Shaddai

Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

Hebrew for Christians
B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of heaven
Hebrew4Christians Site Updates

October 2010 Updates


Parashat Toldot - תולדת


 

10.31.10 (Cheshvan 23, 5771)   The Torah reading for this week is called Toldot ("generations"). This parashah is about Isaac and Rebekah's family and how the promised Seed (i.e., Messiah) would descend through Isaac's son Jacob (renamed Israel) -- rather than through his older twin brother Esau.  From Israel (i.e., the Jewish people) would come the "generations" that would ultimately lead to the salvation of the world.  As our beloved Yeshua (Jesus) said, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22).

Note that during the dramatic episode of the "stolen blessing," some of the sages suggest that Isaac actually knew he was blessing Jacob, but "pretended" to be fooled in order to avoid destroying his relationship with his firstborn son Esau....  Isaac's blindness is central here: when he had his carnal sight, he favored Esau; when he lost it, he was able to bless Jacob...

I hope to add some additional commentary to this Torah portion later this week, chaverim.




The Month of Kislev


 

10.31.10 (Cheshvan 23, 5771)   "Sunrise, sunset; swiftly go the days...."  Sunday November 7th is "Rosh Chodesh Kislev" (ראש חדש כסלו), i.e., the "new moon" of the ninth Hebrew month of the Jewish calendar (counting from Nisan). The month of Kislev is unusual because it sometimes varies between 29 and 30 days on the Jewish calendar. Of course, Kislev is also the month when the eight day holiday of Chanukah (חנוכה) begins. This year Chanukah begins on Wednesday, December 1st at sundown (1st candle) and runs through Thursday, December 9th.

Considering these later days of autumn (and the "late hour" of human history), the following pasuk (verse) comes to mind:
 

יָבֵשׁ חָצִיר נָבֵל צִיץ וּדְבַר־אֱלהֵינוּ יָקוּם לְעוֹלָם

ya·veish  cha·tzir  na·veil  tzitz;  u'de·var  E·lo·hei·nu  ya·kum  le·o·lam

"Grass withers, flowers fade, but the word of our God
stands forever" (Isa. 40:8)
 

Every time I check the news I am reminded that we are living in a "withered and fading world" -- the prophesied "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים). But Baruch Hashem: our place (מָקוֹם) is grounded in truth that stands (i.e., יָקוּם, "is raised up") forever! Yeshua is our life, chaverim.... He is the Word of our God that is raised up forever!




"Days of the Years"


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Chayei Sarah (the "life of Sarah"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

10.29.10 (Cheshvan 21, 5771)   In our Torah portion this week we read about the death of Abraham, the original patriarch of the Jewish people and great hero of faith: "These are the days of the years of the life of Abraham, which he lived..." (וְאֵלֶּה יְמֵי שְׁנֵי־חַיֵּי אַבְרָהָם אֲשֶׁר־חָי) (Gen. 25:7). It is interesting to notice that this verse mentions Abraham's days but then goes on to state the number of years that he lived.  Why, then, does the verse mention the word "days" at all? Moreover, the verse includes the seemingly redundant clause, "which he lived" (אֲשֶׁר־חָי), an addition that appears to be unnecessary to the meaning.  Since the sages assumed that there were no unnecessary words revealed in the Torah, they wondered why the verse was written this way....

When we reckon a person's life span, we (objectively) refer to their physical longevity in terms of years. This is why we celebrate birthdays, after all, and that's why we refer to someone as being so many years old.  Jewish tradition recognizes calendar years, of course (our verse states that Abraham lived 175 years), though the sages understood time primarily in terms of "length of days." When the patriarch Isaac died, for example, the Torah says he was "gathered to his people, old and full of days" (Gen. 35:29). The sages defined a day (yom) in terms of the total time of daylight (measured from sunrise to sunset), and defined an hour (sha'ah) by dividing that time into 12 equal parts (this is called sha'ah zemanit, or a "proportional hour").  Each proportionate hour was then divided into 1080 "parts" (called chalakim), and each part (chelek) was further divided into 76 "moments" (rega'im). In other words, the sages measured time by increasingly smaller units, and these days, hours, "parts," and moments were used to objectively measure time (interestingly, modern science likewise attempts to "divide time" down to smaller and smaller units, until it defines it as the length of time required for light to travel in a vacuum, i.e., "Planck time." In other words, space and time are known through observing light).

Life is surely more than a quantitative measurement of time, however. What good is a physically long life without a relationship with God?  Is it not "vanity of vanities," a "tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing," as Shakespeare once said? Time finds its qualitative meaning, its purpose, and its direction only in relationship with God, who is the "beginning, the middle, and the end." Our personal histories likewise have a beginning, middle, and an end that together form a "story" about who we are.... Your life is "going somewhere," and each moment of your day is your means to that end. Each moment leads inexorably to the next, and together these moments form hours, days, and the "days of the years." Teshuvah (repentance) is a conscious choice to turn to God amidst the flux of passing time in order to awaken to the realm of the eternal.  Therefore we see the greatest of the tzaddikim (such as Abraham) living out the "days of the years" in conscious awareness of eternity, and of his ultimate destination: "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God" (Heb. 11:8-10). Faith affirms that underlying the "surface appearance" of fleeting life (olam hazeh) is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding (olam habah). It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away," like so many seconds ticked off a clock (1 Cor. 7:31).

Time is God's gift to us, as well as a test... The story is told about how a man once spied the Vilna Gaon sitting at a table in the evening, weeping over a small piece of paper he had pulled from his pocket. After he wiped away the tears, the Gaon got up and left the room, leaving the paper on the table. The man who oversaw this then went over to look at the piece of paper and saw just seven dots marked on it, nothing else. Overcome by curiosity, the following morning the man asked the Gaon what the paper meant and why it made him cry. The Gaon then explained that each evening he would review how he used his time that day. For every moment he wasted, he would mark a dot on a piece of paper. At the end of the day he would look at the paper and ask God's forgiveness for wasting the time.

The point of the story is that time is a precious gift, and how we choose to live each moment makes an eternal difference in our lives. As Moses prayed, "Teach us to count our days rightly, that we may obtain a wise heart" (Psalm 90:13). We obtain such wisdom (chochmah) through the Torah: "And you shall meditate upon (the Torah) day and night" (Josh. 1:8). As disciples, we must study the Scriptures to show ourselves approved before God (2 Tim. 2:15). But study alone is not enough. We must practice the truth and walk it out in our daily lives: "Only take care, and keep your soul diligently... Turn not away from your heart all the days of your life" (Deut. 4:9). "Above all else, keep your heart with diligence, for from it are the outgoings of life" (Prov. 4:23).
 

הַדְרִיכֵנִי בַאֲמִתֶּךָ וְלַמְּדֵנִי
כִּי־אַתָּה אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי
אוֹתְךָ קִוִּיתִי כָּל־הַיּוֹם׃

ha·dri·khei·ni  va·a·mit·te·kha ve·la·me·dei·ni
ki at·tah E·lo·hei yish·i
o·te·kha kiv·vi·ti  kol ha·yom

"Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I hope all the day long" (Psalm 25:5)

(Hebrew Study Card)
 

As followers of Yeshua, we are commanded to "redeem" (ἐξαγοράζω) the time, because the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). The Greek word used here implies exchanging the fleeting moments of the day with the conscious awareness that we will one day stand before the Judgment Seat of Messiah to give account for our lives (Matt. 12:36-37).

May the LORD help us wake up and refuse to exchange the eternal treasure of the Kingdom of God for the fleeting vanities of this world.  As the late Jim Eliot succinctly reminded us, "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

Shabbat Shalom to you all.... Stay strong in the Lord Yeshua!




Woman at the Well


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Chayei Sarah (the "life of Sarah"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

10.28.10 (Cheshvan 20, 5771)  In the same verse that the great patriarch Abraham is described as "old and advanced in years" (זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים), he is described to have been blessed bakol - "in everthing" (Gen. 24:1). Contrary to the ideals of youth-obsessed culture, the Torah regards aging as a process of construction, of upbuilding, of perfection -- not of decay.  The sages say that the elderly "wear the days of their life as a garment," that is, as an accumulated "presence of days" that attends to the soul of the person. Indeed, the Talmud notes that the word zaken ("elder") can be read as zeh kana, "this one has it." Maturity and wisdom are qualities that should be honored in our culture -- not abhorred or disregarded. As the proverb puts it, עֲטֶרֶת תִּפְאֶרֶת שֵׂיבָה / aseret tiferet sevah: "Gray hair is a crown of glory" (Prov. 16:31).

Before he died, however, Abraham wanted to set his affairs in order. His sole land possession in the Promised Land was his burial place (i.e., the Cave of Machpelah (מְעָרַת הַמַּכְפֵּלָה), where Sarah was also buried), but there was a nagging concern that his son Isaac needed a wife to carry on the family line. Indeed, the last recorded words we have of Abraham concern instructions to his servant regarding the mission to find Isaac a wife: "The LORD, the God of heaven (אֱלהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם), who took me from my father's house and from the land of my kindred, and who spoke to me and swore to me, 'To your offspring I will give this land,' he will send his Angel before you (יִשְׁלַח מַלְאָכוֹ לְפָנֶיךָ) and you shall take a wife for my son from there" (Gen. 24:7). Abraham wanted his son to find a wife among his relatives rather than from among the Canaanites, and he therefore commissioned his servant to arrange a marriage.

Though he is not explicitly named in the account, this "elder servant" is undoubtedly Eliezer of Damascus (Gen. 15:2). Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר), whose name literally means "my God will help," is regarded as a consummate example of a godly servant. In Christian theology, Eliezer is regarded as a picture of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) sent on a mission to find a bride for the Sacrificed Seed of Abraham (i.e., the Messiah Yeshua). Eliezer dutifully departs on his mission and waits by the "well of water," interceding on behalf of righteousness... He asks for a sign from heaven: "Let the young woman to whom I shall say, 'Please let down your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels' -- let her be the one whom you have appointed" (Gen. 24:13-14). Rebekah's response of kindness and generosity (i.e., חֶסֶד, chesed) to a tired wayfarer demonstrated God's choice. Note that the test concerned the inward character of the woman, not her status or beauty or other worldly factors. And since a single camel needs about 25 gallons of water and requires 10 minutes to drink, watering ten camels would require 250 gallons and at least a couple hours of work running back and forth to the well - no small task for anyone! Rebekah possessed Abraham's qualities of gracious hospitality and diligence...

Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58). This courageous willingness was likewise a characteristic of Abraham who was willing to leave his homeland in search of the greater things of God. Like Abraham, Rebekah was ger v'toshav - a "stranger and a sojourner" - who left everything behind in order to become part of God's chosen family...




Messiah our Leper


 

10.27.10 (Cheshvan 19, 5771)  The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, all of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of the Messiah's power (Heb. 1:3). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our LORD... The Messiah is the Center of Creation - its beginning and end. As it is written: אָנכִי אָלֶף וְתָו רִאשׁוֹן וְאַחֲרוֹן ראשׁ וָסוֹף / "I am the 'Aleph' and the 'Tav,' the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End" (Rev. 22:13). "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36). Indeed, Yeshua our Messiah is מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים / Melech Malchei Hamelachim: The "King of kings of kings." He is LORD of all possible worlds -- from the highest celestial glory to the dust of death upon a cross. יְהִי שֵׁם יהוה מְברָךְ / yehi shem Adonai mevorakh: "Let the Name of the LORD be blessed" forever and ever (Psalm 113:2). So while we can agree with the Talmud's general statement that the world was created for the Messiah, we would insist that the Messiah is none other than Yeshua, God's Son, and indeed, the Messiah could be no other...

It is tragic that traditional Judaism does not include Isaiah 53 as part of its yearly Haftarah readings.  Perhaps the sages got confused about how to interpret the prophet. This shouldn't surprise us, however, since the prophets were regularly misunderstood and persecuted by various "religious authorities" in Jewish history (see Luke 11:47-51). Still, the sages might have missed the coming of Yeshua because there are two distinct pictures of the Messiah revealed 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, a suffering servant, born in lowliness, despised and rejected of men (Zech. 9:9). These two visions of Messiah eventually led to various oral traditions that there would be two Messiahs: a Messiah ben Joseph (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־יוֹסֵף) and a Messiah ben David (מָשִׁיחַ בֶּן־דָוִד). In other words, the sages split the concept of Messiah in two, by regarding one Messiah as a sufferer and the other as a conqueror.

Messiah 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, Messiah ben Yosef is recognized as a forerunner and harbinger of the final deliverer, Messiah ben David. Ben Yosef suffers for the sins of Israel and ends up getting killed in the battle against evil for the benefit of ben David (in this way, the two ideas of Messiah were attempted to be "connected" - though not unified).   In the Talmud it is written, "When will the Messiah come?" And "By what sign may I recognize him?" Elijah tells the rabbi to go to the gate of the city where he will find the Messiah sitting among the poor lepers (Sanhedrin 98a). ‎"The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, the Leper Scholar, as it is said, 'surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him a leper, smitten of God and afflicted...'" (Sanhedrin 98b). These statements concern the idea of Messiah ben Yosef...

Messiah 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 (Third) Temple, and deliver Israel from all her enemies. This is the "Shiloh" version of Messiah that the sages of Judaism (such as Maimonides) have long been expecting (for more on the vision of Zion, see "As the Day Draws Near"). Christians believe Yeshua the Messiah in His second coming will completely fulfill this description of Messiah ben David.

The sages apparently were unwilling to unify the various Messianic prophecies in the Tanakh and therefore chose to "divide the visions." Ironically, while they longed for the ideal of Zion to be finally realized, they missed the means by which Zion itself would be established. They did not comprehend that the prophecies concerning the one Messiah would be fulfilled in two distinct ways: Yeshua is both Ben Yosef (the Suffering Servant - at His first coming) and 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 therefore awaiting for the appearance of the Messiah - though His followers will joyfully welcome Yeshua back!

Chagall Detail
 

‎"The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, the Leper Scholar..." (Sanhedrin 98b). But how was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean himself (Matt 8:1-4)? Only because He is the LORD, the Healer. Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what Moses (and those under the Levitical system of worship) could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Yeshua's blood creates the "waters of separation." He is the fulfillment of the "Red Heifer" sacrifice. Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), a leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD. As the prophet Isaiah wrote of Messiah:

    "He is despised and rejected of men, a man of pains (אִישׁ מַכְאבוֹת) and acquainted with sickness (וִידוּעַ חלִי), and we hid as it were our faces from him. He was despised and we esteemed him not.  Surely he has carried our sicknesses (חֳלָיֵנוּ) and borne our pains (מַכְאבֵינוּ), yet we esteemed him as plagued (נָגַע), smitten of God (מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים) and oppressed. But he was pierced (מְחלָל) for our transgressions (פְּשָׁעֵנוּ), he was crushed for our iniquities (עֲוֹנתֵינוּ): the discipline for our peace was upon him (מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו); and in his blows we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way, but the LORD has attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6)
     


"The LORD has "attacked in him (הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all..." (Isa. 53:6).  Through the substitutionary sacrifice of the righteous Suffering Servant, Yeshua, we are both forgiven and made free from the power of sin and death.  Because of Him we are no longer "lepers" or outcasts from the community of God but are made clean through His loving touch.


Addendum: Jewish tradition states that teshuvah (repentance) was created at twilight just before the first Sabbath (Berachot 54a), that is, concurrent with the creation of Adam and Eve (see the "Gospel in the Garden"). Repentance is a response to sin, which is understood as a form of spiritual sickness that leads to death: "Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with chesed and mercy" (Psalm 103:2-4). God's forgiveness is linked with healing and redemption from death and destruction (שַׁחַת). "By his stripes you were healed" (Isa. 53:5). It is written: "God creates the cure before the plague." Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., Yeshua is described as the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": 1 Pet. 1:20, Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8, 17:8), so the purification from sin and death was likewise foreseen and provided for by means of the Cross of the Messiah. God chose to save the "leper colony" of humanity by bearing the sickness Himself: "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses (ἀσθένεια), but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). 




The Promise of Shiloh


 

[ The following entry is out of sequence with the weekly Torah readings, though it continues the theme of the "Promised Seed" (i.e., the Messiah) as revealed in Book of Genesis: 'of the Woman, of Shem, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Judah...' ]

10.27.10 (Cheshvan 19, 5771)  In the "Gospel in the Garden" we considered the very first prophecy given in the Torah, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come one who would slay the serpent and crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). "... He (i.e., the Savior/Messiah) will crush your head (ראשׁ), and you (i.e., the serpent/Satan) will crush his heel (עָקֵב)."  Eve initially had hoped that her firstborn son was the promised child, but Cain later proved to be a murderer.  The martyrdom of her righteous son Abel necessitated that the promised seed would descend through another child, and therefore the Torah describes the birth of Seth (שֵׁת, lit. "appointed"), the third son of Adam and Eve. The Scriptures state that it was the descendants of Seth who "began to call upon the Name of the LORD" (לִקְרא בְּשֵׁם יהוה), indicating that they had faith in God (אֱלהִים) as the Compassionate Covenant Keeper (יהוה) who would deliver humanity from the curse by means of victory (נצח) the promised Seed.

