture, and the LORD God of Israel is the same today, yesterday, and forever. Keeping this in mind will guard you from the egregious errors of Replacement Theology. Shalom.
Note: I had hoped to add some additional commentary to this week's Torah portion by this point in the week, but I felt the last few day's entries on zeal and the nature of salvation were worth the time and effort to share with you. Please keep this ministry in your prayers, chaverim. Time is short and I want to labor diligently for the sake of the glory of our Lord Yeshua and the message of the gospel! Thank you.
On Zeal and Death...
07.07.10 (Tammuz 25, 5770) The world is full of zealots. By default, everyone believes they are justified in their reasoning and in their passions. The "natural man" thus lives by this simple creed: I have a right to think or feel whatever I want. Morality is a matter of individual, subjective, and personal preference. There is no "objective standard" of moral truth in the universe: Values are relative to time and place... If it's true for me, that's all that suffices... In this way, the natural man assumes the posture of a self-styled "free agent" that is answerable only to himself. The zeal of the natural man says, "I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul" (Henley: Invictus).
Note that the only abiding "offense" to the "natural man" is that there is a moral law that pervades the universe, and therefore he is morally accountable to the Lawgiver for his life. The idea that our actions are "under divine examination" is threatening to the supposed liberty of the natural man, who gladly tolerates all manner of sin and willful ignorance but refuses to tolerate anger against sin... The natural man hates the very idea of the moral law of God and all that it implies. It's no wonder all the true prophets of God were murdered for speaking the truth.
The encounter (or collision) with moral reality (i.e., conscience) leads the natural man to become impassioned and even zealous, though usually this is expressed in some form of self-justification. The world's religions are filled with untold millions of people who seek to assuage their consciences by practicing various rituals or pledging allegiance to some creedal formula. What's common in most of these religions is the centrality of the ego, or the need to "save face" by making excuses of some sort. The ego is either advised to become "elevated" through religious practices or rituals (i.e., legalism, including the justification for "jihad" and "fatwa" found in Islam), or else is encouraged to practice various techniques for "escaping" the world (i.e., mysticism, divine unity, etc.). Hence we see the dialectic between legalism and mysticism in so many of the world's religions.
Yeshua, on the other hand, spoke plainly of man's hopeless condition and the need for spiritual regeneration, or "rebirth." The natural man is spiritually dead and without hope apart from a miracle imparted directly from God Himself. As Yeshua said, "Unless you are born again, it is impossible (οὐ δύναται) see the Kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Rebirth comes by means of the Holy Spirit and leads to a new order of creation for the soul (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal. 6:15). Yeshua did not come to extinguish our egos as much as He came to resurrect and recreate us in His image (Rom. 8:29). "For we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18). Indeed, since the self is ultimately defined by relationship, it is only after we are reborn in the Spirit that we can be said to have a "self" at all. God gives the gift of a true, resurrected self to those whom He regenerates.
Escaping the Legalism Trap...
But what about those who receive the message of the gospel? How do they please God? After coming to Yeshua for life, some people tragically revert to the concept of the law once again. They attempt to "try harder" to please God and saddle themselves with various religious obligations (prescribed prayers, church services, rituals, etc.). They seem to forget that the law is powerless to save. Their logic goes something like this. I was condemned by the law, but because of God's mercy revealed in Yeshua, I am now forgiven. Therefore I am enabled by God's Spirit to keep the law, and therefore I should strive to be kosher, to observe various rituals, etc. This reasoning assumes that the law (i.e., the legal aspects of the covenant made at Sinai) with its verdict against us was not really done away with at the Cross of Yeshua (Col. 2:13-15). The "New Covenant," in other words, is not really all that new, and should be regarded as a "renewed covenant" instead. The upshot of this thinking is that Yeshua died on the cross so that we could all become followers of Moses!
