Learn Hebrew

Learn Torah

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

February 2011 Updates

Perilous Times...


02.28.11 (I Adar 24, 5771)   "But you must know this: in the last days perilous times shall come" (2 Tim. 3:1). Notice that this knowledge is not optional, since the Greek verb is imperative (i.e., Τοῦτο δὲ γίνωσκε - "this you must know...").  In order to heed this commandment, then, we need to understand some of the language being used in this verse. The Greek phrase "in the last days" (ἐν ἐσχάταις ἡμέραις) refers to the prophesied "End of Days," sometimes called acharit ha-yamim (אַחֲרִית הַיָּמִים) in Hebrew. Eschatos (ἔσχατος) refers to the end point of a sequence, indicating its outcome or final expression. In the context of Paul's letter, then, the "last days" ultimately refers to the period of the Great Tribulation (צָרָה גְדוֹלָה) just before Yeshua returns to establish His Kingdom in Zion.

In traditional Jewish eschatology, human history is usually divided into three distinct epochs of 2,000 years. The period of "tohu" (יְמֵי תּהוּ) occurred from the time of the fall of Adam until the call of Abraham; the period of "Torah" (יְמוֹת תּוֹרָה) occurred from Abraham until the time of the destruction of the Second Temple, and the period of the "Messiah" (יְמוֹת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) refers to the time when the Messiah could appear before the Kingdom is established in Zion:


According to many of the sages, the time immediately preceding the appearance of the Messiah will be a time of testing (nisayon) in which the world will undergo various forms of tribulation, called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some say the birth pangs are to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years being the most intense period of tribulation -- called the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The climax of the Great Tribulation is called the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל) which represents God's wrath poured out upon a rebellious world system. On this fateful day, the LORD will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19) and worldwide catastrophes will occur. "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). Only after the nations of the world have been judged will the Messianic kingdom (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) be established upon the earth. The remnant of Israel will be saved and the 1000 year reign of King Messiah will then commence (Rev. 20:4). For more information about this, see "As the Day Draws Near."

Notice that Paul states that the time before the End of Days would be perilous (χαλεπός). In the entire New Testament, the only other place we find this Greek word is in Matthew 8:28, where it describes fierce demonic activity. Indeed, the word "perilous" likely comes from a Greek verb (χαλάω) that means "to let down from a higher place to a lower," thereby creating a sort of spiritual "chasm" or rift, which again suggests that Satan's activity will be increased upon the earth. In the "End of Days," then, a wave of fierce demonic activity will appear upon the earth that will menace and terrorize others.

Are we then to live in fear of these things? No. "There is no fear in God's love" (φόβος οὐκ ἔστιν ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ). The Greek word translated "times" in this verse (καιροὶ) is also translated as "appointed times" (מוֹעֲדִים) in the Scriptures. God has appointed this time to be one of judgment upon the earth, and we are therefore forewarned so that we can speak the truth and offer healing to the world... God will never leave us nor forsake us; He will walk with us through the waters, and through the fires, chaverim (Isa. 43:2). Our Good Shepherd knows how to calm the storms around us...

We are living in a decaying and moribund world, and the great age of apostasy will soon be coming to an end. Paul provided a list of nineteen characteristics that would mark the heart of people during this final period of human history. "People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power" (2 Tim. 3:2-5). Noteworthy in this list is misdirected love. People will be "lovers of themselves," "lovers of money," "lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God," and "not lovers of good." Godless self-centeredness will be the "norm" of the day.... And even though he was being prophetic (i.e., speaking of the End of Days), Paul linked these middot ra'ot (evil attributes) to the character of false teachers presently in the church, and warned Timothy that Satan can masquerade as an "angel of light." Therefore we are to have nothing to do with those who pervert the gospel message (2 Tim. 3:5).  These false teachers would come to an end just as did "Jannes and Jambres" (Paul here cites a midrash regarding the identity of two of the Egyptian magicians who opposed Moses and whose rods were swallowed up by Aaron's rod in Exod. 7:11-12).

Paul then encouraged Timothy to "stay the course" and to refuse to exercise false "tolerance" in light of these conditions...  Now more than ever we must abide by the truth and refuse to compromise the message of the gospel.  We must never forget the reality and certainty of Yeshua's soon return. In what may have been Paul's last recorded words, he writes: "I charge you in the presence of God and the Messiah Yeshua, who is the Judge of the living and the dead (הֲשׁפֵט אֶת־הַחַיִּים וְאֶת־הַמֵּתִים), and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching (διδασκαλία), but will cater to their passions and gather around themselves teachers who say whatever their ears itch to hear. Yes, they will stop listening to the truth, but will turn aside to wander after myths" (1 Tim. 4:1-4). The phrase "having itchy ears" may be an idiom for satisfying their curiosity - they "itch" to hear things, in other words, that appeal to their sensuous nature rather than dealing with the underlying heart issue... They may be superficially interested in doctrine, but only because it satisfies their desire to be "in the know" about the latest religious ideas, etc.