Apart from the "godly line of Seth," however, the subsequent lineage of humanity was marked by anarchy and bloodlust, so that the Torah describes the human condition as "every intention of the thoughts of man's heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5). After nine generations from Adam, the LORD "had enough" and was ready to wipe humanity from the face of the earth.  The Torah then traces the genealogy (toldot) of Seth through ten generations (from Adam), until his descendant Noach (נחַ) is described as the only tzaddik (righteous man) remaining in the earth (Gen. 6:6-9). The Great Flood came as a worldwide judgment upon fallen humanity that had rejected the way of truth and righteousness (Gen. 6:5-7). After the great cataclysm, we learn that Noah's son Shem (שֵׁם) was chosen to be the one through which the "line of the Messiah" would come. When Noach said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem" (בָּרוּךְ יהוה אֱלהֵי שֵׁם), he prophesied that the coming redemption would come through the line of Shem (not through Canaan or Japheth), and therefore Shem was chosen to be humanity's high priest (for more on this, see the "Seed of Abraham").


 

From the line of Shem would descend Abram (אַבְרָם), the tenth generation from Noah, and therefore the twentieth from Adam (for the genealogy, see parashat Noach). Abram, of course, is the original patriarch of the Jewish people who was tested to offer up his "only begotten son" (his own "promised seed") as a sacrifice upon Mount Moriah, the location of the future Temple. In Jewish tradition, this supreme test is called the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה, "binding"), which clearly prefigured the Father's sacrifice of the Son of God for the sins of humanity (more here). Indeed, after the offering of Isaac, God explicitly promised Abraham that "in your seed (זֶרַע) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:18).

Throughout the lives of the original patriarchs, the promise of the coming Seed was repeated and reaffirmed. Abraham received the promise six times (Gen. 12:1-3, 13:14-18; 15:4-5; 17:1-8; 18:18, 22:18), Isaac received it twice (Gen. 26:3-4, 23-24), as did Jacob (Gen. 28:10-14; 35:9-12). The patriarchal promise of the coming seed was therefore made (or reaffirmed) no less than ten times in the Torah (corresponding to the ten utterances that created the universe). The Redeemer would therefore come from the "God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (אֱלהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלהֵי יַעֲקב), just as Yeshua Himself later affirmed, "salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22).

The next development of the promise of coming Redeemer occured on the deathbed of the patriarch Jacob. When the time came for Jacob (i.e., Israel) to die, he called all his sons together to bless them (Gen. 49:1-28). According to midrash, Jacob wanted to tell his sons about the "End of Days" (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) when the Messiah would come, but was prevented by the Holy Spirit. According to Rashi, God prevented Jacob because He does not want anyone to know the "day or the hour" when the great King of Israel would appear. Jacob did, however, foretell that from the tribe of Judah (יְהוּדָה) would come the Messiah: "The scepter (שֵׁבֶט) will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until Shiloh (שִׁילוֹ) comes, and to him shall be the obedience (יקְהָה) of the people" (Gen. 49:10). Interestingly, the name "Judah" (יְהוּדָה) is spelled using all the letters of the Name YHVH (יהוה), with the addition of the letter Dalet (ד). Just as the tribe of Judah later was directly stationed in the front of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the camp formation in the wilderness, so the Holy Temple (i.e., Moriah) would later become part of Judah's territory in the promised land. Likewise, Yeshua Himself - a descendant of King David - was crucified and resurrected in the land of Judah. Truly the promised "Seed of Judah" represents the "doorway of the LORD" and is rightly named "the One whom his brethren would praise."


 

The meaning of the word "Shiloh" has been debated among scholars and commentators. According to early sages and Talmudic authorities, the "ruler's staff from between his (Judah's) feet" refers to the Messiah (Targum Onkelos, Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, and Targum Yerusahlmi), and the word "Shiloh" comes from she-lo, meaning "that is his." In other words, kingly authority would be vested in the tribe of Judah until the Messiah appears, at which time he would reign as the supreme leader of the people. The Talmud likewise supports the interpretation that Shiloh was a reference to the Messiah: "Rabbi Yochanan taught that all the world was created for the Messiah. What is His name?  The School of Sheeloh taught: His name is Shiloh as it is written, 'Until Shiloh come and unto Him shall  the gathering of the peoples be'" (Sanhedrin 98b).  In later rabbinical tradition, "Shiloh" was construed to mean "final tranquility" or the worldwide peace brought through the rule of the Messiah, when all the nations of the earth would submit to him. Understood in this light, "Shiloh" would refer to the establishment of the kingdom of God upon the earth (i.e., the Zionist vision).  Others have said that since the Masora renders shiloh using a mappiq in the final Hey (i.e., הּ), it should be regarded prepositionally to mean "toward Shiloh," the very first capital of Israel in the Promised Land (this interpretation suffers from the fact that Shiloh was in Ephraim, not in Judah, however). Still others have said that Shiloh should be regarded as a proper name functioning as the subject of the verb "shall come." In this interpretation (common in most Christian translations of the Bible), Shiloh (said to derive from the verb shala, "to rest"), would then be the first proper name given to the Messiah in the Scriptures. Despite some of the uncertainty regarding the exact meaning of the name "Shiloh," the various commentators - both Jewish and Christian - agree that Jacob's prophecy concerned the regal authority of the tribe of Judah until the Messiah would appear. This is the basis for the "Son of David" hope of Biblical Judaism.

As an aside, Jacob's prophecy that "the scepter will not depart from Judah... until Shiloh comes" includes all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet except for the letter Zayin, which is the Hebrew word for weapon, suggesting that when the Messiah comes, it will not be by means of arms or weapons, but rather by the ruach ha-kodesh. In other words, the Zealots misunderstood the mission of the Messiah, thinking that the Messiah would rule and reign by means of carnal force and worldly power.  Therefore we see Yeshua as the Suffering Servant, Mashiach ben Yosef, coming to the Temple riding on a lowly donkey, full of humility and kindness (Matt. 21:1-5).

The time of Shiloh's coming is somewhat problematic, however, at least from a traditionally Jewish perspective.  After all, the kingdom of Judah was later taken into captivity in 587 BC when Tzediakiah was captured and taken prisoner in Babylon, though the land was still technically governed by Zerubbabel and later by the Great Assembly (Sanhedrin).  During the intertestamental period, the territory was still called Judea (after the name of the tribe). However, after Rome conquered the land and made it into a Roman province (AD 6-7), the political power of Judah was officially over.  Indeed, after the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 and the subsequent Jewish-Roman wars, the Jewish people began their long and tragic exile from the land - and the hope of the kingdom appeared lost...

Historically speaking, if we understand the "regency of Judah" to be invested in the Great Sanhedrin (after the last independent King of Judah [Tzedekiah] was deposed), the scepter (shevet) would have departed from Judah in AD 6-7 after the Romans installed a procurator as the authority in Judea (thus replacing the authority of Sanhedrin based in Judah). However, the prophecy of Jacob did not fail, because the Messiah had indeed come and was in their midst as Yeshua mi-netzeret (Jesus of Nazareth) at that exact time. In other words -- Yeshua is indeed Shiloh - the King of the Jews - though at present He is not physically reigning on David's throne (this will occur at His Second Coming when he returns to Jerusalem at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age) to establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth).

Like most prophecies in Scripture, the prophecy of Shiloh has a "dual aspect" or "double fulfillment."  Shiloh, or the "King of the Jews" (a synonym for the Messiah, called "Christ" by Gentile Christendom) had indeed come "before the scepter departed from Judah," but he went unrecognized since he came to fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant (Mashiach ben Yosef). The second part of the prophecy, "and to him shall be the obedience of the people," is yet to be fulfilled. It will become a visible reality only after his Second Coming, at the end of olam ha-zeh (this present age), when Yeshua comes to judge the nations (the "sheep and the goats") and establish the Kingdom of God from David's throne in Jerusalem.

The Promised Seed was to be born of a woman (Gen. 3:15), to dwell in the "tents of Shem" (Gen. 9:26) and descend from the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen. 12-28). Furthermore, as Jacob's prophecy makes clear, the tribe of Judah would be known as Gur Aryeh (גּוּר אַרְיֵה), a "Young Lion," who would be praised, made victorious, and rule over the other tribes of Israel (Gen. 49:8-9). Indeed, from the royal tribe of Judah would come the Messiah, the anointed King of Israel, whose authority would ultimately expand into a worldwide dominion (Gen. 49:10). As later prophecies clearly foretell, the great "Young Lion of the Tribe of Judah" is none other than Yeshua, the Son of God, unto whom every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess, that He is indeed the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings... The day of His coming draws near...
 

Irv Davis Painting Detail

"All the world was created
for the Messiah"


 


Addendum:
Are Christians "Spiritual Jews"?

The word "Jew" comes from Judah (יְהוּדָה), from the root (יָדָה) which means to "thank." From Judah was derived the later term "Jew" (which first appears after the destruction of the First Temple, 2 Kings 25:25, and was later used in the Aramaic books of Ezra/Nehemiah). Leah used a play on words regarding her birth of her fourth son when she said she would "thank the LORD" (אוֹדֶה אֶת־יהוה), and therefore named her son "Judah" (Gen. 29:35). I think Paul alluded to this in Rom. 2:28-29 by saying that an "inward" Jew is "one who praises (or thanks) God," and therefore it may be said that all those who thank the LORD in the truth are "spiritual Jews." If you are "blood-related" to God by the Messiah through faith, you are "grafted in" to the covenants, promises, and blessings originally given to ethnic Israel, and are therefore a member of "God's household" in full standing (see Eph. 2:12-22).

"So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints (tzaddikim) and members of the household of God (i.e., b'nei Elohim)." [Eph. 2:19] Non-Jews who accept the salvation offered by Yeshua are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Messiah through the gospel (Eph. 3:6). As was repeatedly promised in the Torah, the blessing of Abraham is imparted to all the families of the earth because of Yeshua (Gal. 3:14).




Imminence and Redemption


 

[ It's a stormy day here in Minnesota, with strong gales and glowering skies, almost as if nature itself is foretelling the greater storm that soon comes to test all the earth. ]

10.26.10 (Cheshvan 18, 5771)  According to Orthodox Jewish halakhah (law), belief in the coming of Mashiach (the Messiah) is required to be rightly regarded as a Jew.  The twelfth principle of Maimonides states, "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and though he may delay, nevertheless I am waiting for his coming every day." Accordingly, anyone who rejects or doubts the imminent return of the Messiah is considered "apikoros," (i.e., heretical). Even those who (abstractly) believe that the Messiah will come "some day" are regarded as unbelieving, since this attitude negates the unconditional expectation of his imminent arrival.  Indeed, the obligation to expect the coming day of redemption applies to every minute of every day. As it is written in the Scriptures:
 

הַדְרִיכֵנִי בַאֲמִתֶּךָ וְלַמְּדֵנִי
כִּי־אַתָּה אֱלהֵי יִשְׁעִי
אוֹתְךָ קִוִּיתִי כָּל־הַיּוֹם׃

ha·dri·khei·ni  va·a·mit·te·kha ve·la·me·dei·ni
ki at·tah E·lo·hei yish·i
o·te·kha kiv·vi·ti  kol ha·yom

"Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I hope all the day long" (Psalm 25:5)

(Hebrew Study Card)
 

The sages state that the fervent expectation of the Messiah's coming actually hastens geulah (redemption). Just as the prayers and sighs of the Jews in Egypt caused God to commission Moses, so the prayers of the tzaddikim move the LORD Messiah to action (Rev. 8:4). On the other hand, if we do not expect imminent redemption, our troubles and suffering will increase and increase (the "birthpangs of the Messiah") until they culminate in the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" - עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). Waiting with expectancy is a matter of personal as well as corporate responsibility: "When a man is led in for judgment in the world to come, he will be asked, 'Did you await the salvation?'" (Shabbat 31a). On the other hand, "date setting" or claiming that the Messiah can come only at certain times or seasons "mars" the expectation of redemption. The time of the redemption is concealed, and "no man knows the day or hour" (Matt. 24:36). Forecasting the exact time or date of the Messiah's return may even cause a lax attitude and unreadiness for his glorious appearance (Luke 12:45-46).

But why wouldn't the LORD want to tell his children the hour of the promised Messiah's appearance?  According to tradition, if people knew how long they would have to wait, they might despair of life altogether, or, if they knew the exact time, they might "repent" just for that reason, and not because it came from the heart...

Yeshua said, "Behold, I come quickly (ταχύ)..." (Rev. 3:11; 22:12). It is a mitzvah to wait patiently for the return of Yeshua our Messiah.  Our "inward groaning" for the fulfilment of our redemption is the very hope by which we are saved (Rom. 8:23-24). The imminency of His return should fill our hearts with joyful excitement. Just as the Jews awaited liberation from bondage in Egypt "with loins girded, shoes on feet, and staff in hand" (Exod. 12:11), so too must we be ready to receive our Redemption at any moment. "Thus says the LORD: "Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy" (Jer. 31:16).
 

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)

(Hebrew Study Card)
 

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

Regarding the Messiah's Second Coming, we therefore find ourselves in the same position of expectation as Israel's sons who heard the original prophecy from the patriarch Jacob: "the scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until 'Shiloh' (שִׁילוֹ) comes..." (Gen. 49:10). Though Jesus told us about the "signs" of the time (and the "fig tree has brought forth its leaves," see Matt. 24:32-33), we do not know the exact "day or the hour" and therefore must be ready for his return at any time (Matt. 24:36-25:13). Nonetheless, the Spirit that gives life to hope within us cries out: "Come quickly, Yeshua!"




Strangers and Settlers


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Chayei Sarah (the "life of Sarah"). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

10.25.10 (Cheshvan 17, 5771)  When Abraham approached the Hittites, wishing to acquire a place to bury his wife Sarah, he said: "I am a sojourner and settler (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4). King David likewise confessed: "For we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers (כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ); our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope" (1 Chron. 29:15). Life in olam hazeh (this world) is nothing but a "burial site," a graveyard, a shadowy place of passing that leads to olam haba, the world to come, and to God's glorious kingdom.  We cannot find lasting hope in this world and its values; all that must be buried and surrendered to God.

Being gerim v'toshavim (גֵרִים וְתוֹשָׁבִים), "strangers and sojourners," is inherently paradoxical, however, since a ger (גֵּר) is one who is "just passing through," like a visitor or refugee, whereas a toshav (תּוֹשָׁב) is one who is a resident, like a settler or citizen. Living by emunah (אֱמוּנָה, faith) therefore invariably leads to collision with worldly culture and its values.  Faith affirms that underlying the surface appearance of life is a deeper reality that is ultimately real and abiding. It "sees what is invisible" (2 Cor. 4:18) and understands (i.e., accepts) that the "present form of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31). The life of faith therefore calls us to live as toshavim - sojourners - who are put at an infinite "distance" from the world of appearances.  We ache with a divine "homesickness." We lament over the state of this world and its delusions. We gnaw with hunger for love and truth to prevail in the world. And yet this loneliness, this dissonance, this place of suffering "outside the camp" is not without an overarching comfort:
 

    This slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. For we know that if the tent (σκηνος), which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.
    (2 Cor. 4:17-5:2)
     

If we are given grace to answer the call of Yeshua to "take up our cross," we presently become ger v'toshav. As gerim we confess that we are strangers in this present world, but as toshavim we believe that our labors are not in vain, and that our true citizenship is in heaven.  Like father Abraham, we live in a foreign land as "strangers and sojourners," looking forward to the City of God (Heb. 11:9-10).
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִינוּ מֵעוֹלָם וְעַד־עוֹלָם

ba·rukh  at·tah  Adonai  E·lo·hei  Yis·ra·el  A·vi·nu  me·o·lam  ve·ad  o·lam

Blessed are You, LORD, God of Israel our father,
from eternity to eternity (1 Chron. 29:10).

(Blessing Card)
 

May His Kingdom come speedily, and in our day, and may the LORD help us live today -- in this world -- as ambassadors and emissaries of the world to come.  Amen.


Note: Of course I don't mean to suggest that we are to be so "otherworldly" that we are no earthly good. No, but many of us are so "this-worldly" that we are of no heavenly good!  The direction must be first toward heaven, and then back to earth ("seek ye first the kingdom...").  We surrender to God and then receive back our lives to reengage the world. "Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it brings forth fruit" (John 12:24). Life in this world must be "mediated" by the presence of God through our faith in Him.  Only then are we able to truly love and care for the world as God's emissaries.