I have written about this subject before, but I'll say it again here. There is a "Torah" for followers of Yeshua, but this is His teaching... Indeed, the word Torah (תּוֹרָה) simply means teaching. But what did Yeshua teach about doing the "works of God?" Here's his explicit answer: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:29). Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6) since we are literally saved by hope, not by works of righteousness (Rom. 8:24, Titus 3:5). What God requires is authentic faith in His Son (אֱמוּנַת יֵשׁוּעַ). The single most important mitzvah is trusting in Yeshua for life... This is THE central commandment of Scripture. Legalism attempts to find the "key" to open the door into the Presence of God through various forms of self effort ("don't touch this," "don't eat that," etc. Col. 2:20-23). It's underlying hope is that if I do such and such (or abstain from such and so), God will be propitiated and I will be accepted. It is therefore a mode of relating to God based on His conditional acceptance and approval.... But faith is the key that opens the door to true freedom. It is the miracle that makes blind eyes see. When we truly "live in the Presence of the LORD" by faith, we are set free from the trap of legalism. We receive the love of God; we accept that we are accepted; and then we walk in God's zeal and care for our souls (in that order). We do not relate to God as Judge but as our Heavenly Father, our Abba, our loving Savior.
Guilt, shame, and spiritual death come from relating to God on the basis of our own zeal and supposed merits, but forgiveness, justification, and spiritual life come from trusting in God's zeal and passion for you.... Again, it's not so much a matter of finding the zeal within your heart, but rather receiving the zeal that comes from the LORD. We are sanctified by faith alone, just as we are justified by faith alone (Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Cor. 6:11). There is no "catch" in the contract, no loophole, and no exception to the "Torah of the Spirit of Life" (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים). If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. This is the scandal of grace. Trying to please God through self-effort leads to exhaustion and frustration. Accepting that you are accepted and loved leads to peace and joy. God's love for you is the end of the law for righteousness (Rom. 10:4). In all things Yeshua is preeminent.
In closing, there is man's zeal, and there is God's zeal. The zeal of the LORD (קִנְאַת יהוה) represents His passion and eagerness to help those who are trusting in Him. Man's zeal is always insufficient, since self-justification - of any sort - invariably leads to the "Torah of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת). This is precisely why legalism leads us to shame. As long as you think you can merit eternal life by means of your own efforts, you are relating to God as Judge (אֱלהִים) rather than as compassionate Savior (יהוה). You have yet to experience inner brokenness and therefore believe you can "justify yourself." It is the Spirit that gives us life - though always at the price of the death and resurrection of the ego. As Yeshua said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
None of what I've attempted to share here implies that we are to be passive in our affections and in the exercise of our will. No, but the principle that governs our passion is to be derived from the "Torah of the Spirit of Life" and no longer from the "Torah of Law and Death." Because of Yeshua, we are free to trust in the zealous, passionate, and irrepressible love of God for our lives. The same passion that led Yeshua to die upon the cross is present to you today, if you have faith enough to receive it... God is the beginning and the end of our salvation: Kinat Adonai Tzeva'ot ta'aseh zot: "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:7).
For more thoughts about this vital subject, please see God's Greater Zeal.
כְּרַחֵם אָב עַל־בָּנִים רִחַם יהוה עַל־יְרֵאָיו
ke·ra·chem av al ba·nim, ri·cham Adonai al ye·re'·av
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion
to those who fear him. (Psalm 103:13)
The Hebrew Month of Av
07.05.10 (Tammuz 23, 5770) Sunday, July 11th (after sunset) is Rosh Chodesh Av, the start of the month of Av (אָב), called the "fifth month" of the Biblical calendar. Since the sages regard everything that happened during the Exodus generation as prophetic (i.e., ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children"), the death of Aaron the first High Priest on Rosh Chodesh Av (Num. 33:38) was regarded as an ominous sign that the coming month would be a month of tragedy in Jewish history. And indeed, Tishah B'Av catalogs many tragic events that have befallen the Jewish people during this time -- including the destruction of both of the Temples on the fateful day of the Ninth of Av. It is customary, therefore, during the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow (from Av 1 until the Av 9) to enter into an extended state of mourning for the Jewish people...