All this leads to a sober assessment of the purpose of studying the Jewish roots of our faith. Some people genuinely seek to better know and love their Savior by engaging in the study of Hebrew, the Jewish holidays, and so on, while others undoubtedly do so because they "itch" to hear things in an attempt to satisfy their curiosity.... Indeed a lot of what is passed off as "Messianic Judaism" today appears to be based on spiritual pride. If you listen to some of the big-name Messianic teachers out there today, you'll hear that the Christian Church is either an entirely self-deceived social institution or else how "Christians" are woefully deficient regarding matters of spiritual truth. In short, these teachers insist that something more needs to be added, some additional knowledge, practice, awareness, insight, and so on. And of course these teachers are happy to proclaim themselves as the ones who can "disabuse" you of your pathetic misconceptions, etc. We see this trend in both the "Torah observant" schools of Messianic Judaism as well as in the "new wave" of "mystical Messianic Judaism" that is beginning to become more and more commonplace. For more on this, see the article entitled, "Kabbalah and Legalism."

It is one thing to "play games" and trifle with spiritual matters, and it is an entirely different thing to be shocked into conviction and genuine teshuvah...  Soren Kierkegaard once lamented there are many people who arrive at conclusions in much the way schoolboys do: "they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem out themselves." This is part of the mob mentality within Christendom. We can parrot creedal formulas or recite catechisms, yet in the end it is our own responsibility to make an authentic faith commitment. Thomas Aquinas' most significant work was his Summa theologiae or 'Summary of Theology,' a massive book that attempted to systematize all of Christian theology. He worked on it from 1266 through 1273, but when he was nearly finished, he underwent an experience so intense that, as he himself explained, everything he had written "seemed like straw." He thereafter gave up writing about theology after he encountered the Reality itself.

There are a countless ways to become self-deceived, chaverim. "Every man's way is 'right in his own eyes' (יָשָׁר בְּעֵינָיו), but the LORD weighs the heart" (Prov. 21:2). There is a saying that we are "only as sick as the secrets we keep." That applies first of all to ourselves.  We must get past self-deception and wishful thinking in order to soberly see who we really are.... Earnest, fervent prayer "availeth much," for it is the means by which we can get away from pretense and appeal to the LORD for help.  We are to be "doers" of the Word, and not hearers only, since faith without works is dead and leads to self-deception (lit., "reasoning around" the truth, i.e., παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason"). Only those who follow through and live their faith will be blessed in their actions (James 1:25). This mirrors Yeshua's statement, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17).

"Examine yourselves to see whether you are living the life of trust. Test yourselves. Don't you realize that Yeshua the Messiah is in you? - unless you fail to pass the test" (2 Cor. 13:5). The message of the gospel is central. Yeshua is the beginning and the end. Simply put, trusting in the sacrificial life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua as your personal righteousness before the Father is the central commandment of all the Scriptures...

גְּבוּרַת אֱלהִים הִיא לִתְשׁוּעָה אֶל־כָּל־מַאֲמִין

ge·vu·rat  E·lo·him  hi  lit·shu·ah  el  kol  ma·a·min

δύναμις γὰρ θεοῦ ἐστιν εἰς σωτηρίαν παντὶ τῷ πιστεύοντι

"It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom 1:16b)

Download Study Card

May God help us while there is still time...

Parashat Pekudei


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

02.27.11 (I Adar 23, 5771)  Parashat Pekudei is the final portion of the Book of Exodus. It begins with Moses' accounting of (פְּקוּדֵי) all the materials that were donated for the construction of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle). Moses first recorded the inventory of the building materials and furnishings, and then he carefully checked the special priestly garments. After all the work was confirmed to be in complete accordance with the LORD's instructions, Moses blessed the people.

The LORD then commanded Moses to assemble the Mishkan on "the first month in the second year [from the date of the Exodus], on the first day of the month" (i.e., on Nisan 1, or Rosh Chodashim). Since Moses gave the commandment to begin building the Tabernacle on the day after Yom Kippur (i.e., Tishri 11), this implies that it took less than six months for Betzalel and his team to create the Tabernacle and all its furnishings.  According to Pesikta Rabbati, the Mishkan was actually completed on Kislev 25, but God did not want it put up until Nisan 1 (to commemorate the birth of Isaac). The month of Kislev was thus deprived, and God said: "I must compensate it." How did God compensate the month of Kislev? With the dedication of the Temple by the Hashmoneans (on Chanukah). Note further that the Mishkan was consecrated for seven days before God manifested His Presence there. During each of the "seven days of consecration" (beginning on Adar 23) Moses set up the entire Mishkan and offered sacrifices every morning and then pulled it down. On the eighth day (i.e., Nisan 1) he put it up but did not dismantle it again.