Addendum:
The Warning of Reformed Judaism



 

The German "Reform movement" (Haskalah) began in the mid-nineteenth century. The goal of the movement was presumably to "enlighten" Jews and to help them assimilate into German culture. The structure of synagogue service was altered to resemble German Lutheranism (with organ music, men and women sitting together, etc.), and German - not Hebrew - became the language used in the liturgy.  In addition, secular study and a "higher critical" understanding of the Scriptures was encouraged, and Jews were instructed to stop living isolated lives within the "ghettos," but rather to integrate as "full members of German society." This approach later culminated in the "motto" of the Reform movement: "Berlin is Jerusalem" (see the "Christian" corollary here). In other words, Berlin was just as good as Jerusalem, and the ideals of the Promised Land, the Torah, and the ultimate destiny of the Jewish people became allegorized (and therefore of merely symbolic significance).

Tragically, it took the horrors of the Second World War and the rise of the hateful Nazi party to disabuse the German Jewish community that they were not regarded as true "citizens" of Germany. The reformed Jews of Germany had focused so much on being "residents" of land that they had forgotten that they were first of all "strangers and exiles on the earth" (Heb. 11:13).




Parashat Chayei Sarah - חיי שרה


 

[ This week's Torah reading is called Chayei Sarah (the "life of Sarah") which begins (paradoxically enough) with the account of Sarah's death (Gen. 23:1-2). If you haven't already done so, please first read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

10.24.10
(Cheshvan 24, 5771)   Recall that Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old and later died at age 127, when Isaac was 37 years old.  The Torah does not explicitly state the cause of her death, though according to Jewish tradition Sarah died from shock after learning about what happened to her son at the hand of her husband (i.e., the near sacrifice of Isaac at Moriah). It was just too much for her heart to bear. How could she comprehend Abraham's actions?  Was he insane?  And what about Isaac? How could Sarah bear the terror her son must have endured? And what about the cherished dream of the family to be God's chosen people on the earth?  Because of this great trauma, her soul departed from her....

The midrash elaborates by explaining that after Abraham's early departure (for Moriah) Sarah grew more and more worried about the welfare of her son. By the third day - the day of the Akedah itself - she decided to go look for him. When Sarah reached Hebron, however, the evil one disguised himself as her (disfigured) son. When she saw him, she asked: "My son, what has your father done to you?" He answered, "My father took me and made bound me on the altar. He then took the knife to slaughter me.  If the Holy One had not called out, 'Do not cast your hand on this boy,' I would have been slaughtered." When she heard how her son had been bound on the altar, Sarah was so overcome with fright that her soul had departed from her" (Midrash Tanchuma).


 

Therefore when the Torah says, "And Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and to cry for her" (Gen. 23:2), the sages say that he was returning directly from Mount Moriah, the place of the sacrifice of Isaac.  (This also explains why Isaac was not present at his mother's funeral since he had fled from Abraham and sought refuge with Shem in Salem after the terrifying ordeal).  In the Torah text the phrase "and to cry for her" (וְלִבְכּתָה) is written with a diminutive letter Kaf, which has led some of the commentators to explain that Abraham's mourning for his wife was restrained. How are we to understand this? The sages state that the death of Sarah was yet another severe test for Abraham.  Would he now regret his faithful obedience to the LORD because of the loss of his wife? The Akedah settled the question that Abraham loved God more than even his beloved son, but the death of Sarah was another matter.... Since Abraham believed that God would raise his son from the dead, perhaps he likewise believed that God would raise his wife from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19). At any rate, to indicate that Abraham loved God unconditionally, the letter Kaf was written smaller, suggesting that his mourning was tempered with continued trust in God's will and plans...

It is a provocative thought that Sarah - not Isaac - was the real victim of the Akedah.  She, not Isaac, is the one who dies, after all. Jewish tradition has associated the cries of Sarah with the blasts of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. The broken notes of the shofar are thought to recall her crying for her son...

The sages further wonder why Sarah lived only 127 years while Abraham lived to be 175, that is, 48 years more?  They answer that Sarah's years amounted to the number of years Abraham lived as ha-Ivri (הָעִבְרִי), "the Hebrew," a term that identifies his relationship to the one true God (see "Abraham the Hebrew"). Since Abraham was 48 years old when he came to believe, and a convert is regarded as a newborn, then Abraham lived (as a Hebrew) exactly 127 years, precisely as long as did Sarah (who was regarded a prophetess from birth). For more about this, please see the article "The Greatness of Sarah."




The Akedah of Isaac:
Love and Sacrifice

Marc Chagall - Akedah Detail
 

[ The following entry (related to parashat Vayera) concerns the crucial topic of the "Akedah," or the offering of Isaac, and how this amazing drama - told in just nineteen verses of Torah (Gen. 22:1-19) - clearly foretold the sacrifice of Yeshua our Redeemer. Please note that I wrote the following in haste so you could read it in time for this coming Shabbat. It is presently a "work in progress," chaverim... ]

10.21.10 (Cheshvan 13, 5771)   The very first occurrence of the word "love" in the Scriptures refers to Abraham's passion for his son Isaac (i.e., the word ahavah: אַהֲבָה, in Gen. 22:2). Isaac was the long-awaited heir, Abraham's "miracle boy," his only child of his beloved wife Sarah.  God Himself named Isaac before his birth in anticipation of the "laughter" and great hope he would bring to Abraham and Sarah. Indeed, it was this very hope in God's promise that moved God to rename Abram to Abraham, and Sarai to Sarah... In short, Isaac represented all the dreams and aspirations of Abraham's heart. In light of this, imagine the agony and turmoil Abraham experienced when God asked him to sacrifice his beloved and irreplaceable son. Would Abraham be willing to obey - even if that meant destroying his dream for Isaac - and indeed all his hopes? More radically, would Abraham be able to trust God - even if that meant surrendering his understanding and rationality?

In Jewish tradition, the drama of the mind-blowing sacrifice of Abraham's beloved son is called the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה, "binding"), which is universally regarded as the supreme test of Abraham's obedience and faith. The Akedah is so important that it is read each morning as a prelude to the Shacharit (morning) service. It is also read during Rosh Hashanah, since tradition says that Abraham sacrificed his son during this time. The blast of the shofar is intended to remind us of God's gracious atonement provided through the substitutionary sacrifice of the lamb (as well as to "drown out" the voice of the accuser).  In this way, the Akedah represents the truth of the Gospel, and how God's attribute of justice was "overcome" by His attribute of compassion (Psalm 85:10).

"After these things..."

The story of the offering of Isaac, Abraham's "promised seed," begins with the statement, "After these things God tested Abraham..." (Gen. 22:1). Notice that the phrase, "after these things" (וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה) grammatically connects the preceding narrative of Abraham's expulsion of his son Ishmael at God's command (Gen. 21:12-14) and the covenant he made with Abimelech at Beersheba (Gen. 21:-22-32). The verses that immediately precede the account of the Akedah, however, read: "Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba and called there on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. And Abraham sojourned many days in the land of the Philistines" (Gen. 21:33-34). Since Abraham was in the godly line of Seth and Shem, he undoubtedly believed in the promise of the coming "seed of the woman" who would "reverse the curse" originally given to humanity (Gen. 3:15). Did the "tamarisk tree" recall the original Tree of Life that the LORD promised would be restored by the promised seed?  Did Abraham believe that his son Isaac was the Redeemer to come?

"God tested Abraham..."

"After these things God tested Abraham..." Pirke Avot 5:3 says, "With ten tests our father Abraham was tested and he withstood them all -- in order to make known how great was our father Abraham's love for God."  The sages list these tests as:

  1. Rejecting the religion (idolatry) of his father Terach (Josh. 24:2).
  2. Leaving the country of his birth for an unknown land (Gen. 12:1).
  3. Being tested with famine upon entry to the Promised Land (Gen. 12:10).
  4. Dealing with Sarah's abductions (Gen. 12:14-15; 20:2).
  5. Interceding for Lot and fighting against the four kings (Gen. 14:12-16).
  6. Experiencing the dreadful vision of future captivity (Gen. 15:1-21).
  7. Undergoing painful circumcision at age 99 (Gen. 17:10).
  8. Enduring the infertility of Sarah, despite the promise of an heir (Gen. 11:30; 15:3).
  9. Evicting his wife Hagar and his firstborn son Ishmael (Gen. 21:9-14).
  10. Sacrificing his beloved son Isaac as a burnt offering (Gen. 22:1-19). The sages universally agree that the sacrifice of Isaac was the most difficult test (nissayon) Abraham faced (see below for more).


"Here I am..."

So the story of the Akedah begins: "After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here am I" (Gen. 22:1). After some 30 years of silence, living as a sojourner among the Philistines, God finally called to faithful Abraham, who simply answered, "Here I am" (i.e., hineini: הִנֵּנִי). What is remarkable about this "hineini" is that it is Abraham's only recorded response to God's forthcoming request: "Take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Gen. 21:2).

The midrash adds some imaginary dialog between God and Abraham in order to explain the rhetoric used in this verse of the Torah: "Take your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac":

    God (אֱלהִים) said: "Take your son (בֵּן)." Abraham answered, "Which one? I have two sons." So God said, "Your only (יָחִיד) son." Abraham answered, "But each one of the two is the only one of his mother." So God said, "Whom you love (אֲשֶׁר־אָהַבְתָּ)." Abraham answered, "I love both." So God finally named the son directly: "Even Isaac (אֶת־יִצְחָק)." (Midrash Rabbah, Bereshit)
     

Despite the speculation provided by midrash, the written Torah records that when God called out to Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Abraham replied with only one word: hineini, "Here I am," and began immediately preparing for the sacrifice. And as we will see in the subsequent narrative, three days would pass from the time God asked Abraham until they arrived at Moriah, and the Torah only records that Abraham said this one word: hineini. Both God and Abraham were silent during this awful test of faith...

"Go to the land of Moriah..."

"Please take (קַח־נָא) your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you" (Gen. 21:2). Notice that the phrase "go to the land of Moriah" uses the same verb that God used to call Abraham to leave for the Promised Land (i.e., lekh-lekha: לֶךְ־לְךָ in Gen. 12:1). So the progression is first "go for yourself" from the land of your origin (i.e., the realm of the flesh, of natural human life), and then "go for yourself" to the place of atonement and substitutionary sacrifice (i.e., the realm of the spirit, of eternal life)....

The land of Moriah (אֶרֶץ הַמּרִיָּה) was not unknown to Abraham, since it was understood from the time of Adam and Eve to have been the place where God created the universe. The dust of Moriah is said to have been used to create Adam, and Mount Moriah was said to have been the place that Adam first offered sacrifice, as did his sons Cain and Abel. After the Great Flood, Noah commission his firstborn son Shem to be the family high priest (Malki-Tzedek). Shem later established a school at Moriah that became the central place of Torah study for the post-flood generation. According to tradition, Shem called the place Shalayim (i.e., Shelem, "perfect"), since the bedrock at Moriah was called Even ha-Shetiyah (אבן השתייה), "the Foundation Stone," referring to the creation of the earth on the First Day (Isa. 28:16). Later, Abraham called the place Adonai Yireh ("God will provide"), and subsequently Moriah was renamed by combining these two to form Jerusalem. At any rate, the mountain which God would show Abraham was none other than Zion, the Mountain of the LORD, and the site of the future Temple (as well as the crucifixion of Yeshua).

It should be noted here that some commentators claim that Abraham actually misunderstood God's commandment to offer up his son.  When God said, "Take your son... and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there" (Gen. 22:2), God did not intend for Abraham to kill Isaac, but only that he should "dedicate" him upon the altar at Moriah. The Hebrew verb alah (עלה) can mean "to ascend" or "to climb" in addition to turning something into smoke (i.e., via burnt offering). Understood in this way, the command could be rendered, "Take your son... and go to the land of Moriah and cause him to ascend [הַעֲלֵהוּ] there for an ascent [לְעלָה] upon one of the mountains which I will tell you." In other words, the Hebrew verb translated "offer him up" [הַעֲלֵהוּ] should have been understood as "cause him to ascend," perhaps in a way similar to Jacob's vision of the ladder that ascended toward heaven. Rashi notes that when God said, "Which [i.e., the sacrifice of humans] I commanded not, nor did it come into My mind" (Jer. 7:31) refers to Isaac, whom God never intended to slaughter, but only to be tested (Ta'anit 4a).

Abraham, however, understood God's instruction to mean that Isaac was to be offered as a human sacrifice (i.e., a whole burnt offering (עוֹלָה)), a cult practice not uncommon among the pagan cultures immersed in Molech idolatry. Some have speculated that the test given to Abraham centered primarily on renouncing such pagan conceptions of God.  The temptation to elevate blind obedience to an arbitrary deity (אֱלהִים) above the dictates of compassion and conscience had to be overcome.  Abraham's temptation, so to speak, was whether to listen to the voice of God (אֱלהִים) or to heed the voice of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה).

Why didn't Abraham argue with God (אֱלהִים) by remembering Him as the LORD (יְהוָה), the Compassionate Source of life?  Earlier he had argued with God regarding the destruction of Sodom. So why didn't he argue to save his own son?  Might this have been Abraham's test, namely, that God wanted Abraham to argue and to challenge the command to perform child sacrifice? Or why didn't he ask, "Why do you taunt me by giving me a son in my old age only to have him taken away?" Why didn't Abraham protest that his descendants could never inherit the Promised Land if his heir were killed? Indeed, how could Abraham have been in his right mind during this test?  As Soren Kierkegaard reminds us in his book Fear and Trembling, this is yirat Elohim - the fear of God - taken to point of sheer madness.

"He arose early..."

"So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac. And he cut the wood for the burnt offering and arose and went to the place of which God had told him" (Gen. 22:3).

Instead of arguing with God about the rightness of the request, Abraham immediately began preparing for the sacrifice. He did not question God's instructions, nor, as we know from New Testament Scripture, did he doubt that God would be able to fulfill His promise that Isaac would be the heir of a multitude of people. Abraham "saddled his donkey," indicating that he took personal responsibility for his mission. The midrash states that the two young men were Ishmael and Eliezer, respectively. Abraham cut the wood for the burnt offering ahead of time, though this is left unexplained in the text of the Torah (a midrash states that it was to ensure that the wood was "kosher," that is, worm-free).  Another possibility is that the wood was considered sacred to Abraham, perhaps cut from the terebinth tree he had earlier planted at Beersheba.

The Miracle of the Test

There are countless commentaries written about the Akedah, with various theories about what it all means or why the test was administered.  Some of the sages link "after these things" (Gen. 22:1) with the treaty Abraham had earlier made with Abimelech (Gen. 21:27). God was angry at Abraham for making this covenant since He had promised to give all the land of Canaan to his descendants. Now Abraham's children would be unable to conquer the land until Abimelech's grandson would die. In effect, Abraham's decision to covenant with the Philistines resulted in the exile to Egypt, and the test of the Akedah was meant to refine Abraham's faith and obedience...

A midrash states that after Isaac had become a wealthy man, his older brother Ishmael visited him and taunted him regarding the virtue of circumcision. "I was thirteen years old when God commanded my father to circumcise us. I willingly submitted to this painful operation in obedience to my father and to God. But you, on the other hand, were a mere baby, before you had the intelligence to protest." Isaac replied, "You praise yourself because of one organ of your body, but I swear that if God commanded my father to sacrifice my entire body, I would do so joyfully." God heard Isaac's remark and took note of it. He would one day test Abraham with just such a command...

Another midrash (quoting from Sanhedrin 89b) says that the sacrifice of Isaac was similar to God's test of the prophet Job.  One day the angels came to minister before God and Satan was among them.  The LORD said to Satan, "From where have you come?" Satan answered the LORD and said, "From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it" (Job 1:7). And the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Abraham, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?" Then Satan answered the LORD and said, "Does Abraham fear God for no reason? He had no sons for a long time and he built altars to please you, but after his request for a child was granted, he has long forgotten you. He sacrificed many cattle for a feast for Isaac, but he did not offer you a gift of thanks.  Now many years have passed since then and he has yet to offer you a single sacrifice!" God answered that Abraham had made the feast in honor of his son, yet if He asked him to kill his son for the sake of God, he would gladly do so.  That is what the words, "After these things God tested Abraham" means: after Satan's words of challenge were uttered, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Rashi suggests that God prefaced the test with the word "please" (i.e., "Please take [קַח־נָא] your son, your only son, whom you love, even Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah and offer him up as a burnt offering." God modified His request with "please" [נָא] because the sacrifice of Isaac was not a command, and therefore Abraham was in a position to refuse.

Immediately after Abraham agreed to fulfill God's will, Satan began scheming of ways to defeat him.  He placed numerous obstacles in Abraham's way to prevent him from fulfilling God's request, such as causing a surging river to appear directly on the path. He whispered into Isaac's ears that Abraham had gone insane. He tried to make Abraham question whether he had actually heard the voice of God. He disguised himself as an old man to Abraham who insinuated that Abraham had listened to a devil rather than God. Satan later disguised himself as a distressed Isaac and appeared to torment Sarah, hoping that she would somehow intervene and divert Abraham's mission.  Throughout the journey to Moriah, Satan tried his best to dissuade Abraham, but God gave him grace to prevail (for more on this, see the "Midrash of the White Ram").