This date is also significant because it marks the occurence of the third of three total solar eclipses that all occurred exactly on Av 1 for three consecutive years. The first eclipse occurred on August 1, 2008; the second on July 22, 2009, and the third is scheduled for Sunday, July 11, 2010.
The Mishnah states, "As [the month of] Av enters, we diminish joy," and the Gemara states, "All who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit the celebration of her rebirth" (Ta'anit 30a). Mourning for the loss of the Temple is appropriate until the Yeshua comes and establishes it in the coming millennial Kingdom. Meanwhile, we mourn for Zion and the Lord's return, but He has not left us without His Comfort (John 15:26).
Note: We are surely living in perilous times. Please pray that the Lord would return soon to establish God's love, righteousness and truth in the world...
Three Weeks of Sorrow
07.05.10 (Tammuz 23, 5770) We are in the midst of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow," a 21 day period of national mourning that runs from the 17th of Tammuz until the Ninth of Av (Tishah B'Av). This time is called bein ha-Metzarim (בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים) - "between the straights" (based on Lam. 1:3). The purpose of this three week period is to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) by recalling specific tragedies that befell the Jewish people, and most especially in the destruction and loss of the Jewish Temple...
Two Phases of the Three Weeks
There are actually two "phases" within this 21 day period of mourning. From the start of the fast of Tammuz until the end of the month (a period of twelve days) the mourning is not as intense, but during the final nine days - from Av 1 until the Av 9 (Tishah B'Av) - additional mourning practices are observed. In other words, beginning with Rosh Chodesh Av, many Jews will observe 9 days of solemn reflection... Typically marriages are not held during this period, and many Jews deliberately refrain from ostensibly pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, dancing, taking vacations, and sometimes even shaving. In fact, most Orthodox Jews will refrain from any activity that might require the recitation of the Shehecheyanu blessing. Indeed, among observant Jews, Tishah B'Av is regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year.
Note: This year, the fast Av begins Monday, July 19 at sundown and runs 25 hours - through Thursday, July 20th after sundown. For more information, click here.
[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, Mattot and Masei. Please read the two Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]
07.05.10 (Tammuz 23, 5770) This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: parashat Mattot and Masei, the two last portions of Sefer Bamidbar (the Book of Numbers). These two portions of Torah are always read during the "Three Weeks of Sorrow."
The boundaries of the Promised Land (הָאָרֶץ הַמֻּבְטַחַת, ha'aretz hamuvtachat) are provided in this portion of Torah. Note that the borders of the land given do not correspond with the reality of any historical settlement of Israel, so the actual possession of the land by Israel is yet to be fulfilled:
Parashat Masei is traditionally read near the new moon of the month of Av, in anticipation of the nine days of mourning (for the lost Temple) that precede Tishah B'Av -- the saddest day of the Jewish calendar (Tishah B'Av begins Monday July 19th at sundown this year). The Mishnah states, "As [the month of] Av enters, we diminish joy," and the Gemara states, "All who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit the celebration of her rebirth" (Ta'anit 30a). Mourning for the loss of the Temple is appropriate until the Yeshua comes and restores it in the coming millennial Kingdom. Meanwhile, we mourn for Zion but have comfort; we wait for the Lord's return, but He has not left us without the Comforter... Masei is read at this time to signal hope that one day Jerusalem will be comforted and the promises made to Israel will be fulfilled.
When someone dies, there is a grieving process you can go through that leads to closure. In Jewish tradition, this process involves the stages of shivah, sheloshim, and avelut - a full year of grieving over the loss of a loved one. If, however, it's uncertain that someone has died, there is no end to mourning. We see this Jacob's life after his son Joseph disappeared: Jacob wasn't certain of his son's death, and therefore he mourned for years and years. He continued to mourn because he still held hope that his son lived. For this very reason do we both mourn and yet hold hope during the Three Weeks of Sorrow and Tishah B'Av. We mourn over the loss of what could have been, yet we hold hope in the restoration of Jerusalem, the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt. 5:35) by the hand of Yeshua our Mashiach....