After the Mishkan was complete and all its components were accounted for and inspected, Moses assembled it (i.e., a final time, on Nisan 1) and anointed all its components with the sacred anointing oil, called shemen ha-mishchah (note that the word "mishchah" (מִשְׁחָה) comes from the same root as "Messiah" (מָשִׁיחַ), indicating that the Mishkan would foreshadow God's plan of redemption given in Yeshua). Moses then formally initiated Aaron and his four sons into the priesthood. The Divine Presence - manifest as the Shekhinah Cloud of Glory – then filled the Holy of Holies in the Tent of Meeting.

The Book of Exodus ends: "And Moses was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the Glory of the LORD (כְּבוֹד יְהוָה) filled the Mishkan (הַמִּשְׁכָּן). Throughout all their journeys, whenever the Cloud was taken up from over the Mishkan, the people of Israel would set out. But if the Cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the Cloud of the LORD (עֲנַן יְהוָה) was on the Mishkan by day, and Fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys" (Exod. 30:35-38).

The Presence of the Glory of God that descended from Sinai upon the newly dedicated Mishkan represented a climactic moment for the fledgling nation, since the Sin of the Golden Calf had jeopardized whether the God would indeed dwell within the midst of the camp of Israel...  Recall that it was only after Moses had returned from Sinai bearing the second set of Tablets (on Yom Kippur) that the glow of the LORD's redeeming love radiated from his face, and new hope was given to Israel (prefiguring the New Covenant). The King of Glory would accompany the people from Sinai to the Promised Land! (The narrative continues in the Book of Numbers, beginning exactly one month after the Mishkan was assembled.)

Unfortunately, as we learn from later Biblical history, the Shekhinah Presence was forfeited on account of Israel's repeated failure to trust in the LORD. This was prefigured by the experiences of the Exodus generation in the desert, though it culminated in the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC and the Second Temple in AD 70, both of which occurred on the Ninth of Av. According to some of the Jewish sages, however, when the Messiah comes to Israel, the Presence of the LORD would abide permanently with the people, since unlike beholding the veiled glory of the LORD behind the curtains of the Mishkan, the prophet Isaiah foretold: "eye to eye shall they see the return of the LORD to Zion" (Isa. 52:8):


For those who are His, Yeshua the Messiah's Presence indeed abides within them forever (Matt. 28:20; John 14:16), though there is an "already-not-yet" aspect to this.  In the Spirit we abide in Him and behold His glory with "unveiled face" (2 Cor. 3:18), but we also eagerly await for Him to physically return to Zion (Zech. 14:4) where "every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him." Even so. Amen" (Rev. 1:7). Yes, though we can behold Him now in the power of the Holy Spirit, Yeshua is returning (soon) to fulfill the words of the prophets regarding the establishment of the kingdom of God upon the earth.  God is faithful to His covenantal promises to Israel and will fulfill them in His good time (Acts 1:7). Those who belong to Him will partake in His glory when He sits upon the throne of David as the true King of Israel.  Maran ata, Yeshua!

Shabbat Shekalim


Note that this Shabbat is also called "Shabbat Shekalim" so there are some minor changes to the weekly Torah readings....

Four special Sabbaths occur just before the start of Spring: two before Purim and two before Passover. Collectively, these Sabbaths are called "The Four Shabbatot" and one of four additional Torah readings (called Arba Parashiyot, or the "four portions") are read on each of these Sabbaths in preparation for the holidays. The names of these Sabbaths are Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zakhor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat HaChodesh, respectively.

The first of the four Sabbaths is called Shabbat Shekalim (שבת שקלים), "the Sabbath of the Shekels," which occurs just before the month of Adar begins. An additional reading (Exod. 30:11-16) is appended to the regular Torah reading that describes the contribution of a half-shekel for the construction and upkeep of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). According to a midrash in the Talmud (Bavli, Shekalim 1), the half-shekel represents a "fiery coin" that the LORD brought from underneath the Throne of His Glory to symbolically "atone" for the sin of the Golden Calf. Since every Jew was required to give this "widow's mite," repentance is accepted for all who come in true humility before the LORD. For us, it might be a time to remember those who offer personal sacrifices so that we also might draw closer to God.

How many people left Egypt during the Exodus?

Regarding the half-shekel "tax," the sages were able to infer how many people left Egypt during the Exodus. According to the sages, over two million people were present at the time the Mishkan was filled with the Divine Presence (less than one calendar year after the Exodus on Nisan 15). They determine this number by the account of the weight of the silver used for the sockets (adonim) of the Mishkan (Exod. 38:25). As mentioned above, a half-shekel tax was imposed on all males from the age of 20 years and up (Exod. 30:13-16). Moses recorded the weight of the silver to be "a hundred talents [i.e., kikars] plus 1,175 shekels. If one kikar equals 3,000 shekels and there were 100 kikars, this amounts to 300,000 shekels. We then add 1,775 to yield 301,775 and multiply by 2 to result in 603,550 men aged 20 or more (Exod. 38:26). Assuming these were married men with 2 or more children, the total number of people represented by the shekalim reaches two million.

Note that when Parashat Pekudei coincides with Shabbat Shekalim, a different Haftarah portion is read (i.e., instead of 1 Kings 7:51-8:21, we read 2 Kings 12:1-17).