Other commentators speculate as to whether there was an "Ishmael connection" with the Akedah. According to Rashi, the sacrifice of Isaac was middah keneged middah ("like for like") justice applied to Abraham's unjust eviction of Hagar and his firstborn son. After all, despite his wealth and power, Abraham had sent them away to a certain death in the desert.... Indeed, Isaac later seemed to understand this, and many of his spiritual encounters with God occurred at Beer-lehai-roi, the place where Ishmael was first named - and later abandoned.

I should add that Abraham's test was also Sarah's test.  Abraham realized he would have to gain Sarah's assent to let Isaac go off to Moriah, so he convinced her that sending Isaac to Shem's school would be the best thing for him.  Sarah was apprehensive and clothed her son with special garments. She followed the men as far as Hebron, where Abraham finally told her to turn back. "Who knows if I shall ever look upon you again?" she said in parting to her son. It is a provocative thought that Sarah - not Isaac - was the real victim of the Akedah.  She, not Isaac, is the one who died, after all. Jewish tradition has associated the cries of Sarah with the blasts of the shofar during Rosh Hashanah. The broken notes of the shofar are thought to recall her crying for her son (for more on this, see "The Akedah of Sarah").

Many commentators link the idea of a test (i.e., nissayon: נִסָּיוֹן) with that of a "banner" or "miracle" (i.e., nes: נֵס). Since God already knows the outcome of the test, its purpose is to "raise up" the righteous by lifting them up to a new spiritual level. In other words, the test is for the individual's benefit - certainly not to impart any new information to God. The sages note that God tests someone to enable him or her to become aware of their own capabilities (or limitations). Testing is therefore inherently soul-building.  In addition, God tests people in order to demonstrate their capabilities to others. In the case of Abraham, the test of the Akedah functioned as a "banner" of his righteousness and faithful obedience. He is rightly regarded as the "father of faith" to all who believe (Rom. 4:11,16).

"On the Third Day..."

"On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar" (Gen. 22:4). The midrash says that God deliberately prolonged the journey so that the nations should not later claim, "Abraham only sacrificed his son because he was taken by surprise when God gave him the command. No man would ever agree to an order to slaughter his own son, provided he were given ample time for reflection." Therefore God gave him three full days to consider the matter, and during that entire time Satan did his best to convince both Abraham and Isaac that it was a mistake to continue on their way. 

Nonetheless Abraham and Isaac pressed on and traveled together. On the third day, Abraham saw a mountain bathed in a light that extended from earth to heaven, with the Shekhinah Glory resting above it.  He then asked Isaac, "What do you see?" Isaac answered, "I see a lovely hill with a beautiful cloud rising over it." Abraham then asked his two servants what they saw, and they answered they saw nothing.  Abraham then told his two servants, "Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and we will return to you" (Gen. 22:5). According to midrash, since the two servants could not see the Shekhinah on the mountain, Abraham left them with the donkey. Then the two servants began to quarrel . Ishmael said that after Isaac's sacrifice he would be heir, whereas Eliezer said that he would be the heir. A heavenly voice finally said, "Neither of you will be heir, for in Isaac shall the Seed come."

Notice that Abraham had told the servants that "we will return to you" (וְנָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם). Rashi states this was a prophecy of Isaac's resurrection, though other sages say that it meant that Abraham would return with his ashes.  The New Testament comments that this was evidence that Abraham believed that God would resurrect Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19). Abraham believed that - despite the coming sacrifice of his son - both of them would return.

"They Went Together..."

"And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son. And he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together" (Gen. 22:6). Isaac carried the wood and Abraham carried the fire and knife. According to Jewish tradition, Isaac was a 37 year old man who suspected that he was indeed going to be offered up as a sacrifice (Seder Olam Rabbah). Nevertheless, he did not flee from his father but continued to trust in him... They ascended the mountain together...

But Isaac needed to make sure of what was really happening. He needed to understand what was being asked of him. "And Isaac said to his father Abraham, "My father!" And he said, "Here am I, my son." And he said, "Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" (Gen. 22:7). This is the first word of dialog recorded over the three day journey... It is hard to imagine Isaac's pathos during this exchange.  The grammar of the dialog is somewhat odd. Why does the Torah say that Isaac said to his father Abraham?  And why does Isaac call out to Abraham as my father (אָבִי)? You can almost hear Isaac's faltering words to his father: "he said ... [ silence ] ... he said, 'my father....'  he said, '...but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?' (for more on this, see the "Passion of Isaac"). "Isaac called out to his father, "Father," in order to arouse his mercy, not so that Abraham would be overcome with emotion and change his plans, but rather so that his love would be offered upon the altar" (Imrei Emes).

Abraham replied, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So they went both of them together (Gen. 22:8). Notice that the Hebrew could be read: "God will provide the lamb for the burnt offering -- my son!"(ירְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי) - making it plain that Isaac was himself to be offered upon the altar. According to midrash, upon hearing this, Isaac put his face between his hands and wept. "Is this the Torah about which you spoke to mother?" he sobbed. When Abraham heard this, he wept also. But Isaac controlled himself and sought to comfort his father: "Do not feel distressed, my father. Fulfill your Creator's will through me! May my blood be an atonement for the future Jewish people" (Bereshit Rabbah).  The Torah then repeats the phrase, "and they both walked on together," indicating that Isaac had accepted his sacrificial death. Isaac had yielded his strength in perfect surrender and trust to his father, while Abraham held his beloved son's hand, afraid that he might lose courage and run away. 

Love's Great Sacrifice

"When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood" (Gen. 22:9). Here we are reaching the climax of the narrative.  Abraham built the altar on Moriah and "arranged the wood in order." According to tradition, this altar was in the very same place as the one built by Adam and later destroyed by the flood. It was rebuilt by Noah but later destroyed by Nimrod after the Dispersion of Babel. Now it was rebuilt by Abraham.  Isaac presumably watched all of this in dreadful anticipation, yet he submitted to his father in complete trust. The aged Abraham then "bound Isaac his son" (וַיַּעֲקד אֶת־יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ) and carefully laid him on the altar, "on top of the wood." According to the Talmud, Isaac asked his father to make the knots on his hands and feet tighter - not out of fear that he would change his mind and begin to resist - but in order to encourage his father to offer the sacrifice properly (Bereshit Rabbah 56:8). Since kosher slaughtering required the sacrificial victim's throat to be cut quickly, Isaac wanted to ensure that he did not flinch and thereby invalidate the sacrifice... Like the Suffering Servant who would come after him, Isaac "set his face like a flint" to fulfill God's will (Isa. 50:7).

Isaac kept his eyes directed toward heaven as he lay tightly bound and motionless upon the altar. He awaited the final blow and wanted it to fall with love and obedience within his heart. It was to be a shared sacrifice between the beloved son and his father. Finally "Abraham stretched out (שׁלח) his hand and took the knife to slaughter (i.e., לִשְׁחט, from shechitah) his son" (Gen. 22:10). The Talmud says that when Abraham "stretched out" his hand, he briefly examined the knife to determine if it was ritually fit, and this delay was the precise moment when the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יהוה) called to him from heaven and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" (Gen. 22:11). (Note the repetition of the name "Abraham" during this second call.)  According to various midrashim, when Abraham put his knife to his son's neck, Isaac's soul departed from him, but it returned when the Angel of the LORD said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (Gen. 22:12). Abraham then immediately released Isaac and recited the blessing, "Blessed are You, LORD, who revives the dead" (בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה מְחַיֶּה הַמֵּתִים).

The Lamb of God

"And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son" (Gen. 22:13). The ram was offered tachat (תַּחַת, lit. "underneath" or "in exchange") for Isaac, which is the key idea of substitutionary atonement (i.e., the Korban Principle). The midrash says that throughout each step of the sacrifice of the ram, Abraham prayed, "May God regard this as though it were my son..."  Abraham then said, "Master of the Universe, when you commanded me to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, I could have contradicted you, but I suppressed all arguments in order to do Your will.  If my sons sin in future times, remember Isaac's binding, suppress your anger, and forgive them." Here again is the Rosh Hashanah connection. As the Talmud says, "The Holy One, blessed be He, said, 'Sound before Me the ram's horn so that I may remember on your behalf the binding of Isaac and account it to you as if you had bound yourselves before Me'" (Rosh Hashanah 16a).


 

"The Mount of the LORD..."

So Abraham called the name of that place, Adonai Yireh ("The LORD will provide"); as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided" (Gen. 22:14). Interestingly, the name Moriah (מוריה) comes from the same verb ra'ah (ראה), "to see" (with the divine Yah- [יהּ] suffix). There is a play on words here.  It was at Moriah (lit. "seen by YHVH") that Abraham called the LORD Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD will see [our need]" in reference to the provision of substitutionary sacrifice in Isaac's place. Mount Moriah (i.e., Zion) is central to Jewish history.  It is the place where Jacob dreamed of the ladder to heaven, it is the site of the Holy Temple, and it is the place where Yeshua our Messiah was crucified and raised from the dead. The account of the Akedah may rightly be regarded as the "Gospel according to Moses" (Luke 24:27; John 5:46). Therefore it became an adage after the sacrifice of Isaac to say, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided." אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה / Elohim yireh-lo haseh ("God Himself will provide a lamb").

Reaffirmation of Love


 

As the smoke of the sacrificial ram ascended in place of Abraham's son, the Angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven and said, "By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:15-18). The phrase, "by myself have I sworn" is the most solemn oath God could make and must be regarded as an inviolable vow (see also Isa. 45:23, Jer. 22:5, 49:13, 51:14; Amos 6:8; Heb. 6:13-14). Because of Abraham's great faith and obedience ("because you have obeyed my voice"), God personally vowed to establish His covenant with Abraham and his descendants forever.

The promise of the "Gospel in the Garden," originally given to Adam and Eve, was preserved through godly line of Seth to Noah, and then again (after the Flood) from Shem to the promised Seed of Abraham. Isaac was a picture of the greater Seed to come, the Eternal Redeemer who would be sacrificed as a blessing to all the families of the earth" (Gen. 12:3). God's plan was always to bring the Promised Redeemer to Moriah for the salvation of the human race...

Resurrection of Isaac...

"So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beersheba. And Abraham lived at Beersheba" (Gen. 22:19). There is a tradition that Abraham actually went through with the act of sacrifice on Moriah. After all, the subsequent text shows Abraham returning alone from the mountain (the verb describing Abraham's return is singular). So where was Isaac? According to this tradition he was left "as ash" upon the altar -- though later God miraculously brought him back to life. In other words, Isaac suffered martyrdom and was resurrected from the dead.  Another midrash says that though Abraham did not actually go through with the sacrifice (his hand was stayed by the Angel), the trauma caused Isaac to flee from his father and to seek refuge with Noah's son Shem (who was considered "Malki-Tzedek" and the high priest of Salem). The Midrash Hagadol states, "Although Isaac did not die, Scripture regards him as though he had died. And his ashes lay piled on the altar. That is why the text mentions Abraham and not Isaac."

"I will go..."

It is fascinating that we hear nothing about Isaac after the Akedah until we read of Abraham's commissioning of Eliezer to find his divinely appointed bride. Isaac is not even mentioned during the time of the death of his mother Sarah.  Is this an analogy of the hiddenness of Yeshua to the Jewish people? Abraham returned to his servants alone, while Isaac remained out of sight until a Gentile bride (Rebekah) was brought to him.  Rebekah was willing to leave her family - all that she knew - based on an "otherworldly" promise. Her response to the invitation was simply: "I will go"(Gen. 24:58). This courageous willingness was likewise a characteristic of Abraham who was willing to leave his homeland in search of the greater things of God. Like Abraham, Rebekah was ger v'toshav - a "stranger and a sojourner" - who left everything behind in order to become part of God's chosen family... She is therefore a "picture" of those who likewise say "I will go" to become joined to our beloved Messiah.

Note: This entry is still being written, with more to come, if it pleases God.  Shalom for now, chaverim!




New Hebrew Meditation


 

10.19.10 (Cheshvan 11, 5771)   I wrote a brief Hebrew meditation (Comfort in Affliction) based on Psalm 119:50: "This is my comfort in my affliction, that your word gives me life." I hope you might find it encouraging, especially if you are struggling with chronic pain or ongoing affliction in your life. Shalom chaverim.

Note: My 18 month old son Judah has been running a high fever all day and night.  Please offer up a prayer for him.  Thank you so much, chaverim.




The "Temptation" of Grace...


 

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

10.18.10 (Cheshvan 10, 5771)  Apparently there are some "Messianic" ministries out there that claim there are two different ways to "walk faith" in the Messiah, depending on whether you identify yourself as a Jew or not. According to these people, Jewish believers in Yeshua should be "Torah observant," while non-Jewish believers (i.e., "Gentiles") are merely "invited" to become (what they term) "Torah submissive."  As one of these organizations recently put it: "Gentile believers do not share identical obligation to Torah as Jewish believers, but they are invited to participate in all of the commandments along with Israel and should be encouraged to do so" (FFOZ, Divine Invitation). According to this "two class" system, Jewish believers are obligated to be "Torah observant," whereas their non-Jewish counterparts are not... The two groups "do not share" the same obligation before the Lord.

Let me say plainly that "Messianic" ministries that advocate such invidious doctrines are in grave error -- and are undoubtedly legalistic cults. Forget the lip service these ministries may give to the idea of "salvation by grace through faith."  When you get past the "surface language" you will begin to discern appeals to a form of "works righteousness," a meritocracy, a system that claims that salvation itself is ultimately conditional upon something you do, some merit of your own, some observance, some action, some prescribed ritual... Listen closely to the connotations of language. You will soon enough detect that those who teach such divisive things are either ignorant of the meaning of the Torah (and therefore of the meaning of the gospel) or else are deceivers intent on "bewitching" vulnerable souls with superficial knowledge.  Their message is often joined with a seductive appeal to human pride as well: "This is what the text really means..." "Now you can know the secrets - unlike those common 'Gentile Christians' who don't really understand..." etc.  Please read what I've got to say and see if you might not agree.

At the outset it must be conceded that no one has ever been genuinely "Torah observant" since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. More than 40% of the Torah's commandments concern various laws of the priesthood and the sacrifices (korbanot), but apart from a divinely appointed altar (i.e., the Temple), it is literally impossible to fulfill these commandments.  Since this is undeniably the case, any advocate of "Torah observance" must immediately qualify their claim by appealing to the logic (and authority) of the Mishnah/Talmud (i.e., Oral Law), which equates prayer, good deeds, and charity with the Torah's sacrificial system (see Berachot 26b).  In other words, the idea of "Torah observance" today distills to the question of the authority of the various customs and traditions of post-Temple Judaism. The Oral law of Judaism -- and therefore the authority of the sages -- is given priority over the written law of Moses. (The same point might be made, incidentally, regarding various social laws found in Torah. For example, we are not living in a theocratic kingdom, we do not observe agricultural laws for ancient Israel, we do not release slaves at the year of Jubilee, and so on.)

But let me go further here.  I've written extensively about the question of "Torah observance" in numerous articles elsewhere on this site. "Torah triflers" (i.e., those who advocate legalism but have yet to seriously think through its implications) are often unaware of the deeper function of Sinai and its provisions.  Two things should immediately be said regarding this: 1) Olam ("everlasting") doesn't necessarily mean unchanging (at least in the Greek sense of the term), especially since Moses, David, and Ezra all changed the Torah, and most of the later Jewish sages acknowledged that Torah would be changed in yemot ha-Mashiach (the days of the Messiah); and 2) the New Covenant is an entirely new covenant -- not a renewed version of the sefer ha-brit sprinkled with the blood of bulls at Mt. Sinai.  Paul goes back to the Abrahamic covenant -- not to the "blessings and curses" issued from the mountains of Gerizim and Eval as the foundation underlying the deeper covenantal message of God's chesed.  Of course you are "free" to attempt to justify yourself using the terms given at Sinai, but then you are constrained by the conditions of that agreement (Deut. 27:26), and you are thereby implicitly denigrating the need for a radically New Covenant.  Be forewarned: Persisting in such a project ultimately outrages the Spirit of Grace (רוּחַ הֶחָסֶד) that broods over the Cross of Mashiach (Heb. 10:29). We are furthermore cautioned that hardening our hearts on this matters can lead to eternal loss (Heb. 6:4-8). God is not mocked. He did not sacrifice His Son for the sake of creating disciples of Moses and the rabbis... We are called to follow the Messiah and submit to His authority alone (Matt. 23:8). Anything else is chillul HaShem and a betrayal of the Messiah!

It is written: "Now the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) apart from the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (Rom. 3:21). Those who attempt to mix the covenants are called adulterers (Rom. 7:4-ff.).... The goal or aim of the Torah was the New Covenant -- not the other way around (Gal. 3:17-19). The law is called a "schoolmaster" meant to lead to the Messiah and His Kingdom rule (Gal. 3:23-26). The glory of the Torah of Moses was destined to fade away (2 Cor. 3:3-11), just as its ritual center (i.e., the Tabernacle/Temple) was a shadow to be replaced by the greater priesthood of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 10:1; 13:10). "Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Rom. 7:6). "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4).