There is yet another Tishah B'Av connection with this week's Torah portion. In Numbers 33:38 the death of Aaron the High Priest is described as occuring "on the first day of the fifth month" [i.e., the first day of the month of Av]. Rosh Chodesh Av is therefore the yahrzeit (anniversary of the death) of Aaron, the first High Priest of Israel (the only yahrzeit explicitly mentioned in the Torah). According to some sages, this attack by Satan on the service of the Mishkan (tabernacle) foreshadowed that the Temple would one day be destroyed in the month of Av. This explains, then, why the first of Av begins an increased time of mourning leading up to Tishah B'Av.
Notice something remarkable here. Since the Torah ends with the Book of Numbers (Deuteronomy is called מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh ha-Torah - a review or "repetition" of the Torah), Jewish tradition assigns great weight to death of Aaron since it repesents the loss of the Jewish Temple. Similarly, we assign great weight to the death (and resurrection) of our greater High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek -- Yeshua the Mashiach -- and the greater Temple represented by His body (John 2:19).
Note: If you have been regularly reading and studying Torah with me, after reading these two portions we have completed Sefer Bamidbar (the book of Numbers). Let me wish you Yasher Koach and Chazak! (said upon completing a book of the Torah). Next week we will begin studying Sefer Devarim (the book of Deuteronomy).
God's Greater Zeal...
[ The following entry briefly explores a fews ideas about "zeal" in light of this week's Torah reading (i.e., parashat Pinchas). I hope you might find it helpful, chaverim. ]
07.01.10 (Tammuz 19, 5770) According to the Jewish historian Josephus (i.e., Yosef Ben Matityahu, c. 37-100 AD), there were four primary "sects" or "denominations" of Jews during the time of Jesus. In very general terms, these can be defined as follows:
- The Saduccees (i.e., צַדּוּקִים, "righteous ones," from Tzadok the priest). These were members of the (Hellenized) priestly class responsible for the Temple and its operations. The Sadducees rejected the idea of Oral Torah and accepted only the written words of Moses as authoritative. After the Hasmonean revolt (168-165 BC), the Sadducees assumed control of the Temple and represented the aristocracy of the Jewish people. Over time, however, they became increasingly cosmopolitan and adopted the philosophical ideas of Hellenistic (i.e., Greek) culture.
- The Pharisees (i.e., פְּרוּשִׁים, "interpreters"). These were Torah scholars who sought to teach the common people how to live the Jewish life. The Pharisees regarded themselves as heirs of the oral tradition that began with the appointment of the 70 elders of Israel under Moses (Avot 1:1). In the generation prior to Jesus, two outstanding Pharisees - Hillel and Shammai - led important schools in Jerusalem (called Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai, respectively). These two schools differed in their approach to questions regarding the application of the law to daily life, and many of their arguments were preserved in the Mishnah. (In general, Bet Hillel was more liberal than Bet Shammai.) The Pharisees of Jesus' day would have been disciples of one (or both) of these schools.
- The Essenes (perhaps from oseh hatorah: עוֹשֵׂה הַתּוֹרָה, "doing Torah"). These were mystical ascetics who repudiated the Hellenized priesthood (i.e., Sadducees) and moved to the Judean desert near the Dead Sea to await the apocalypse. The Essene leadership regarded itself as the true heirs of the Aaronic priesthood and awaited the appearance of the Teacher of Righteousness (מוֹרֶה הַצֶּדֶק) who would interpret Torah mysteries and guide them in the way of life. (Note that Jesus was not an Essene since he was not a vegetarian, he did not advocate regular ritual immersion in a mikvah, and he commanded lepers to offer sacrifices at the Temple.)
- The Zealots (i.e., קנאים, "ardent ones"). These were political agitators that sought to incite the Jews to rebel against Roman rule by force of arms, if necessary. They refused to pay tribute to Caesar on the ground that this was a violation of the principle that God was the only King of Israel (Matt. 22:17). Two of Jesus' disciples were sympathetic to Zealotry: Simon the Zealot (ζηλωτής) and Judas Iscariot (perhaps meaning "Judas the Daggerman," surnamed after the sica, or Roman dagger, see note at the end of this entry). It should be noted that in Hebrew, the word "zeal" (i.e., kana: קָנָא) can be used in various ways, whereas the term "zealot" (הַקַּנָּאִי) usually refers to someone who agitated for the political overthrow of Rome during the Second Temple period.