Rosh Chodesh Adar

(I Adar 23, 5771)  On the Biblical calendar the month of Adar (אֲדָר‎) is the last month of the year counting from Nisan (during a leap year it is called Adar II).  Adar is also the month of Purim, a festive holiday which is always celebrated a month before Passover (Megillah 1:4). During both Purim and Passover we celebrate God's deliverance of His people, and therefore Adar is considered the happiest of the months of the Jewish year: "When Adar comes, joy is increased" (Ta'anit 29a). This year Adar begins on Saturday, March 5th, and Purim begins two weeks later, under the full moon (i.e., Saturday, March 19th). That means that Passover begins one lunar month later, on Monday, April 18th (at sundown).


Like the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the New Year in the fall [Exod. 23:16]), Adar is a time to make "New Year's Resolutions" and to turn away from sin before the start of the New Year of spring. The month of Adar is therefore a season given to us each year to begin preparing for the holiday of Passover.

Note: During a "leap year" the Jewish calendar reckons the additional month to be Adar I, with the following month (i.e., "Adar II") to be the "real" month of Adar. In other words, the inserted month is not "Adar" from the point of view of the festivals, since Passover must occur one lunar month after Purim. If you are confused about this, always consult a kosher Jewish calendar!

Rosh Chodesh Blessing

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you for the coming new month:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֵיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ חדֶשׁ טוֹב בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אָמֵן

ye·hi  ra·tzon  mil·fa·ne·kha  Adonai  E·lo·hei·nu  ve·lo·hei  a·vo·tei·nu
she·te·cha·desh  a·lei·nu  cho·desh  tov,  ba'a·do·nei·nu  Ye·shu·a  ha·ma·shi·ach, a·men

"May it be Your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good month in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah. Amen."

Download Study Card

Table Talk for Parashat Vayakhel


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

02.24.11 (I Adar 20, 5771)  Our Torah portion begins with Moses saying, "These are the things (devarim) that the LORD has commanded that you should do them" (Exod. 35:1). What things? To gather together, to build one another up, and to always be united in heart and mind. Such is God's will...

I've been sick most of the week, but I managed to write up a Shabbat "Table Talk" for this week's Torah portion (Vayakhel). Like other Table Talk guides, I first provide a brief synopsis of the reading and then ask some discussion questions.  I hope you find it helpful, chaverim. You can download the page here

Peace in the Storm


02.22.11 (I Adar 18, 5771)  The following verse comforts me in the midst of the chaos of this world... Listen as Yeshua says, "Peace, be still" to the storms of life... When we surrender to the sure truth that the LORD God of Israel is in complete control of this world, we find deliverance from our fears:

הַרְפּוּ וּדְעוּ כִּי־אָנכִי אֱלהִים
אָרוּם בַּגּוֹיִם אָרוּם בָּאָרֶץ

 har·poo  u'de·oo  ki  a·no·khi  E·lo·him
a·room  ba·go·yim,  a·room  ba·a·retz

"Be still, and know that I am God:
I will be exalted among the heathen,
I will be exalted in the earth" (Psalm 46:10)

Download Study Card

Time is very short, friends. Soon and very soon we are going to see our King!  So let's "be still" – in order to know that "the LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." (For a brief meditation on this verse, click here.)

Josiah and Judah, Feb 2011

Betzalel as a Type of Messiah


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

02.22.11 (I Adar 18, 5771)  When Moses received Torah at Sinai, he was given visions of the Tabernacle (i.e., Mishkan: מִשְׁכָּן), a tent-like structure where God's Presence (i.e., Shekhinah: שְׁכִינָה) would dwell (i.e., shakhan: שָׁכַן) in the midst of the camp of Israel.  Though Moses received the "pattern" (i.e., tavnit: תַּבְנִית) of the heavenly dwelling, he was unable to create the artifacts themselves, and therefore God called Betzalel (בְּצַלְאֵל) to be the chief architect of the structure.

Betzalel was the grandson of Hur, (of the tribe of Judah and ancestor of King David) who, according to Josephus (Antiquities 3:2) was the husband of Moses' sister Miriam (Exod. 31:2). This was the same Hur chosen to go with Moses and Aaron to the top of a mountain to prop up Moses' arms during Israel's first war against the Amalekites (Exod. 17:8-13).


Betzalel is clearly a type (or picture) of the Messiah Yeshua. After all, he was a man "called by name" from the tribe of Judah who was "filled with the Spirit of God" (ruach Elohim) to build the dwelling place of the LORD - an apt enough description of the Lord Yeshua Himself. Moses was said to be so astonished at Betzalel's abilities that he said Betzalel must have been "in the shadow" while he received his visions at Sinai (Betzel El Hayita - "you were indeed in the shadow, for you have the ability to create what the Holy One, blessed Be He, had commanded me").  Indeed, the name Betzalel (בְּצַלְאֵל) means "in the shadow of God" (from בְּ [in] + tzel [צֵל], "shadow" + El [אֵל], "God"). Moreover, Betzalel's chief assistant was Oholiav (אָהֳלִיאָב), a name that means "my Father's tent" (from oheli [אָהֳלִי], "my tent" and av [אָב], "father").