Let's look at this from a metaphorical perspective, or by means of a Scriptural parable.   מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children." When Abraham was tested with the Akedah (i.e., the sacrifice of his son Isaac), the temptation was to elevate blind obedience above the dictates of compassion and conscience. His temptation, so to speak, was whether to listen to the voice of God (אֱלהִים) or to the voice of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה).

Why didn't Abraham argue with God (אֱלהִים) by remembering Him as the LORD (יְהוָה), the Compassionate Source of life?  Earlier he had argued with God regarding the destruction of Sodom. So why didn't he argue to save his own son?  Might this have been Abraham's test, namely, that God wanted Abraham to argue and to challenge the command to perform child sacrifice? According to this view, Abraham failed the test, since he blindly obeyed God without protest (this is similar to those who want to obey the letter of the Torah without taking time to discern the overarching significance of its message). It is noteworthy that after the Akedah, God and Abraham never spoke directly to one another again...

Abraham went ahead to offer homage to Elohim, the God of Justice, upon Moriah...  The temptation, from this perspective, was not to be swayed by the "merely human" compassion of a father for his son... For three days Abraham steeled himself from all appeals of human tenderness and compassion.  At the decisive moment, however, the LORD (יְהוָה) intervened -- and Abraham ultimately heeded the Voice of Love/Grace rather than the voice of Justice/Law....  This was the deeper Voice of the LORD; this was also Abraham's vindication....


 

There is a fantastic midrash about the white ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of his son (see the Midrash of the White Ram). After its death, the ram's soul returned to heaven, but it wanted to do more in the world of people, so God sent him back to earth.  God then gave the ram horns so long that they reached all the way to heaven. In this way, the ram could be in both worlds at once: with its feet on earth and its horns in heaven.  Similarly, God sent His Son as the Ram of God to satisfy His requirements for justice (as Elohim) and to demonstrate His unbounded chesed/love (as the LORD). Yeshua now spans heaven and earth as our substitionary atonement, intercessor, and heavenly advocate.  In Him "steadfast love (chesed) and truth (emet) meet; justice (tzedek) and peace (shalom) kiss" (Psalm 85:10). His merit alone is our Bridge to the Father: יְשׁוּעָתָה לַיהוָה - Salvation is from the LORD.

 

It is vital, chaverim, to understand that we are saved by hope in the love and grace of God -- not through adherence to an external lawcode (or by appealing to God as Elohim rather than as YHVH/Yeshua).  God looks within the heart. The justified live by trusting in God's gracious love and forgiveness-- not on the basis of meritocracy or conformity to a religious code (Hab. 2:4; Titus 3:5-6). Ultimately there is an infinite difference between being a slave and being a child.

Messianic groups that advocate adherence to the terms of the Sinai covenant or otherwise promote "Torah observance" spawn insidious confusion that subtly undermines the message of the Gospel itself.  Ironically enough, most of these so-called "Torah observant" ministries often do not truly understand what the word "Torah" actually means. They seem to rather uncritically accept rabbinical thinking and definitions, but they really don't go back far enough. They do both too little and too much in their theology.

It is vital to remember there is a distinction between "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) and "Covenant" (בְּרִית). As the author of the Book of Hebrews lucidly states: "When there is a change in the priesthood (i.e., as mediators of the covenant), there is necessarily a change in the Torah as well" (Heb. 7:12). The Levitical priesthood mediates the truth of the Covenant of Sinai; the priesthood of Yeshua (after the order of Malki-Tzedek) mediates the truth of the New Covenant.  Torah is a general word that means "instruction" and is always a function of the underlying covenant of which it is part:  it is our response to the covenantal actions of the LORD God of Israel.

Focusing on the Torah's requirements for ethnic Jews (as opposed to non-Jews) promotes a religious "class system" that Yeshua never once promoted. It focuses on what separates us -- the mechitzah or "dividing fence of partition" -- rather than on the "one new man" ideal that brings us all together (Eph. 2:14). If you want to be great in the Kingdom of Heaven, you efface yourself and become a slave to all (Mark 9:35; 10:44).   Moreover, since circumcision is the ritual "sign" par excellence of what it means to be an "ethnic Jew," it may be regarded as a test case in this matter.  As the great Torah sage Rav Sha'ul (i.e., the Apostle Paul) wrote:

    For freedom the Messiah has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery (ζυγῷ δουλείας). Mark my words- I, Sha'ul, tell you that if you undergo brit milah (בְּרִית מִילָה) the Messiah will be of no advantage to you at all! Again, I warn you: any man who undergoes brit milah is obligated to observe the entire Torah! You who are trying to be declared righteous by God through legalism have severed yourselves from the Messiah! You have fallen away from God's grace! For it is by the power of the Spirit, who works in us because we trust and are faithful, that we confidently expect our hope of attaining righteousness to be fulfilled.  When we are united with the Messiah Yeshua, neither being circumcised nor being uncircumcised matters; what matters is trusting faithfulness expressing itself through love. (Gal. 5:1-6)


The great Apostle went on to say, "I wish the people who are bothering you (regarding the matter of legalism) would go the whole way and castrate themselves" (Gal. 5:12). Paul used such strong language because the heart of the gospel message was at stake.  As the author of the Book of Hebrews put it, "We have an altar from which those who serve the tent (i.e., the Temple) have no right to eat" (Heb. 13:10).  Salvation is a gift from God given to those who are trusting in Yeshua for deliverance, just as sanctification is likewise a gift.  There is no middle ground on this issue. You either accept God's justification on your behalf, or you will resort to efforts at self-justification.

Note:  It is written that Yeshua is the "end of the Torah for righteousness to all who believe" (Rom. 10:4); He is Torah righteousness for those who trust in Him and who put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3-9). If you're struggling with the question of whether you should become "Torah observant" (or "Torah submissive"), it might be helpful to revisit some of the contrasts between the "old" and "new" covenants described in the New Testament. To help you see some of this, I've created a new table called "Compare the Covenants." Hopefully you will better appreciate the life-transforming differences between the Torah of the New Covenant (given at Zion) with the Torah of the older Covenant (given at Sinai).




Parashat Vayera - וירא


 

10.17.10 (Cheshvan 9, 5771)  The Torah reading for this week (Vayera) includes the "Gospel according to Moses," or rather his account of how Abraham was tested by God to offer his "only begotten son" (בֵּן יָחִיד) as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah -- the place of the future Temple. This famous story is referred to as the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה), or Akedat Yitzchak (עֲקֵידָת יִצְחָק) - the "binding of Isaac" (Gen. 22:1-18). At the very last moment, God stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice and provided a ram as a substitute.  Abraham then named the location Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD who sees" (from the 3p impf. of the verb ra'ah (רָאָה), "to see").


 

(Note: The sages state that as far as the commandment [i.e., to bind Isaac] and its fulfillment are concerned, the merit of Isaac is greater than Abraham's, because Abraham heard the command from God, and one would expect him to fulfill that which he heard directly from God; Isaac, however, heard it only from his father, and yet he fulfilled this commandment because he heard it from Abraham and trusted him with his life. Therefore we refer to the Akedah by Isaac's name (i.e., Akedat Yitzchak (עֲקֵידָת יִצְחָק)). For more on this, see the "Passion of Isaac.")

As Messianic believers, we understand the Akedah as a foreshadowing of the ultimate sacrifice the heavenly Father would give on our behalf. Unlike Abraham, God the Father actually offered His only begotten Son (בֵּן יָחִיד) Yeshua upon Moriah in order to make salvation available to all who believe (John 3:16-18; 1 John 4:9). As Abraham himself believed: אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה / Elohim yireh-lo haseh ("God Himself will provide a lamb").

Consider how the Akedah provides a prophetic picture of the Mashiach Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" (Seh haElohim) who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). Both Isaac and Yeshua were born miraculously; both were "only begotten sons"; both were to be sacrificed by their fathers at Mount Moriah; both were to be resurrected on the third day (Gen. 22:5, Heb. 11:17-19); both willingly took up the means of his execution; and both demonstrate that one life can be sacrificed for another – the ram for Isaac, and Yeshua for all of mankind. Indeed, Isaac is a clear picture of the Greater Seed of Abraham to come, the One who would remove the kelalah (curse) and save us from death.

Whereas the Akedat Yitzchak foreshadowed God's provision and the coming of the Temple, the Akedat Yeshua (i.e., His crucifixion at Moriah) was the altar where the justice and chesed (love) of the Father fully met.




The Seed of Abraham

Chagall - Abraham's Three Visitors
 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here. ]

10.15.10 (Cheshvan 7, 5771)  In the "Gospel in the Garden" we considered the very first prophecy given in the Torah, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come one who would slay the serpent and crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). This prophecy is sometimes called the proto-euangelion ("first gospel"), since it constitutes the starting point of all subsequent redemptive history revealed in the Scriptures.  In a sense this promise forms the "womb" for the whole course of God's redemptive plan for the human race.  The first prophecy of Torah clearly anticipated the coming of the Savior of mankind and a cosmic battle between good and evil: "... he (i.e., the Savior/Messiah) will crush your head (ראשׁ), and you (i.e., the serpent/Satan) will crush his heel (עָקֵב)."

It is likely that Eve initially believed that her firstborn son Cain (קַיִן) was the promised Seed himself. After all, the miracle of birth surely came as a great shock to her, and Eve's faith in God's promise that through her seed would come the deliverer was doubtlessly upon her heart at this time. When Eve called her son "Cain" (wordplay from the verb kana (קָנָה), "to get"), she was expressing her faith in God's promise: קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת־יהוה / kaniti ish et-Adonai, "I have gotten a man - namely, the LORD" (Gen. 4:1). Eve's faith was obscured by the translators, however, who rendered the Hebrew as "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD" (i.e., they inserted the idea of "help" and translated the particle et (את) as "with" rather than as the direct object marker for the verb). The ancient Jewish targums, however, agree with the original Hebrew.  For example, Targum Yonatan reads: "I have gotten a man - the Angel of YHVH." Surely Eve, the first mother of humanity, was endowed with great wisdom from God, especially after she turned to Him in repentance after her disobedience. The straightforward reading of her words, then, expressed her hope that the LORD Himself would be made a man....

Despite her hope that Cain was none other than the God-Man and promised Deliverer, Eve's hopes were dashed when it became clear that her son was of the seed of Satan (1 John 3:12). His younger brother Abel (הֶבֶל) was a shepherd who evidenced faith in the promise of the coming redeemer by offering blood sacrifice (Gen. 4:3-5). Abel was persecuted and finally murdered by his brother Cain "because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous." Their spiritual conflict is indicative of the ongoing warfare between the "sons of darkness" and the "sons of light."

The murder of Abel necessitated that the coming seed would descend through another child, and therefore the Torah describes the birth of Seth (שֵׁת, lit. "appointed"), the third son of Adam and Eve. The Scriptures further state that it was the descendants of Seth who "began to call upon the Name of the LORD" (לִקְרא בְּשֵׁם יהוה), indicating that they had faith in God (אֱלהִים) as the Compassionate Covenant Keeper (יהוה) who would redeem humanity by means of the coming seed. Seth called his firstborn son Enosh ("man"), perhaps in the hope that his child would be the promised Savior (interestingly, bar enosh (בַּר אֱנָשׁ), or "Son of Man," is the name for the Savior (Dan 7:13).

The Torah then traces the genealogy (toldot) of Seth through ten generations (from Adam), until his descendant Noach (נחַ) is described as the only tzaddik (righteous man) remaining in the earth (for more on the genealogy, see parashat Noach). The promise of the coming seed would therefore come through Noah, since his family alone survived the great flood. Now Noah had three sons, but it was through Shem (שֵׁם) that the "line of the Messiah" would come.  According to midrash, Noah announced his blessing near the end of his life. When he said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem" (בָּרוּךְ יהוה אֱלהֵי שֵׁם), he prophesied that the coming redemption would come through the line of Shem, not through Canaan or Japheth. Notice that the phrase, "he shall dwell (יִשְׁכּן) in the tents of Shem," is often thought to refer to Japheth, though the Hebrew grammar is ambiguous. Does the "he" in this case refer to Japheth or to the LORD? A viable translation would be "and He (i.e., the LORD) shall dwell in the tents of Shem," meaning that the LORD would dwell among the Shemites, and by extension, that the promised Seed would come from this line.  In this sense, Noah's blessing to Shem was a prophecy of the coming Redeemer through Shem (similar to Jacob's blessing of Judah as the chosen tribe). Since the LORD is the "God of Shem" (יהוה אֱלהֵי שֵׁם), and the prophecy states that one day He (i.e., God) would "dwell in the tents of Shem," the Torah indicates that the coming Redeemer (הַגּוֹאֵל) would come from the Shemites, of whom the great patriarch Abram (אַבְרָם) descended.


 

The Torah identifies Abram as the tenth generation from Noah (including Noah), and therefore the twentieth from Adam. God called Abram out of Ur of Chaldea to begin a pilgrimage of faith to the land of promise (Heb. 11:8-10). The story of Abram is highly prophetic of the coming Messiah, and the promises given to him foretell of the advent of Yeshua in unmistakable ways. After the Akedah (i.e., the sacrifice of Isaac), God promised that "in your seed (זֶרַע) shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:18). In light of the New Testament, the faith of Abraham - and especially the faith demonstrated by the Akedah - prefigured the justification of the nations through faith. Therefore we read: "And the Scripture, foreseeing (προοράω) that God would justify the nations by faith, proclaimed the gospel (προευαγγελίζομαι) beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed" (Gal. 3:9). It is noteworthy that Abraham received this promise as a Gentile, since he was yet given the commandment of brit milah (circumcision) as a token of Jewish identity. Abraham was therefore uncircumcised when he believed the good news of the coming redemption of mankind (Rom. 4:10-12). Therefore the Apostle calls Abraham the father of faith for those Gentiles who would later believe the good news of redemption in Yeshua. "So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith" (Gal. 3:9; Rom. 4:16).


 

Genesis 22:18 clearly states that the blessing would come through Abraham's "seed" (זֶרַע). The Apostle Paul clearly identifies this seed with Yeshua: "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, "And to offsprings," referring to many, but referring to one, "And to your offspring," who is Messiah" (Gal. 3:16). In other words, the promises were made first to Abraham but also to the coming Messiah.  This is yet another example of a "dual aspect" prophecy, since it pertains to Abraham and his chosen offspring (i.e., Isaac (not Ishmael), Jacob (not Esau), Judah (not Rueben), David (not Jesse's firstborn), Solomon (not Adonijah), etc.), but also to the coming Messiah who would redeem fallen humanity from the curse brought about through Satan (John 8:56). Abraham was chosen by God, in other words, to "deliver" the promised Savior to the world. "Salvation is from the Jews," of course (John 4:22), but the blessing of Abraham's promised Seed was ultimately meant to be bestowed upon all people, so that one day the Kingdom of God would be manifest within the sons and daughters of Adam (Gal. 3:14). This is also why Malki-Tzedek, the "priest of the Most High God," was the one who was appointed to bless Abraham, since he prefigured a priesthood that predated the one given later to the Levites through the office of Moses (Heb. 7:1-21).

The original curse of death and the division symbolized by Babel would be reversed through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah: "And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth" (Rev. 5:9-10).

Shabbat Shalom to you all.... Please keep this ministry in your prayers. I've been sick (again) lately and we are facing other struggles. Thank you!




Some Words of Encouragement


 

10.13.10 (Cheshvan 5, 5771)  These are perilous days, chaverim. The world is full of confusion and great spiritual blindness. More than ever we must remain strong "in the LORD and the power of His might" (Eph. 6:10). We must persevere.  Despite the world and various tribulations we face, "Here is the endurance of the tzaddikim (saints): keep the commandments of God and the faith of Yeshua" (Rev. 14:12).

We must remember that God has not given us the "spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). "We are troubled on every side, yet not oppressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair... We always carry about (περιφέρω) in our body the dying of Yeshua Adoneinu, so that the life also of Yeshua may be manifest (φανερόω) in our body" (2 Cor. 4:8,10). There is simply no resurrection life apart from the cross (Luke 9:23). As the late Jim Elliot once put it, "He is no fool who gives what cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." This echoes the words Yeshua: "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?" (Luke 9:25). The cross sacrifices everything that keeps our hearts away from the love and grace of God.  We must cherish the cross and understand it as the means to the resurrection life we have in Yeshua.

"The LORD is a strong tower (מִשְׂגָּב) for the crushed (לַדָּךְ), a refuge in times of trouble. And they that trust in You know your Name, for You, O LORD, do not abandon those that seek You" (Psalm 9:9-10). We know the Covenantal Name of the LORD (יהוה) by trusting in His love. We believe that the LORD is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exod. 34:6). We see the love of God in the Cross of Yeshua. God's love is our strength and shield. "The LORD is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?"  The name of the LORD (שֵׁם יהוה) is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe (Prov. 18:10). Even in the "shadow of the valley of death" (i.e., this moribund world), we need fear no evil, since the LORD is with us and comforts us with His Presence (Psalm 23:4).