Zeal can be a good thing or bad thing, of course, depending on the heart's motivation and the nature of reality. Perhaps the first "zealot" of Israel was Aaron's grandson Pinchas. In our Torah portion, we read: "Pinchas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was zealous with my zeal among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my zeal" (Num. 25:11). The word translated "zeal" in this verse is kana (קָנָא), usually translated as "zeal," "ardor," "fervor," "desire," "devotion," "jealousy," or "envy" in the Scriptures. (In the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (i.e., the LXX), kana is often translated using the word zelao (ζηλόω), from which the English word "zeal" is derived.) As already mentioned, "zeal" can be a positive quality (indicating passionate concern for others, striving for the good, and desiring righteousness), or a negative quality (indicating petty jealousy, envy, pride, and malice).
There are many people who are entirely sincere in their convictions, but they are sincerely wrong... In the time of the Second Temple, for instance, the Zealots despised the rule of Rome. Their political hatred caused them to blindly regard anyone who didn't share their passion as a personal enemy. In one of the great tragedies of Jewish history, these zealots actually killed more Jews than did the Romans themselves! And how many Christians these days "kill" relationships with other believers because of their particular zeal regarding some doctrinal question? I am not suggesting that doctrine is unimportant, but before you pick up that sword to do the business of Pinchas, you might do well to consider your heart's attitude...
You don't have to be a political zealot to have "zeal," of course. Zeal is essentially an emotional response to perceived value and truth... It's well known that Jesus faced some of his fiercest opposition from the Pharisees, who were "Torah zealots." These were the professors of theology, the camel-swallowing teachers of the law, and the gatekeepers of Jewish identity and tradition... For an example of their approach, the Gospel records an incident where a certain "lawyer" (i.e., νομικός or "Torah sage") stood up and aggressively challenged (ἐκπειράζων) Jesus to explain what he must do to inherit eternal life (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus first responded by asking the man a question of his own: How do you read the Torah? Like most good teachers, Jesus shifted the question back to the person who was asking it. The way you read (i.e., interpret) is the result of other, more basic, presuppositions you are making.
This Torah zealot was certainly well-studied in Scripture. He did not provide a litany of 613 commandments to perform, nor did he focus on the Ten Commandments. Instead he replied by citing the Ve'ahavta portion of the Shema ("You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind") and added the obligation to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18). The man's answer was technically correct, of course, though you might wonder if there wasn't a hint of irony in Jesus' reply: "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live" (Luke 10:28).
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ
ve'a·hav·ta et Adonai E·lo·he·kha be'khol le·vav·kah
uv'khol naf·she·kha uv'khol me'o·de·kha
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength" (Deut. 6:5)
וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ אֲנִי יהוה
ve'a·hav·ta le're·a·kha ka·mo·kha a·ni Adonai
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18)
The problem, of course, is that most people - even zealously religious people - don't actually "do this," though they may claim otherwise. After all, truly loving God with all your heart and genuinely loving your neighbor as yourself are surely the most difficult of all the commandments, and indeed, all the other ethical language of Scripture amounts to little else but commentary to this fundamental truth (Matt. 22:40). If people could keep these two commandments, then there would be no need for a Savior. The cross would then be regarded as "foolishness" and the entire mission of Jesus would be absurd.
Salvation means (negatively) being set free from "the law of sin and death" and (positively) being "reborn" so that we can truly love God and others. It is not a question of "willpower" or the "zeal" of man; it is not a question of what I can do but rather what God can do (John 1:13). The assumption that human actions are sufficient to merit eternal life (i.e., through performing loving acts) is therefore the problem of sin itself. The "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת) operates on this very principle: As long as you think you can merit eternal life by means of your own efforts, you are relating to God as Judge (אֱלהִים) rather than as Savior (יהוה). You have yet to experience inner brokenness and therefore believe you can "justify yourself." The cross of Jesus is the negation of this principle and represents the "end of the law for righteousness to all who believe."