Betzalel was like Yeshua in that 1) he was from the kingly tribe of Judah, 2) he was a young carpenter, 3) he was unusually "filled with the Spirit of God," 4) his father's name (Uri) means "my light" (James 1:17), 4) his assistant (Oholiav) was from the tribe of Dan (i.e., דָּן, "judge," symbolizing the legal aspects of the Torah), and 5) it was he (rather than Moses) who actually built the Mishkan, which was the archetypal pattern for the spiritual Temple - see 1 Peter 2:5). As it is written in Hebrews 3:1-6:

    Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Yeshua, the Apostle (הַשָּׁלִיחַ) and the High Priest (הַכּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל) of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Yeshua has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses - as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but the Messiah is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

The Torah states that God endowed Betzalel with the Spirit of God (רוּחַ אֱלהִים), and with wisdom (חָכְמָה), understanding (תְּבוּנָה), and knowledge (דַּעַת) - the same attributes used to describe God as the Creator of the Universe (Exod. 35:31; Prov. 3:19-20). According to the Talmud, Betzalel was just 13 years old when he began building the Tabernacle.  As a young man chosen by God Himself, Betzalel "came and healed the wound" that was caused by the sin of the Golden Calf (Shemot Rabbah).  In addition to being the first great artist of God mentioned in the Torah, the Talmud states that Betzalel "knew how to join together the letters with which heaven and earth were created" (Berachot 53a).  Indeed, as the one who knew how to fashion the "Ark of the covenant" where the blood would be presented for our atonement, he clearly foreshadowed Yeshua our Messiah....

Prayer for Healing


02.21.11 (I Adar 17, 5771)  I am need of your prayers. I've been quite sick over the weekend and still am feverish with very sore throat and bad cough. My two small sons are sick, too. Thank you for standing with this ministry, chaverim.

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

 re·fa·ei·ni  Adonai  ve·ei·ra·fei
ho·shi·ei·ni  ve·iv·va·shei·ah,  ki  te·hil·la·ti  at·tah

"Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed;
save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise."
(Jer. 17:14)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card

Parashat Vayakhel (ויקהל)


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

02.20.11 (I Adar 16, 5771)  This week's Torah portion begins the account of the building of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle). This is the second time that the description of the Mishkan and its furnishings is given in the Torah (the first time occurred in the previous Torah readings of Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tisa), and therefore much of this material might seem somewhat redundant... 

Why is all this repeated?  For one thing, the LORD was showing that His purposes would not be thwarted, even if Israel's sin (i.e., the Golden Calf incident) caused a delay in His will. A second reason has to do with the fundamental importance of the Mishkan and the blood atonement rituals that allowed for communion with God. The Lord was trying to emphasize that the way to come before Him was through the blood of a sacrificial victim, and this would ultimately be fulfilled in the Person of the Messiah Himself.  Finally, I think that the two descriptions speak of the two advents of the Messiah Yeshua. In the first advent the Jewish people missed their opportunity for national atonement, but in the second advent they will be cleansed as a nation on the great Yom Kippur, when "all Israel shall be saved" by the One whom they initially rejected but who will be finally realized as their true Deliverer.

Before the account of the Mishkan is given, Moses assembled (וַיַּקְהֵל) the people together to repeat the commandment that the Sabbath was to be a day of "complete rest to the LORD" - shabbat shabbaton la-Adonai (שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן לַיהוָה), and "whoever does any work (מְלָאכָה) on it shall be put to death." In particular, Moses emphasized the prohibition against kindling fire (Exod. 35:3). In Jewish tradition, this latter restriction was used to justify why the last bit of "work" performed before Shabbat begins is the kindling of the Shabbat candles: the woman of the house first lights the candles (18 minutes before sundown when Shabbat begins) and then says the blessing over the flames, officially commencing the holiness of the day of rest.

Because the Torah juxtaposes refraining from work on the Shabbat with the construction of the Mishkan, the sages regarded the two as complementary and mutually exclusive. In other words, if we could identify the types of actions required to build the Mishkan (as well as its various furnishings, sacrifices, etc.), then we would know what actions not to perform on Shabbat, especially since the construction of the Mishkan was halted for Sabbath observance.  The sages who undertook this study eventually identified 39 categories of "work" (i.e., melakhah: מְלָאכָה) that were required to build the Mishkan, and called them Avot Melakhah, the "fathers" or primary categories, since they were the foundation, or the original source, for all toldot ("descendants"), or secondary types of work, that derived from them (Mishnah: Shabbat). In addition, since melakhah is primarily associated with God's work of creation as well as the activity used to create the Tabernacle, in general it may be said that it refers to "creative activity" (or to actions that promote such).