Hillel once said, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?" (Pirke Avot 1:14).  Today is the day to wake up and turn to the LORD. Today is the "day of salvation." Our days on this earth are numbered. We are given only one chance to live for God - today!
 

זֶה־הַיּוֹם עָשָׂה יהוה נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בו

zeh  ha-yom  a·sah  Adonai,  na·gi·lah  ve·nis·me·cha  vo

"This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24)

 


"By faith (בָּאֱמוּנָה) we understand that the universe [lit. "worlds"] were created by the utterance of God (בִּדְבַר אֱלהִים), so that what is seen [i.e., the temporal "effect" of the universe] did not come into being out of existing phenomena [i.e., was made yesh me'ayin - 'out of nothing']" (Heb. 11:3). Faith "looks not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). You see how it all hangs together? We are saved by hope (Rom. 8:24). How you choose to see the world affects everything else in your life. Therefore it is imperative to remember that the "earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 24:1; 89:11). The whole earth is filled with the glory of God - every bush of the field is aflame with His Presence - if we open the eyes of our faith (Isa. 6:3).

The great day of salvation is surely drawing near, chaverim. The prophesied "End of Days" approaches quickly...  God has said: "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18). Indeed, God loves you with an everlasting love (אַהֲבַת עוֹלָם) and draws you to Himself with unfailing love (חֶסֶד)" (Jer. 31:3). This present world is not our home. We are strangers and sojourners here. Keep focused on what is real (Phil. 3:20). Don't waste your life! One day soon we shall finally see our King!  Live each day for Him.  We shall give account for our lives - even for every careless word we utter (Matt. 12:36-37).

The darkest part of the day occurs just before the dawn begins to break. In these days of increasing darkness, may the LORD God of Israel give you shalom rav - great peace - as you prepare to behold the glory of "the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star" (Rev. 22:16).




Gospel in the Garden...

Marc Chagall - Eve
 

[ The following entry (related to parashat Bereshit) briefly explores how the Gospel message was first revealed to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden... ]

10.12.10 (Cheshvan 4, 5771)  The very first prophecy of the Torah concerns the promise of the coming "seed of the woman" who would vanquish the serpent (nachash) that had originally deceived Eve (Gen. 3:15). This prophecy is sometimes called the proto-euangelion ("first gospel"), since it is the starting point of all subsequent prophecy and redemptive history revealed in the Scriptures.  Indeed, since the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God is foreshadowed here, this prophecy is linked to the original woman, Eve. Just as Eve opened herself up to the corruption of human nature by heeding the voice of the tempter, so she would be opened up by God Himself for the deliverance of mankind through the advent of the Redeemer.  In the tragic aftermath of the transgression of the first man and woman, then, God first announced His unfailing redemptive love for the human race that would culminate in the birth, sacrifice, and resurrection of Yeshua our Savior and Deliverer - "born of a woman, born under the law" (Gal. 4:4).

Human redemption always begins with God's love and passion. "Adam, where are you?" is the voice of a loving Father in search of his son (Gen. 3:9). Of course the LORD knew exactly where his lost child was vainly attempting to hide, though He almost acted as if He was unwilling to believe that he would betray his love by disobeying His commandment.  Therefore God's poignant question was directed to Adam's heart: "Oh my son, how did you get to this place?"  God was giving Adam an opportunity to turn back to Him, to confess the sin, to undergo teshuvah, to become reconciled...  This is the necessary prelude to any honest relationship with God.

Recall that the promise of the coming Savior was given within the context of the curse and judgment upon Satan: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall crush his heel" (Gen. 3:15). That God's promise was first directed to Satan is surely by design, since he "left his first estate" by becoming the "monster in the garden" and was therefore primarily responsible for the transgression of Adam and Eve in the first place (Ezek. 28:13-15,19). The promise delivered to Satan was therefore one of coming retribution and divine judgment: Evil would not have the last word in the matter of mankind, and therefore Satan's schemes would be avenged by God in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4-5). Notice, however, that Adam and Eve were not yet judged for their sin when the LORD God gave the promise of the coming of the Redeemer.  Before a word of judgment was directed toward them, God's love and light was already revealed. Indeed, immediately after their judgment was pronounced, "the LORD God made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21) - a clear picture of being compassionately "robed in righteousness" imparted by an innocent sacrifice. The very first sacrifice recorded in the Torah - performed by God Himself - prefigured the coming redemption by the "seed of the woman" who would die as a substitutionary sacrifice for their sins (this further explains why Eve's first son (Abel) offered a blood sacrifice that was accepted by the LORD, whereas Cain's offering the "fruit of the earth" was rejected).

The first prophecy of Torah therefore describes - in the most succinct form - the coming of the Savior and the great conflict of the ages. First, God declares that He would put enmity (אֵיבָה) between Satan and the woman. This enmity, or "hostile hatred," was based on the memory of Eve's misguided trust she evidenced in the garden. When Eve first sympathetically listened to the lies of the nachash (serpent), she immediately began her descent into exile and became a temptress herself. Her first step toward sin was a gullibility or openness that ultimately resulted in a lack of trust of God (which is part of the reason why we must be saved by trusting, as a "like-for-like" reversal of the original sin). At the very dawn of human history, then, we see that "truth" (אֱמֶת) apart from God (א) leads to death (מֵת). Eve was deceived because of Satan, but Adam deliberately chose to disobey God (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim 2:14). In response to her teshuvah (repentance), God blessed Eve before He judged her by imparting to her a God-given hatred for Satan and his lies, as well as the promise that she would take part in the birth of the Savior of mankind. The first promise of the gospel, then, focused on the woman and her role in the coming redemption. Notice that Adam later renamed his wife Eve (i.e., Chavah: חַוָּה, the "mother of life") as an expression of his faith that the promised seed would come through her.

It is likely that Eve initially believed that her firstborn son Cain (קַיִן) was the promised Seed himself. After all, the miracle of birth surely came as a great shock to her, and Eve's faith in God's promise that through her seed would come the deliverer was doubtlessly upon her heart at this time. When Eve called her son "Cain" (wordplay from the verb kana (קָנָה), "to get"), she was expressing her faith in God's promise: קָנִיתִי אִישׁ אֶת־יהוה / kaniti ish et-Adonai, "I have gotten a man - namely, the LORD" (Gen. 4:1). Eve's faith was obscured by the translators, however, who rendered the Hebrew as "I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD" (i.e., they inserted the idea of "help" and translated the particle et (את) as "with" rather than as the direct object marker for the verb). The ancient Jewish targums, however, agree with the original Hebrew.  For example, Targum Yonatan reads: "I have gotten a man - the Angel of YHVH." Surely Eve, the first mother of humanity, was endowed with great wisdom from God, especially after she turned to Him in repentance after her disobedience. The straightforward reading of her words, then, expressed her hope that the LORD Himself would be made a man....

Despite her hope that Cain was none other than the God-Man and promised Deliverer, Eve's hopes were dashed when it became clear that her son was of the seed of Satan (1 John 3:12). His younger brother Abel (הֶבֶל) was a shepherd who evidenced faith in the promise of the coming redeemer by offering blood sacrifice (Gen. 4:3-5). Abel was persecuted and finally murdered by his brother Cain "because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous." Their spiritual conflict is indicative of the ongoing warfare between the "sons of darkness" and the "sons of light."

The murder of Abel necessitated that the coming seed would descend through another child, and therefore the Torah describes the birth of Seth (שֵׁת, lit. "appointed"), the third son of Adam and Eve. The Scriptures further state that it was the descendants of Seth who "began to call upon the Name of the LORD" (לִקְרא בְּשֵׁם יהוה), indicating that they had faith in God (אֱלהִים) as the Compassionate Covenant Keeper (יהוה) who would redeem humanity by means of the coming seed. Seth called his firstborn son Enosh ("man"), perhaps in the hope that his child would be the promised Savior (interestingly, bar enosh (בַּר אֱנָשׁ), or "Son of Man," is the name for the Savior (Dan 7:13).

The Torah's statement, "I will put enmity between your (Satan's) seed and her seed" is somewhat ambiguous, however. The Hebrew word "seed" (i.e., zera: זֶרַע) is singular in form though it can refer to a collective group or kind (e.g., "offspring" in Isa. 1:4; Gal. 3:16). The "seed of the woman" therefore refers primarily to the promised Seed (i.e., Savior) to come but also to those descendants of Eve who would share her faith in God's redemption (i.e., the godly line beginning with Abel/Seth, Enosh...).  This is consistent with most prophetic utterances found in Scripture, which often foretell of temporal events that signify deeper spiritual truths. On the other hand, the "seed of the serpent" refers collectively to those descendants who are the spiritual progeny of the devil (i.e., the ungodly line beginning with Cain, Canaan... (John 8:44; Matt. 3:7; 13:38) as well as to the coming of the future Anti-Christ, or "Messiah of Evil" that will be revealed at the End of Days.  The seed of the serpent therefore refers to corrupted and carnal human nature, whereas the seed of the woman refers to those who are regenerated by faith in God's salvation.... Understood in the collective sense, the prophecy implies perpetual warfare between the descendants of Eve who shared her teshuvah (called the "children of light") and the descendants of Satan who refused it (called the "children of darkness"). The ongoing enmity between these "two seeds" foretells the "tale of two kingdoms," the Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים) and the kingdom of the devil (John 8:34-36). The Apostles likewise spoke of "children of darkness" and "children of light" (Eph. 5:8; Col. 1:13, 1 Thess. 5:5, etc.). The children of light are called to be am kadosh - a holy people - separate from the evil engendered by the fallen world and its forces, just as the very first creative expression of God was the separation of light from darkness (Gen. 1:3-4). The children of light "hate evil and love the good," and conversely, the children of darkness "hate the good and love evil" (Psalm 34:21, Prov. 8:13, Amos 5:15, John 3:20-21). Politically speaking, St. Augustine described the cosmic conflict as one between the "City of Man" and the "City of God."

Ultimately, however, the promise points to the final outcome of the battle between the coming Savior (the Seed of the woman) and the devil himself: "... he (i.e., the Savior/Messiah) will crush your head (ראשׁ), and you (i.e., the serpent/Satan) will crush his heel (עָקֵב)."  The crushing of Satan's head refers to the destruction of his usurped dominion over mankind. Yeshua, the "Son of Man" and "Second Adam," landed a mortal blow directly to the head of the evil one himself, and through His sacrifice has "destroyed the works of the devil" (Col. 2:15, 1 John 3:8). The "crushing of the heel of the Savior" referred to Yeshua's suffering by being rejected and crucified for our sins. "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).


 

As I mentioned the other day, "God creates the cure before the plague."  Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., Yeshua is described as the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": 1 Pet. 1:20, Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8, 17:8), so the purification from death and the nullification of the curse was likewise foreseen and provided by the Cross of the Messiah. Yeshua is the antidote to the venom delivered through the serpent's bite (John 3:14-15). "For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). The "new seed" of life given to us in Yeshua makes us into a "new creation" (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה) that fully restores the defaced image of God within us: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49).

God's redeeming love was present from the beginning. The midrash states that Adam was created from the "dust of the Temple." After Adam's transgression, the Tree of Life was "removed from reach" and guarded by cherubim until the blood that spoke a "better thing than the blood of Abel" was offered for the redemption of mankind (Heb. 12:24). This "better thing" was prefigured in many ways in Scripture: through the martyrdom of Abel, through the Akedah of Isaac, through the blood of the lamb that delivered Israel from the angel of death, through the blood sprinkled upon the kapporet ("mercy seat") of the Ark of the Covenant, through the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, and most especially through the sacrificial death of Yeshua upon the Cross at Moriah.... Those who trust in the sacrifice and victorious resurrection of the Messiah are given access to eat of the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7; 22:14).

Addendum: As has been noted by various scholars, Genesis 3:15 has historically been understood as a Messianic prophecy, not just by the early church fathers, but by the Jewish sages as well.  The Septuagint (LXX) translated the verse with Messianic overtones, and the Targum of Jonathan and the Jerusalem Targum both speak of "a remedy for the heel in the days of the king Messiah."  Likewise the Apostle Paul regarded the victory of the gospel as a fulfillment of the promise made to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden (Rom. 16:20). From the very beginning, then, we see that the promise of the coming Savior is mingled with victory and suffering, of glory and humiliation. This "dual aspect" of the Messiah is present in most of the prophecies of Scripture concerning our Savior.




Parashat Lekh Lekha - לך־לך


 

[ The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading, parashat Lekh Lekha. Please read the Torah portion to find your place here. ]

10.10.10 (Cheshvan 2, 5771)  Lekh lekha (לך־לך) literally means "go for yourself." Rashi interprets it to mean "Go for your own benefit," since God had promised to make Abram into a great nation, and that surely was a great blessing. Samson Hirsch said the phrase meant to "go alone, to isolate oneself." Abram had to detach from his previous life and be "reborn" by means of his faith.  The Jewish mystics interpret the phrase to mean "Go to yourself," that is, look within yourself to begin your own journey back to God.  Regardless of the nuances implied in the phrase Lekh Lekha, it is clear that it constitutes an invitation by God to venture ahead -- to go forth in faith... Like Abraham, we are called to leave everything behind and go forth for the sake of God's promise....

Personal Update: I have been fighting a cold the last few days (as have my kids).  I hope to continue to add some commentary to both Bereshit and Lekh Lekha later, chaverim.




Creation and Faith

Blake - Ancient of Days
 

[ The following entry is related to parashat Bereshit. It is a bit "philosophical," so please skip over it if you do not find it helpful! Shalom and love to you, chaverim...  ]

10.08.10 (Tishri 30, 5771)   The idea that a personal God created the universe "out of nothing" (i.e., yesh me'ayin: יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן ) is a matter of special revelation that is not directly known through the operation of unaided natural reason. Of course human reason may (rightly) infer that since "every effect requires a cause," and since the universe itself is an effect, there must be a cause sufficient for the existence of the universe. Likewise, human reason may again (rightly) infer that the universe itself must have had a beginning, since it is impossible to traverse an infinite number of causes to arrive at a present effect, and therefore there must have been an immensely powerful and transcendental "First Cause" that started the entire chain of causation itself. (This "First Cause" answers the metaphysical question, "Why is there something [at all] rather than nothing?") However, human reason, by itself, can only take us so far, and something more is needed to apprehend the nature of reality.

In philosophical theology, an argument that God is the Cause of the universe is sometimes offered to invoke the possibilty that the God of the Jewish Scriptures exists, though strictly speaking this inference is not warranted given the premises and logic of "cosmological" arguments alone. Indeed, the ancient Greek philosophers used this kind of reasoning to justify their own speculations about the cosmos (e.g., Plato's Form of the Good, Aristotle's Unmoved Mover, etc.), and yet their philosophical systems never connected the First Cause with a morally perfect personal Creator (אֱלהִים) who made mankind in His image and who therefore requires loving trust to know Him. The Greek conception of God (θεὸς) was abstract, impersonal, and essentially a theoretical construct employed to make sense of the physical cosmos. Nowhere in their speculations will you find the idea that the First Cause has revealed Himself as the Source of all moral truth in the universe and who therefore functions as mankind's Eternal Judge. And nowhere in their thinking will you find the Covenant-Making God (יהוה) who redeems humanity from sin and judgment by means of the atoning sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross... Beyond the abstract awareness that the universe is the effect of an immensly powerful and transcendental First Cause, unaided human reason has precious little to say. As Blaise Pascal once wrote, "The God of the philosophers is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob."

To the Hebrew mind, reality is the handiwork of a single all-knowing, all-powerful, and morally perfect Creator who has personally revealed Himself to key individuals in the drama of human history. As such, reality is intensely, overwhelmingly, and even hauntingly personal... Truth therefore is a matter of trust -- not abstract knowledge -- whereas "knowledge" is primarily about practical ethics, moral obligation, and cult practices (i.e., Temple worship). For the Hebrew mind, truth is more akin to moral fidelity than it is to propositional correspondence; it is more a matter of the heart than of the head. (more here)

The New Testament affirms that knowing that the First Cause of the universe is the personal God revealed in the Jewish Scriptures is the result of faith in God's direct revelation: "By faith (בָּאֱמוּנָה) we understand that the universe [lit. "worlds"] were created by the utterance of God (בִּדְבַר אֱלהִים), so that what is seen [i.e., the "effect" of the universe] did not come into being out of existing phenomena [i.e., was made yesh me'ayin - 'out of nothing']" (Heb. 11:3). Again, this is a matter of special revelation directly imparted by God's grace so that the soul may apprehend the Divine Light that preceded the creation of the worlds. Faith "looks not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18). This "collision" with the world of everydayness creates a restlessness or homesickness for our true home in heaven... (May God help each of us persevere.)