Jesus, however, surely knew that people could not save themselves, despite their best efforts. Our Torah sage intellectually knew what God's requirements were, but he was powerless to live them out in his life. Knowing the truth is not the same thing as living it. A zeal for truth is wonderful if it is lived out in real life, but it is self-deception to "draw near to God with the lips" while having a dead heart (Isa. 29:13). Truly loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is simply impossible for the unregenerated heart. By nature people are "spiritually dead" and self-absorbed. Jesus knew that it is precisely because we are unable to love that we need Him. He understood that it required his passion and sacrificial death to impart life to those who were spiritually dead.... "We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John 4:9).
Unsatisfied with Jesus' response, the zealous sage then "wanted to justify himself" (θέλων δικαιῶσαι ἑαυτὸν) by attempting to qualify the definition of "neighbor." He therefore asked Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). Some background to this question might help. Jewish tradition tended to regard the concept of "neighbor" (i.e., rea: רֵעַ) as referring only to one's fellow Jew, and therefore the obligation to love "others" outside the community did not apply. In response to the man's question (and addressing his underlying assumption), Jesus told the story of a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho who "fell among thieves." This story illustrates various types of people as they "walk the road" of life and how they respond to the suffering of others.
Soren Kierkegaard comments:
The first man was a peaceful traveler who walked along the road from Jericho to Jerusalem, along a lawful road. The second man was a robber who "walked along the same road" – and yet on an unlawful road. Then a priest came "along the same road"; he saw the poor unfortunate man who had been assaulted by the robber. Perhaps he was momentarily moved but went right on by. He walked the road of indifference. Next a Levite came "along the same road." He saw the poor unfortunate man; he too walked past unmoved, continuing his road. The Levite walked "along the same road" but was walking his way, the way of selfishness and callousness. Finally a Samaritan came "along the same road." He found the poor unfortunate man on the road of mercy. He showed by example how to walk the road of mercy; he demonstrated that the road, spiritually speaking, is precisely this; how one walks. This is why the Gospel says, "Go and do likewise." Yes, there were five travelers who walked "along the same road," and yet each one walked his own road.
Jesus then asked, "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves?" When the Torah sage answered, "the one who showed mercy," Jesus again said, "do this, and you will live."
Notice again that Jesus responded to the original question by means of redirection: "How do you read the Scriptures?" "Which of these was a neighbor?" "What do you think?" Like all good teachers, Jesus was reluctant to simply give a direct answer. No, he expected people to work out the problem for themselves. After all, each of us is responsible for how we choose to "walk" the road of life. We all have zeal, desire, and passion, but the question is how is that zeal directed? What direction does it take down the road of life? Reason is often the slave of our passions. As Jesus said, "Wisdom is justified by her children."
Instead of attempting to qualify someone as worthy of our love, Jesus wants us to be worthy and loving ourselves. Are you offended by the lack of love shown toward you? Then act as a true lover by showing compassion. Go and "do this" (Luke 10:29-37).
There is a "false zeal" that leads people to estrangement and confusion. Withholding love from others is ultimately grounded in an appeal to God as the administrator of Justice. It is an appeal to God as Elohim (אֱלהִים), not as YHVH (יהוה), the Compassionate Source of Life. If we insist on our rights, we appeal to principles of justice, i.e., to God as the Lawgiver. But if we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we must appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well. If we have an unforgiving spirit toward others, we will not be forgiven (Matt. 6:15); if we are judgmental toward them, we ourselves will be put on trial; if we are cruel and ungiving toward them, we will experience life as hellish, miserable and mean. This reciprocal principle of Kingdom life appears throughout Jesus' teaching. According to your faith, be it done unto you (Matt. 9:29). As you forgive, so you shall be forgiven (Matt. 6:14); as you judge, so you shall be judged (Matt. 7:2); as you show mercy, so you shall be shown mercy (Matt. 5:7); as you give unto others, so it shall be given unto you (Luke 6:38). This "as principle" works the other way around, too: "Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it" (Prov. 11:27).