    "Why does the Torah place the commandment to cease work on Shabbat next to the work of the Mishkan? To teach us that a person is guilty of violating the Shabbat only if the work he does has a counterpart in the work of making the Sanctuary: they sowed (the herbs from which to make dyes for the tapestries); you, too, shall not sow [on Shabbat]. They harvested [the herbs]; you, too, shall not harvest. They loaded the boards from the ground onto the wagons; you, too, shall not bring an object from a public domain into a private domain." (Rashi on Shabbat 49b)

In this connection it should be noted that in Jewish tradition "work" does not necessarily mean physical labor per se.  For example, according to most interpretations of Jewish law, it's "kosher" to move a heavy sofa across the room on Shabbat but not to flip on a light switch or to carry a needle and thread out into the street!  If you look into this, you will quickly discover that the legal discussions about what exactly is and is not "work" gets very involved and convoluted. For example, the restriction not to kindle a fire on Shabbat has led Rabbinic authorities to "build a fence" (gezerah) around the commandment by forbidding turning on electronic devices or starting automobiles on the Sabbath (since both involve the generation of a "spark").  As Yeshua warned, however, confusing the means with the end is actually a perversion of the true intent of the Torah (Matt. 12:12; Mark 2:27; John 7:24).

Note: If it pleases God, I will add some more commentary to this portion later this week.

New Table Talk for Ki Tisa


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

02.18.11 (I Adar 14, 5771)  I managed to write a new "Table Talk" guide for Ki Tisa just in time for this week's Sabbath.  Like other Table Talk guides, I first provide a brief synopsis of the reading and then ask some discussion questions. I hope you find it helpful, chaverim.  You can download the page here

It's been a long week for me, with lots of writing, study, prayer, and seeking the Lord. We are all fighting colds over here, too, and our little one year old (Judah) has a bad cough with chest congestion.  I also deal with chronic pain. Please remember us in your prayers. 

Despite all that, I want to affirm my thanks to God, "who in the Messiah always leads us in a triumphal procession and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance (ὀσμή) of what it means to know him!  For we are the aroma (i.e., re'ach nicho'ach: רֵיחַ־נִיחוֹחַ) of the Messiah, both among those being saved and among those being lost; to the latter, we are the smell of death leading only to more death; but to the former, we are the sweet smell of life leading to more life. Who is sufficient for these things? (2 Cor. 2:14-16)

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim. We send again you our love in Yeshua.... Be well, stay strong, and may your Sabbath be filled with light, joy, peace, and holiness - despite the darkness of this evil world... "The end of all things is at hand (קֵץ כָּל־דָּבָר קָרוֹב); therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers" (1 Pet. 4:7). Soon and very soon, we are going to see our King!!!

The Surpassing Glory...
Paul's Midrash of the Veil


[ The following is related to this week's New Covenant reading for Ki Tisa (2 Cor. 3:1-18). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here... ]

02.17.11 (I Adar 13, 5771)  This week's reading from the New Testament concerns the Apostle Paul's "midrash" or commentary on the events surrounding the climax of the Sinai experience, namely, the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses. In order to establish his apostolic authority to the Corinthians, Paul argued that the veil worn over Moses' face concealed the "end of the law" (i.e., its eventual abolishment), since eternal righteousness would be given in the New Covenant, as was foretold by the prophets and fulfilled by Yeshua the Messiah.  In order to see how Paul made his case, we first need to review the original account in Exodus and then consider Paul's comments in light of that narrative. So first let's review the giving of the tablets at Sinai and then we will consider the application of Paul's midrash to the Corinthians....

The Tablets at Sinai

As our Torah portion this week (Ki Tisa) relates, Moses was up on Sinai, receiving the final instructions for building the portable sanctuary (i.e., the Tabernacle). Betzalel and Oholiav were named the chief artisans for the building project, and God reminded Moses to observe the Sabbath day. After this, God gave Moses the Tablets of the Ten Commandments: "And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God" (Exod. 31:18).

All seems well at this point until we read the following verse: "When the people saw that Moses was delayed (בשֵׁשׁ) to come down from the mountain, they gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, "Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him" (Exod. 32:1-2). What follows is the account of chet ha'egel, the "original sin" of the Jewish people (32:1-6). During this national tragedy, the people attempted to establish a counterfeit religion to guide them. First, while they "waited in the camp" as God's newly redeemed people, they coerced Aaron - the great leader of Israel who was Moses' mouthpiece before Pharaoh - to create an idol (i.e., egel masekhah: עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה, or a "molten calf"). They must have reasoned that an idol made by the hand of someone of the stature of Aaron would lend credibility to their pretense of having faith in the LORD. It is worth noting that it was the people - not Aaron - who said, "these are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt" (32:4). Aaron, however, "fashioned the calf with a graving tool," built an altar before it, and then made a proclamation that the following day would be a "feast to the LORD." The midrash states that Aaron did this to "buy time," since he believed that Moses would return by the following day. The next morning, however, Moses still had not returned, and the people clamored to offer "peace offerings" upon the altar. They ate and drank, and then "rose up to play" (32:6).