The very first phrase of the Scriptures, "In the beginning God created..." (Gen. 1:1), is therefore the starting point of all true and right thinking about the universe itself. Everything else follows from this revealed truth which natural (i.e., human) reason can merely approximate.  God alone can create yesh me'ayin - "out of nothing" (the Hebrew verb bara (בָּרָא) is used exclusively to refer to God's power in this way), and therefore God stands exaltedly apart from the universe as its unique Creator and personal Master.  This is the guiding thought that overshadows all that follows in the pages of Scripture.  God is holy - separate - and entirely unique. He is the Personal God who loves, wills, speaks, intends, etc., and to whom human beings owe their allegiance and life. The God of Israel is not some indifferent deity that functions as a theoretical construct to explain the universe: He is the Source of all life, the personal Judge and Redeemer of all people.

More on this subject later, chaverim.  Shabbat Shalom and love to you!




God's Mercy Over All...


 

10.07.10 (Tishri 29, 5771)   I am busy putting together some thoughts about how the message of redemption - the Gospel - is marvelously prefigured in the first chapters of Genesis. Meanwhile I thought it would be good to remember that God's mercy (i.e., rachamim - from rechem, "womb") continually hovers over all of His creation:
 

טוֹב־יְהוָה לַכּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל־כָּל־מַעֲשָׂיו

tov  Adonai  la-kol,  ve·ra·cha·mav  al-kol-ma·a·sav

"The LORD is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made" (Psalm 145:9)

Study Card

 

My precious son Josiah turns six years old today, chaverim. "Sunrise, sunset: swiftly fly the years...." Please remember this child in your prayers.  He has a big heart and is full of life and joy. Josiah is proof to my heart that God's mercy indeed is over all He has made...






Creation and Testing...

Marc Chagall - Creattion of Man Detail
 

[ The following entry explores a few themes found in parashat Bereshit as discussed by some of the Jewish sages. Please first read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

10.06.10 (Tishri 28, 5771)   In the account of the creation of the universe (בְּרִיאַת הָעוֹלָם), the Torah describes each day of God's handiwork as "good" (טוֹב) except for the Second Day, when God made the expanse and separated the waters (Gen. 1:7). Moreover, although the phrase "God saw that it was good" is indeed mentioned on the Sixth and final Day of creation (Gen. 1:25), it is stated immediately before the creation of man, which has led some of the sages to attempt to connect the two omissions. Why does the Torah seem to withhold the verdict that man is good? Is there are connection between the separation of heaven from earth and the creation of man?

Maimonides stated that God created Adam with free will (בְּחִירָה חָפְשִׁית), and therefore the Creator (הַבּוֹרֵא בָּרוּךְ הוּא) could not decree that a particular man shall be good or evil.  In other words, man is not preprogrammed to be good, but instead must choose the good in order to be good. Nehama Leibowitz says that this implies that God wants man to be a "partner" in his own creation (Studies in Bereshit). The "separation" of heaven from earth (on the Second Day of creation) is therefore intended to be overcome by man uniting the "dust of the earth" (עָפָר מִן־הָאֲדָמָה) with the "breath of life" (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים) that makes up his humanity. This is hinted at in the language used to describe man.  Instead of the previous formula, "Let there be...[something after it's kind]..." the Torah says "Let us make man in our image (צֶלֶם), according to our likeness (דְמוּת)..." (Gen. 1:26). People were created to reveal the image and likeness of God Himself. Just as God fills the heavens and the earth, so humans were initially created to mediate and resolve the separation between heaven and earth by means of their relationship with God.  This is the idea of exercising "dominion" (מִרְדָּה) in a manner similar to the rule of God over all of creation (Gen. 1:26).

But what about the statement, "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gen. 1:31)? On the one hand, this means just what it says: all of creation was perfectly made, just as God intended.  On the other hand, Jewish tradition states that the term "very good" was "code" for the yetzer hara (יֵצֶר הָרָה), or the evil inclination (Bereshit Rabbah 9:7). The early sages called the yetzer hara "very good" because without natural urges, people would not strive to do good, to marry, and so on.  In other words, the natural urges were given so that they would be sanctified and therefore made "very good." This is the idea that we "descend in order to ascend" back to God.  There could be no teshuvah (repentance) without the need to subdue our lower nature in submission to God.


 

The question is raised as to why Adam was created alone. Why didn't God create Adam and Eve together at the same time, or perhaps even create a community of people? The sages answer that God created Adam alone as "olam malei" (עוֹלָם מָלֵא), an entire world, to teach us that each individual person is of great value and significance. "Thus anyone who sustains one individual has sustained the world; and anyone who destroys one individual has destroyed an entire world." In addition, God created man as a solitary creation to remind all people that they descend from a common source. No one has a greater or better lineage than anyone else.  Moreover, each of us is created with a radical sense of "aloneness," since - despite our relationships with other people - each of us is born alone and will die alone.   This sense of aloneness is a built in "hunger" for relationship and especially for God's presence. Therefore the very first commandment comes in the form of a blessing: "And God blessed them and said, פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ / pru urvu: "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). People were created to be in fellowship with others and with God, and when this is lacking, there is a profound soul hunger and divine need.

Indeed, the first "lo tov" (לא־טוֹב / "it is not good") statement made in the Scriptures concerned Adam's state of solitude in the garden (Gen. 2:18). Adam needed a companion, an ezer kenegdo (עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ), a "helper opposite to him." The creation of Eve is sometimes translated as a "helper fit for him [Adam]," though the Hebrew here literally means "a helper against him." This unusual phrase is interpreted disjunctively by Rashi to mean that the relationship between Adam and Eve would imply a choice: Either Eve would be a help or an antagonist based on their merit. If the relationship is based on trust, then Eve would be ezer (help), but if it not, she would oppose him. The sages note that the Hebrew word for man (אִישׁ) and the word for woman (אִשָּׁה) share the same root word (אֵשׁ), meaning "fire."  The words differ by just two letters - a Yod and a Hey (יה) - which together form one of the Divine Names. If God is present between them, then they will be rightly related as man and woman, but if God is not present (symbolized by the absence of the Yod and Hey, respectively), there will only be a destructive fire (אֵשׁ).

God originally "placed" Adam in a beautiful orchard (or garden) of fruit trees located in the "east," in a region called "Eden." In the midst of the lush trees of the orchard God had placed two special trees, called the "Tree of Life" (i.e., etz chaim: עֵץ הַחַיִּים) and the "Tree of the Knowledge of good and of evil" (i.e., etz ha-da'at tov va'ra: עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע). A river ran through the orchard that divided into four headwaters (Gen. 2:9-10). It is worth noting here that both of these special trees were located "in the midst" of the garden (בְּתוֹךְ הַגָּן), which implies that in order to eat from the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve would have to face the Tree of the Knowledge of good and of evil.  Since the Torah remarks that both trees grew "in the midst" of the orchard, some of the sages have said that both trees shared the same root (or even that they grew from the same trunk).


 

The Midrash says, "Two trees were both in paradise. This is to teach you that man can find everything there. He who seeks the Tree of Life finds it there. He who seeks the Tree of Good and Evil also finds it there. Man has two roads before him and can take the one he wants. If he wishes to follow the road of goodness, the door is open and he can find happiness. If he wants to follow the road of evil, the way is clear for him and he will come upon woes."

In Genesis 2:7 we read: "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 (for more on this, see this).

God then put Adam in the orchard "to work it and keep it" (Gen. 2:15). The Hebrew, however, suggests that God put Adam there to rest (נוּחַ) and to serve (עֲבוֹדָה) Him there. A better reading, then, would be that God created Adam to worship and obey Him in the orchard. In other words, God created Adam to be a priest, not a "gardener." He was created b'tzelem Elohim (בְּצֶלֶם אֱלהִים), in the image of God, in order to mediate the finite world with the eternal world (Gen. 1:28). The orchard was a place of great beauty and comfort (i.e., pardes: פַּרְדֵּס). Indeed, the LXX translates the Hebrew "garden of Eden" (גַן־עֵדֶן) using the word "paradise" (παράδεισος).

The first commandment given to Adam was that he could eat from all of the trees of the orchard except for the Tree of the Knowledge of good and of evil, "for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen. 2:16-17). The consequence for disobedience to God's revealed commandment was the death penalty (מוֹת תָּמוּת), the same term used elsewhere in the Torah as a pronouncement of judge on one who is condemned to die (Exod. 31:14; Lev. 24:16, etc.). In other words, like the covenantal terms given to Israel at Sinai, "keeping the land" would require obedience to God's revealed will.

Why was eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of good and of evil forbidden to Adam and Eve? Why was this test of obedience given? Surely God foresaw the disastrous outcome of the test and understood all the implications. He knew Adam and Eve would fail the test. Indeed, God allowed the "monster in the garden" (Satan) to maliciously tempt Eve... The midrash further elaborates that the fruit of this tree was more beautiful and appealing than any other in the orchard. Moreover, in order to eat from the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve would have to come near to the forbidden tree - to confront it - and then make their decision.  So why did God test Adam and Eve in this way?

In general, the Jewish sages teach that the test centered on the gift of giving free will to Adam and Eve, though they differ regarding what this means.  The Abravanel, for example, says that the knowledge represented by the forbidden fruit should not be regarded as basic moral awareness, since Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and this implies that God created them as free moral agents from the beginning. So long as Adam obeyed God, his soul was "suffused with an eternal inner glow" that hovered over him and made him immune from temptation. The Abravanel therefore says that the fruit of the tree represented the lust for carnal pleasure and material gain. When Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit, they left God's will by seeking their own good, apart from God.  They elevated the carnal, the this-worldly, and the temporal over the spiritual, the eternal and heavenly and thereby set in motion the ongoing "wheel of desire..."  Maimonides disagrees, and states that free will was "created" only after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God. Eating the fruit, therefore, was an exercise of autonomy, a "throwing off" the constraints of God's rightful rule as King. Man no longer automatically follows the will of God since desire and "free will" were now within the heart of man.

Both of these approaches are problematic, however. First, regarding Abravanel's view, how was it possible for Adam and Eve to sin - to "lust for carnal pleasure" - if God had created them "very good," and placed them in a form of paradise? Second, regarding Maimonides' view, how was it possible to sin against God if man was created, by his very nature, to simply do what is right, "as do the heavens and the heavenly host" (Maimonides: Bereshit). How could Adam and Eve be held responsible if they did not possess any form of free will from the beginning?  Of course, the question of can be pushed back to how it was possible that the "serpent" (i.e., the nachash, נָחָשׁ, a symbol of Satan), initially chose to rebel and was later given access to the orchard - before the creation of man. Why did God allow the "monster in the garden" to tempt Eve? The presence of the monster (i.e., Satan) and the further requirement to withstand his malice surely constituted a different sort of "test" than being commanded to abstain from eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Was the devil used as the mouthpiece of testing, since Adam and Eve were too innocent (or unaware) to raise the question of disobedience in the first place?  Was the devil a "tool" God used to "force" Adam and Eve to make the choice? Though there are some allusions in Scriptures that seem to refer to the earlier "fall of Satan" (Ezek. 28:12-19, Isa. 14:12-20, John 8:44, 1 John 3:8, etc.), it must be confessed that we do not know why the possibility (and actuality) of evil was permitted in a world made by a perfect God (Isa. 45:7). The Scriptures are clear, however, that God is morally perfect and entirely righteous. He never lies and He never tempts anyone to commit sin (James 1:13).

Others have attempted to explain these mysteries by saying that although man had a "degree" of free will from the beginning, it was an "abstract" free will, based on the theoretical ideas of truth and falsehood. Before the sin, evil therefore remained "external" to Adam; after he sinned, however, Adam "personally entered" the realm of sin and evil. The evil "moved inward" and became something subjectively known as the impairment of the will to obey God's commandments.

This leads to the core question about the role of the test in the orchard. Is good and evil determined objectively or subjectively?  In other words, who has the right to define what is good and what is evil?  The test of the Tree of Knowledge surrounds the question of moral authority. If Adam and Eve consented with the devil's questioning of God's moral will, then good and evil would be defined and known in subjective terms, based on their personal experience. Moral truth therefore would become subjective and relative and eventually would be qualified out of existence.  The lesson of the Tree of Knowledge is that man is accountable to God for moral truth, and it is God's prerogative - not man's or the devil's - to define what is good and evil.


 

The Tree of Life stood directly beside the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of the orchard (Gen. 2:9). The fruit of the Tree of Life imparted eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and was presumably intended to nourish higher life in the realm of God (Gen. 3:22), whereas the Tree of Knowledge represented evil and the judgment of death (Gen. 2:17). In order to attain eternal life, therefore, Adam and Eve had to face both trees in their service before God. The test of the orchard was therefore the test of teshuvah - that is, whether Adam and Eve would turn to God or turn to evil. Satan's deceptive appeal to Eve was that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge would give her wisdom that would make her "like God," knowing both good and evil. Eve only knew the possibility of evil, not its actuality, and Satan implied that this represented a lack of wisdom.  Eve then "saw" that the fruit of the tree was good, thereby negating God's vision and sustenance for her life.  The essence of temptation focused on her pride and her desire to acquire wisdom using her own autonomous reasoning.  The fruit represented self-will and the abandonment of God's rule as King of the universe. Eve's sin was ultimately that of unbelief (which is the reason why we must be saved by faith, as a reversal of the original sin). When she ate the forbidden fruit, the body (carnality) became the central focus and shame was the result.

It is interesting to compare the commandment that God originally gave to Adam with Eve's recounting of it to the serpent (נָחָש). Did Adam add to the commandment or perhaps miscommunicate its intent to Eve?  What explains this "distance" between God's intent and Adam and Eve's understanding? The Torah does not say. However, it is clear that Eve did not have a clear apprehension of the commandment and this affected her ability to withstand the seduction of the serpent.  First, Eve added to the commandment by saying that she was forbidden to "touch" the Tree of Knowledge (Gen. 3:3). She also seemed to overlook God's permission to eat from all the trees in the garden by focusing on the one tree she was prohibited from eating. Second, she subtracted from the consequence by rephrasing God's clear statement of the death penalty as a conditional: "lest we die."  She regarded death as a possible bad outcome - not the clear consequence given by God. And third, she renamed the Tree of the Knowledge of good and of evil to "the tree that is in the midst of the orchard." Eve (and of course Adam, who presumably passed on God's original commandment to her) seems to ignore the fact that God has His own reasons for issuing the prohibition that involved testing their obedience to His revealed will... The meaning of the Tree was changed into something other than what is really was. Eve saw it as a source of danger, something inscrutably withheld from her, a privation, and so on, rather than as a means of exercising her will in obedience and service to God.

According to midrash, Satan found his opening in Eve's misunderstanding of God's commandment. While he was speaking with her, he actually pushed her against the forbidden tree and said, "See, you did not die by touching it, and neither will you die from eating it."  Because her supposition proved false, Eve then began to doubt everything else that Adam had told her - and this led to her eventual decision to eat the forbidden fruit (Bereshit Rabbah 19:3).  When Eve then "saw that the tree was good for food, and delightful to behold, and lovely as a source of wisdom," she took of the fruit (Gen. 3:6). Notice that the battle is always for the truth, and what you believe (your judgments) invariably determine what you will choose. It begins with how we choose to see. Eve "saw that it was good," thereby contradicting God's expressly revealed will. 

The Tree of Knowledge functioned as a test of Adam and Eve's obedience to God's moral authority as the King of the Universe. After they failed the test, they were forced to face the consequences of their decision.  They were prevented from partaking of the Tree of Life and sent into exile (Gen. 3:22-24). Paradise was lost, and their exile from the orchard foreshadowed the exile we all face through our own disobedience before God.

It is said that "God creates the cure before the plague." Yeshua is described as the Lamb slain "from the foundation of the world."  His death on the cross functions as the Tree of Life for those who take hold of Him.


 

In Genesis 2:4 God is called Adonai Elohim (יהוה אֱלהִים), the first place in the Torah that these two Names of God are used together. Jewish tradition associates the name Elohim (אֱלהִים) with the attributes of divine power and Justice (i.e., God as Creator), whereas the name YHVH (יהוה) is associated with the attributes of divine compassion and mercy (Exod. 34:6-7). Because of the transgression of Adam and Eve, God is revealed as both the God of Compassion as well as the God of Justice (interestingly, when these two names appear together, YHVH comes first). The promise of the coming "Serpent Slayer," the One who would crush the kingdom of Satan, was given to Adam and Eve before their judgment was announced (Gen. 3:15). And even after their judgment was given, "the LORD God (יהוה אֱלהִים) made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" (Gen. 3:21) - a clear picture of being compassionately "robed in righteousness" imparted by an innocent sacrifice.  

The promise of the coming "Serpent Slayer," the One who would crush the kingdom of Satan, was given to Adam and Eve before their judgment was announced....  And even after their judgment was given, "the LORD God made tunics of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them" - a clear picture of being compassionately "robed in righteousness" imparted by an innocent sacrifice.