Zeal needs to be carefully tested to ensure that it is imbued with genuine love and humility. This is a matter of honest self-examination. The zeal of Pinchas was considered righteous because his indignation was rooted in the desire to save Israel from God's judgment (Num. 25:11). Though he killed a leader of Israel, God knew his zeal was based on love, and therefore his action was accepted.
Jealousy is a complex emotion that primarily centers on the fear of losing the affection of the beloved. Hence the LORD is called the "Zealous God" (אֵל קַנָּא), an anthropomorphic description that evokes the image of a loving and protective groom (or even a "jealous lover"). God is not some far-off deity who is disengaged from our lives. No, the zeal of the LORD means that God is passionately concerned with the ordering of our heart's affections... He watches us lovingly and closely, like a faithful and passionate husband watches over his beloved wife. He is entirely committed to our relationship with Him, but are we putting other desires, affections, or interests ahead of His love?
Abraham Heschel said, "In a controversy, the instant we feel anger, we have already ceased striving for truth and have begun striving for ourselves." Anger is a signal, a message. Sometimes it used to disguise fear, though it is often related to lust (or control). When we sense that we are not in control, we get angry. "What causes wars and quarrels among you? Is it not this, that your lusts (ἡδονῶν ὑμῶν) are at war within you?" (James 4:1). The zeal for one's lusts - for "my will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" - leads to destruction and death. As James the Righteous warned: "There is a spirit in us which longs to envy" (James 4:5).
Finally, it should be clear that the "zeal of the LORD" represents God's passion to save the world from sin and death. As the prophet Isaiah wrote:
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts (קִנְאַת יהוה צְבָאוֹת) will do this" (Isa. 9:6-7).
"Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal (קִנְאָה) as a cloak (Isa. 59:16-17).
It was the "zeal for God's house" that "ate Jesus up" and caused his undoing, at least from a worldly perspective (Psalm 69:9). He overturned the tables at the Temple and stopped the daily sacrifice for the sake of our salvation. It was His zeal that led Him to the Cross at Moriah, there to passionately suffer and die for our sins. His death was a "whole burnt offering" to God - the Substance of which the shadows of the Temple foretold... Ironically enough, it was the Sinat Chinam of the zealots of Israel that ultimately led to the death of Jesus, but this "evil zeal" was overturned by God's greater zeal for the salvation of the world.
The zeal of the LORD (קִנְאַת יהוה) represents His passion and eagerness to help those who trust in Him. Man's zeal is always insufficient, since if it were enough, mankind could save itself by truly practicing the works of love. God's zeal, however, is of altogether different order and is entirely sufficient for salvation. "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). Self-justification - of any sort - attempts to operate under the principle of the "law of sin and death." It is essentially an appeal to God as Judge (אֱלהִים) rather than as Compassion LORD (יהוה). It is the Spirit that gives us life - though at the price of the death of the ego. As Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). We do not need to seek to become more zealous but rather to trust in the zealous love of God for our lives. The passion that led Jesus to "sweat great drops of blood" and to endure the shame of the Cross is the same passion that is present to you, if you have faith enough to believe... Kinat Adonai Tzeva'ot ta'aseh zot: "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:7).
Shabbat Shalom and love to you...
Note: Regarding the name "Judas Iscariot."
There is scholarly discussion about the meaning of the surname "Iscariot." One theory is Ἰσκαριώτης is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew phrase "man of Keriot" (איש־קריות). Another theory states that Judas (or Judas' father) was a member of the sicarii ("daggers" or assassins among the Zealots) and therefore his surname represented this connection, similar to the designation of Simon as "the Zealot" (ζηλωτής). Since the original New Testament documents were written in Koine Greek, we are forced to attempt to reconstruct the meaning from the Greek, rather than Hebrew text...