The Tablets Shattered...

While all this was happening at the foot of the mountain, the LORD informed Moses of the people's betrayal and threatened to annihilate them (32:7-10). Moses immediately made three appeals to the LORD on behalf of Israel. First he appealed to God's program of salvation itself (32:11); then he appealed to God's reputation among the nations (32:12), and finally he appealed to God's promises made to the patriarchs (32:13). Because of Moses' three appeals, the LORD "repented" (nacham), or turned away, from his plan to utterly destroy the Israelites (32:14).

Moses then descended the mountain with the two tablets of testimony (שְׁנֵי לֻחת הָעֵדֻת) in his hands, which the Torah adds, were "tablets written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written; the tablets were "the work of God" (מַעֲשֵׂה אֱלהִים), and the writing was "the writing of God" (מִכְתַּב אֱלהִים), engraved on the tablets" (32:15-16). When Moses saw the calf and the dancing, however, he smashed these precious tablets in anger (32:19). (The midrash states that Moses actually dropped the tablets because the glory had departed from Israel and they suddenly became too heavy to hold.)  Moses then took the idol they had made and burned it with fire, ground it to powder, and threw its dust into water which he made the people drink (32:20). He then confronted his brother Aaron who explained he was attempting to pacify the people and to buy some time before Moses returned (the sages note that Aaron was regarded as innocent of this crime as evidenced by his later appointment as the first High Priest of Israel). When Moses saw the nakedness and unrestraint of the people continuing, however, he stood at the gate of the camp and rallied for all those who were loyal to the LORD to come over to him. The entire tribe of Levi surrounded him and Moses ordered them to execute the instigators of the idolatry. The Torah adds that because of their loyalty, the Levites were to be ordained as ministers in the Tabernacle (32:25-29). According to Jewish tradition, Moses smashed the tablets on Tammuz 17, a date that later marked further tragedy for the Jewish people....

The Intercession of Moses

The following day Moses said to the people, "You have sinned a great sin. And now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement (kapparah) for your sin" (32:30). According to Jewish tradition, Moses ascended the mountain and remained there for another forty days and nights (i.e., from Tammuz 18 until Av 29). Upon the mountain Moses confessed the sin of the people and asked the LORD for forgiveness. He even offered to die on behalf of the people: "If you will not forgive their sin, blot me out of the book that you have written" (32:32). The LORD replied that all who sinned against Him would be "blotted out of his book," and He then sent a plague that destroyed those who were not judged by the Levites earlier. God then sent Moses back down and was told to lead the people away from Sinai back to the promised land. God would send His angel before the people, though He Himself would not go "in their midst" (33:1-3). "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey -- but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are am k'she oref (עַם־קְשֵׁה־ערֶף) - a stiff-necked people" (33:3). The LORD continued, "Say to the Israelite people, 'You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now, then, leave off your finery, and I will consider what to do to you' (33:5). In other words, the "Tabernacle project" was called off and God would not dwell among the people...  When the people heard this they mourned and removed their finery (33:6). Moses then returned to his tent, which was situated far away from the camp, and there the Pillar of Cloud (עַמּוּד הֶעָנָן) descended to meet with him "panim el panim" (פּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), an idiom that means personally, "as a man speaks to his friend" (33:11). It should be noted that panim el panim does not literally mean "face to face," since the narrative later states that no one can see God's face and live to tell about it (33:20).

During what I've called the "passion of Moses" (Exod. 33:12-19), the word grace (חֵן) occurs no less than six times.  Moses' appeal for God's grace was followed by his request for the revelation of the LORD's glory (33:18). The LORD agreed to reveal His glory to Moses, though Moses would be unable to see His face, "for man shall not see me and live" (33:20; cp. John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). Moses' successful intercession had touched God's heart, causing Him to change from a mode of strict judgment (middat ha-din) to one of mercy and forgiveness (middat ha-rachamim). This was a "gospel" moment at Sinai.... The Glory of the LORD is found in His Name YHVH, the Compassionate Savior and Redeemer of Israel.

A Second Set of Tablets

The LORD then told Moses to carve a new set of tablets and to meet him on the top of Mount Sinai the following day (34:1-4). According to Jewish tradition, this was on Elul 1. The shofar was sounded and an announcement went out through the camp that Moses was going back to receive a second set of tablets. The people began to pray for forgiveness. The LORD then descended in the cloud "and stood with him there" (וַיִּתְיַצֵּב עִמּוֹ שָׁם), as He called out the Name of the LORD (34:5). "The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation" (34:6-7). Upon hearing this, Moses bowed his head and worshipped, and then he said, "If now I have found grace (חֵן) in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance" (34:9).
The LORD then renewed the covenant with Moses and said, "Behold, I am 'cutting a covenant' (כּרֵת בְּרִית). Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD (מַעֲשֵׂה יְהוָה), for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you" (34:10). God then said he would drive out the nations before the Israelites and warned them to make no covenants with them. The Jews were to tear down their pagan altars and destroy their Asherah poles. "For the LORD, who name is "Jealous" (כִּי יְהוָה קַנָּא שְׁמוֹ), is a jealous God (34:14). The people were to abstain from any form of idolatry (34:17) and keep the prescribed festivals and Sabbath days (34:18-26). Moses was then instructed to write these words down as terms of the (renewed) covenant (34:27). "So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he (i.e., God) wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments" (34:28; cp. 34:1). According to Jewish tradition, during these forty days - from Elul 1 to Yom Kippur - the shofar was blown every day to remind the people to pray for Moses and for Israel. 