This is the prototype of the korban principle of "life for life" that was the basis of the sacrificial system and ultimately the death of the coming Redeemer. Judgment was not the end of the story, since God would send His Son to "reverse the curse" bequeathed by the first Adam (Gal. 3:13). The transgression of the first "federal head" of the human race was overcome by the obedience of the promised Seed - the Son of Man and "Second Adam" who would redeem humanity from the death penalty of sin (Rom. 5:12-21). "God created the cure before the plague," meaning that His love is the foundation of all things: עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה / Olam chesed yibaneh: "steadfast love built the world" (Psalm 89:2). Just as God created mankind only after He created the pathway of repentance (i.e., the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world": 1 Pet. 1:20, Eph. 1:4, Rev. 13:8, 17:8), so the purification from death was likewise foreseen and provided.  "For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). Because of the salvation given to us in Yeshua, "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor. 15:49). Those who overcome because of the victory of Yeshua are promised to eat of the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God (Rev. 2:7; 22:14).

Walking on Water
 

"The God of Peace (אֱלהֵי הַשָּׁלוֹם) will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you" (Rom. 16:20).

Postscript: I hope to add some additional thoughts about Creation and the Fall of Man from a more Messiah-focused perspective at a later time, chaverim. Shalom for now...




Parashat Noach


 

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

10.04.10 (Tishri 26, 5771)   In last week's Torah portion (Bereshit), we read about the disheartening history of earliest humanity.  After ten generations, from Adam to Noah, the LORD had grown so weary of humanity that he "regretted" (yinchem, יִּנָּחֶם) creating man in the first place and "his heart was saddened" (Gen. 6:6). It is interesting to note that the word translated "regretted" comes from the root nacham (נָחַם) -- the same root for the name "Noach" (נחַ) himself. Other Hebrew words that use this root include nichum (compassion), nuach (rest), nacham (repent/console), and menuchah (rest from work). Though God "repented" (נָחַם) that He had made mankind (Gen. 6:7), He comforted himself by finding a means to comfort lost humanity... (more).

Noach's father Lamech (לֶמֶךְ, "powerful one") regarded his son as a deliverer who would comfort humanity from the ravages of the curse (Gen. 5:29). Noach would give relief (i.e., rest) from the toil and vexation of life. Indeed, Noach was a "type" of savior who would rebirth the world by giving lasting comfort and rest (for more about this, see the page "Noah and Jesus").  In like manner it was prophesied that Yeshua would give us everlasting rest: "His rest shall be glorious" (Isa. 11:10), just as He offers rest to the weary (Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:9). His sacrifice on the Cross at Moriah undoes the kelalah (curse) over the children of Adam. Indeed, His life, sacrifice, and resurrection was like a "magic spell" that "spoke backwards" the sin of the "First Adam" - and by means of His deliverance the power of the curse was forever broken (Gal. 3:13, John 3:14, 2 Tim.1:10; Heb. 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 John 3:8, Rev. 22:3). Yeshua is Adam ha-Sheni - the "Second Adam" - the promised Son of Man. By means of His Spirit we are given an everlasting comfort (John 14:16).

Note:   If it pleases God, I hope to write some more on Parashat Bereshit this week, chaverim.... The traditional Torah reading schedule goes VERY quickly through the portions each year, and unfortunately that often means skimming over fundamental texts that are worth savoring...  In addition, Parashat Bereshit is always read during the busy time of the High Holidays, which makes finding time to study it more difficult.

Shalom for now, my dear friends..  Hebrew for Christians can't be here without YOU!  Thank you so much for standing with us in these last hours of the last days.....




Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan


 

[ Thursday, Oct. 7th (at sundown) marks "Rosh Chodesh" (ראש חדש), the start of the Hebrew month of Cheshvan. ]

10.03.10 (Tishri 25, 5771)   The month of Cheshvan (חֶשְׁוָן) immediately follows the "holiday month" of Tishri, though it is sometimes called Mar-Cheshvan ("bitter Cheshvan") because there are no festivals during the month ("neither feast nor fast") and it marks the start of the cold and rainy season in Israel.  The Torah records that God brought down the Flood that destroyed the world on Cheshvan 17 (Gen. 7:10-11), which lasted until Cheshvan 27 (Gen. 8:14) - exactly one calendar year after it began (Rashi notes that the 11-day discrepancy between the 17th and 27th represents the 11-day difference between the solar and lunar year). Because Noah's Flood began and ended during this month, Cheshvan is generally regarded as "mar" - a time of judgment and hardship.

Historically, Cheshvan has been a time that has brought much suffering to the Jewish people throughout the ages. In more recent times, German Nazis launched a campaign of terror against Jewish people during this month. Die Kristallnacht (the "Night of Broken Glass"), the infamous pogrom that initiated the Holocaust, occurred on Cheshvan 15 (Nov. 9th, 1938). Its initial political purpose was to "disarm" all German Jews, though this became the pretext for cruelty, murder, and genocide of the Jewish people.

Note: As wonderful as the High Holidays are, it is a bit of a relief that they are finally over... May this coming new month bring you joy, rest, and great comfort - notwithstanding the state of this evil world and its relentless corruption.  Time is indeed short: we are living in the Days of Noah!  Our beloved Savior is coming back soon...




Shabbat and Creation


 

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

10.01.10 (Tishri 23, 5771) The Torah (and therefore all of Scripture) begins with the majestic account of the "six days of creation."  However, before the creative work of God is described (relative to the earth), there was only an undifferentiated mass of tohu vavohu v'choshekh: "confusion and emptiness and darkness." The Spirit of God (רוּחַ אֱלהִים) is depicted as "hovering" (like a circling dove) over the surface of the "waters of chaos" to bring order and perfection to the world (Gen. 1:2). Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light" (Gen. 1:3). As I mentioned in another place, the creation of the divine light implies divine time, and indeed the later creation of the sun, the moon, and stars were designed to function as "signs and seasons" for creation: "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for appointed times (מוֹעֲדִים), and for days and years' (Gen. 1:15).

On the seventh day, God "rested" (שָׁבַת) from the works of creation (מַעֲשֵׂה-בְּרִאשִׁית) and Shabbat came into being. God called the seventh day "holy" (kodesh), which means set apart as sacred, exalted, and honored. After the Exodus from Egypt, the Sabbath was consecrated as an "everlasting sign" (אוֹת) between God and Israel: "Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever (בְּרִית עוֹלָם). It is a sign forever (אוֹת עוֹלָם) between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested (שָׁבַת) and took a breath" (Exod. 31:16-17). Note that some of the sages have said that the idea that Shabbat is a "sign forever" means that it is a "sign of Eternity," that is, a reminder that we live in a spiritual world where God alone is our Creator.

The idea of "rest" does not mean that God anthropomorphically "got tired" from creating the universe. As the prophet said, "Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God (אֱלהֵי עוֹלָם), the Creator of the ends of the earth (בּוֹרֵא קְצוֹת הָאָרֶץ). He does not faint or grow weary..." (Isa. 40:28). God did not become "exhausted" creating the universe, and indeed the sages teach that the act of creation involved less effort than to breathe out the letter Hey (ה), the easiest letter to pronounce (Bereshit Rabbah 12:2).


 

The idea of God "resting," then, refers to His sovereign choice to stop creating yesh me'ayin ("ex nihilo").  The Rambam (Maimonides) distinguishes between two different actions attributed to God throughout the creation narrative. When the Torah says that God spoke (e.g., "and God said, 'Let there be light'"), He brought something entirely new into being, but when God saw (e.g., "and God saw that it was good"), he sustained (or renewed) what He made. This act of "seeing" (or sustaining) is not passive, however, since God continues to uphold creation at all times, and were He to withdraw from creation, it would collapse back into "confusion and emptiness and darkness." Therefore the daily prayers include the phrase: "You renew in your goodness, each day, constantly, the works of creation."

Of course Yeshua is our Creator and LORD who upholds the universe "by the word of his power." The "Word made flesh" is the "image of the invisible God" (צֶלֶם הָאֱלהִים) and the "radiance of the glory of God (זהַר כְּבוֹדוֹ) who is the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of God's nature" (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:15). "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17).

So what does it mean to "rest" on the Sabbath? Among other things, it means letting go of our "works," that is, our attempts to exert control over creation. The Torah commands us to remember (zachor) that we were slaves to sin (pictured by our bondage in Egypt) and therefore to celebrate Shabbat as a picture of God's salvation and redemption (Deut 5:15). For the Christian, the idea of rest has a redemptive significance that is connected to trusting in the finished work of redemption (Heb. 4:9-10). Because of Yeshua, we are made free from the "law of sin and death" in order to live in freedom as God's redeemed children.  But paradoxically we are called to "strive" to enter that rest through the exercise of faith - and are warned not to revert back to attempts at self-justification or vain attempts at "moral reformation" (Heb. 4:11). We "labor" through the grace of God which is in us" (1 Cor. 15:10) since our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor. 3:5). In the Talmud the Messianic Age is called Yom SheKulo Shabbat - the day when "all will be Sabbath" (Tamid 7:4). Because of Yeshua's merit, we can enter that rest through faith.... Therefore we share in God's victory and salvation given to us through Yeshua our Lord.

The "deeper sense of rest" describes our salvation experience in the Messiah. Just before Yeshua died, he said something of breathtaking importance. An eyewitness to his crucifixion wrote, "When he had received the drink, Yeshua said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (John 19:30; Matt. 27:50). In Koine Greek, this final statement is a single word consisting of ten letters: tetelestai (Τετέλεσται). 

Tetelestai means "It is finished, it stands finished, and it always will be finished!" It comes from the word telos (τέλος), meaning a goal or purpose (teleology is the study of the purpose of something). Telos is the word Paul used when he wrote: "For Messiah is the end of the law (τέλος νόμου) for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4).

Tetelestai was the cry of victory to the Father. "I have finished the work you gave me to do." What was that work? To establish the new covenant (brit chadashah) between God and man by offering up His life as the atoning sacrifice for humanity's sins (Heb. 1:3, 10:12). Note that the Greek word for "new" here is kainos (καινός), which is often used to describe something of a new kind or order (the Greek word neos [νέος] often refers to something recent or something that is renewed).

Imagine for a moment what it might have been like to hear Yeshua cry out "in a loud voice," Tetelestai! His final breath, His kiddush Hashem, His spirit given up and now released before the Father - the resonance of this word filling all heaven and all earth - "It is finished! Father! It is finished! I have completed the work that you have given me to do!" Imagine the joy, the celebration, the glory, the honor given to the Son as He appeared before the Father after securing us so great a salvation.

"Whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his." Getting ahold of this truth is a "tetelestai" revelation -- a moment when you apprehend that God has fulfilled the Torah's demand on your behalf through the gift of Yeshua's life and sacrifice (2 Cor. 5:21). Accepting the "death benefits" of the Messiah makes you an heir to the Kingdom of Heaven (Gal. 4:4-7). You are no longer "married" to the former arrangement of being in union with God; there is a better cup and a better ketubah (Rom. 7:1-4).

God rested on the seventh day because His "creation-work" was finished. The Jewish idea of melakhah (work) that is forbidden on the Sabbath pertains to any actions that exhibit control or mastery over natural creation.  According to the rabbis, the main Sabbath ritual is "negative" action: One observes the Sabbath by not doing. Applied to the realm of the spirit, we see that this implies that God alone is our Redeemer and Healer.  We are commanded to rest from our works because we cannot add to the finished work of Yeshua performed on our behalf... "Violating the Sabbath," from this perspective, means attempting to add something to the finished work of God's redemptive love as revealed in Yeshua.  Salvation - like physical creation - is "of the LORD," and the salvation of God "makes all things new" (Rev. 21:5). The "new creation" is completely new, brought about from nothing, just as the  universe was created by God yesh me'ayin, from nothing. We can partake of God's love without any positive effort: All we must do is refrain from "work" -- and God does the rest...   All of creation will ultimately be recreated because of the finished work of Yeshua. Therefore we are called a "new creation" (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה) in Messiah, and we can rest in God's love and acceptance. We now have peace with God through the healing work of Yeshua our LORD. We can "let go" and "let God" be God.  We can rest in His love for us, chaverim... Accept that you are accepted because of the work of Yeshua done for you.

According to Jewish tradition, God created man on the sixth day (erev Shabbat).  When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself.  According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever." God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). The birthday of humanity is therefore Rosh Hashanah ("the head of the year") and the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe.

In Genesis 2:2 it is written, "On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work." But how could God could have finished on the seventh day and also rested? The midrash states that on the very first Sabbath, God created rest. In other words, after He created the universe, God ascended the throne as the King of the Universe, the Master of peace and truth (Mal. 3:6). It was only after God created all things - including mankind - that He could rule over the work of His hands. The Sabbath day therefore became symbolic of God's rule where He made the world His dwelling place.  Rather than continuing to "work" on creation, God brought it into harmony with His role as our King and Redeemer. Ultimately, God's salvation brings the entire universe into a state of peace (shalom) and harmony with His purposes for creation.  This is the deeper sense of rest that God gives to those who are trusting in Him.




Parashat Bereshit - בראשית


 

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

10.01.10 (Tishri 23, 5771)  During Simchat Torah ("Joy of the Torah") we read the last portion of the Torah (Vezot HaBerakhah) as well as the first part of the first portion (Bereshit) to symbolize that Talmud Torah - the study of Torah - never ends.  This Shabbat, however, is called "Shabbat Bereshit" (שַׁבַּת בְּרֵאשִׁית, "the Sabbath of Beginning") because the entire portion of Parashat Bereshit will be recited at synagogues all over the world. In other words, the annual cycle of the Torah reading begins again on the first Sabbath following Sukkot. 

Note: The word bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית) can mean "in the beginning" or "at the start" or "at the head of (all things)," etc.  Notice the term rosh (ראשׁ, "head") appears embedded in the word as its shoresh (root). In Jewish tradition, the word can refer to either the first weekly Torah portion (parashah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading (called "parashat Bereshit") or to the first book of the Torah itself (called "Sefer Bereshit"). When used to refer to the first book of the Torah, bereshit is sometimes called sefer rishon (the First Book) or sefer beri'at ha'olam (the Book of the Creation of the world).  The ancient Greek translation of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) called the book "Genesis" (Γένεσις: "birth", "origin") instead of using the translation of the first Hebrew word (בְּרֵאשִׁית), i.e., ἐν ἀρχῇ, for the book's title. The term "Genesis" was used in subsequent Latin and English translations of the book.  There are fifty chapters in Bereshit (20,512 words, 78,064 letters) that are divided into twelve weekly readings.


Creation - Past Tense or Present Tense?

Sometimes we are tempted to think of Creation as something "past tense." God created everything and then "stood back" to watch the drama of cosmic history unfold...  This is an incorrect way of thinking about creation, however, since God not only created the universe but is also continually creating it yesh me'ayin - out of nothing (Heb. 1:3). And since parashat Bereshit is centered on creation, it is therefore centered on Yeshua Himself, of whom it is written: "all things were created by him, and for him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Creation begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Mashiach....

    "God creates out of nothing, wonderful, you say: yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners."  -- The Journals of Søren Kierkegaard: A Selection, no. 209, 1838 entry
     


The Hakafah of Torah


 

So "round and round and round" the year we go... This week we begin reading the Torah again -- right from the beginning -- but this time we'll read for the new Jewish year of 5771!  May the God of Israel grant you hatzlachah (הַצְלָחָה, "success") as you endeavor to honor Him through Talmud Torah, chaverim (2 Tim. 2:15, 3:16).

Since we are at the very beginning, let's look at the very first word of the entire Torah, the Hebrew word Bereshit (בראשׁית). These six letters are sometimes compared to the six days of creation. The first and last two letters form the word brit (covenant) while the remaining inner letters form the word esh (fire), suggesting that the act of creation itself is a "Covenant of Fire."  Here's a simple diagram to show the relationship:


 

Words created the universe -- or rather, the Word of God did (בְּרֵאשִׁית הָיָה הַדָּבָר). When the Divine Voice (i.e., the Word of God) spoke cosmic Light into existence (Gen. 1:3), God was not creating the physical light of the Sun or the Moon, since the heavenly bodies were created later (Gen. 1:14). This supernal light was the first expression of God's handiwork outside of Himself, His first revelation of contingent existence (i.e., existence that owes its source, continuance, and end to God's transcendent power and will). The Divine Light forms the canvass, if you will, of God's portraiture of creation (in three-dimensional terms, the Divine Light forms a sort of "container" that becomes the "house" of Creation).  Among other things, this means that ultimate reality is grounded in the Source of Light, Love, and Truth -- regardless of how dark the present hour may appear. (click to continue...)
 

צַדִּיק יְהוָה בְּכָל־דְּרָכָיו וְחָסִיד בְּכָל־מַעֲשָׂיו

tzad·dik  Adonai  be·khol  de·ra·khav,  ve·cha·sid  be·khol  ma·a·sav

"The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works" (Psalm 145:17)

 


If it pleases God, I will add additional commentary to this critical portion of Torah later this week, chaverim.  Meanwhile, may the LORD grant you "joy unspeakable" and the comfort of glorious His presence...






<< Return


 

Hebrew for Christians
Copyright © John J. Parsons
All rights reserved.

email