Moses' Veiled Face

When Moses finally came down from Mount Sinai with the second set of tablets, he did not know that "the skin of his face shone (קָרַן עוֹר פָּנָיו) because he had been talking with God" (34:29). (Incidentally, the verb translated "shone" here is karan (קָרַן), which was mistranslated by Jerome (i.e., author of the Latin Vulgate) as a form of the noun keren, which means a "horn." So rather than meaning, "to emit rays" (i.e., shine), Jerome understood it to mean "to grow horns" (cornuta), and this explains why various artists rendered Moses with "horns" jutting out of his head.)  When the people saw him, however, they drew back in fear, but Moses called them over and reassured them. He then reported all that the LORD had commanded while he was on Mount Sinai (34:30-32). "And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil (i.e., masveh: מַסְוֶה) over his face" (34:33). Thereafter it became Moses' practice that whenever he went to speak "before the LORD" (לִפְנֵי יְהוָה), he would remove the veil, but whenever he would speak to the people, he would put the veil back on (34:34-35). Note that according to Bachya, Moses would remove the veil when he delivered commandments from the LORD to the people, and when he was finished speaking to them, he would place the veil back over his face (34:35). According to midrash, the radiance on Moses' face was a reflection of the Divine Light God created on the first day - a light that was 60,075 times brighter than the sun.

According to Me'am Le'oz, the people were afraid of the radiance from Moses' face because of their sin with the idol. Earlier they had seen the divine Glory as a Pillar of Cloud by day and a Pillar of Fire by night, and they were not afraid. At the Sea of Reeds, after God destroyed the Egyptian army, the people sang, "This is my God, and I will enshrine Him (Exod. 15:2), indicating their reverential awe but not terror. However, after the sin of the Golden Calf, the people were afraid to look at the radiance of Moses' face.

In Jewish tradition, the veil was worn for the sake of Moses' humility.  Moses was described as the humblest man who ever lived (Num. 12:3), and therefore the veil was used to disguise his honor before the people. Moses did not want the people to think there was anything special about him, and that is why he removed the veil when he taught the Torah to the people. The people would then assume that the radiance was the result of God's Torah, and not from any supposed merit of his own. According to the sages, Moses retained this radiance until the day he died, as it is written: "His radiance did not diminish and his juices did not leave him" (Deut. 34:7).

Paul's Midrash of the Veil

As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, the Apostle Paul argued that the veil Moses wore after receiving the Ten Commandments concealed the "end of the law" (i.e., its eventually abolishment), since abiding righteousness would be given in the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) as was foretold by the prophets and fulfilled by Yeshua the Messiah. In other words, the veil was intended to "cover up" the fading glory of Sinai...

By way of background, it should be noted that Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians primarily to establish his authority as a true messenger of God and the Messiah. Apparently Paul's critics at Corinth had charged that he was not a genuine apostle, since he had altered his plans to visit the assembly sometime after his first letter was delivered. Paul defended his decision and then attempted to explain the nature of true apostleship.

"For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in the Messiah. Are we starting to recommend ourselves again? Or do we, like some, need letters of recommendation either to you or from you?" (2 Cor. 2:17-3:1). The proof of Paul's apostolic authority was revealed in the changed lives of the Corinthians themselves, who were "living letters of recommendation" regarding Paul's ministry. "You show that you are a 'letter' from Messiah delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (3:3). Paul's statement here recalls the great promise of the New Covenant delivered by the prophet Jeremiah:

    "Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer. 31:31-33).

Paul's reference to the Spirit writing upon the "tablets of human hearts" also recalls the words of the prophet Ezekiel: "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules" (Ezek. 36:26-27, see also 11:19-20). It was the fulfillment of the New Covenant, in other words, that gave Paul his confidence before the LORD (2 Cor. 3:4). It was the power of God, given by the Holy Spirit, that made Paul sufficient to be God's ambassador of the New Covenant, "not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:5-6).

The Surpassing Glory of the New Covenant

Paul then went on to argue for the superiority of the New Covenant by contrasting it with the older covenant "written upon stone" at Sinai.  While Paul acknowledged that the giving of the Ten Commandments was attended with great glory - so much so that the Israelites could not even gaze upon Moses' face because of its glory - nonetheless the covenant itself was "the ministry of death" (ἡ διακονία τοῦ θανάτου) that was intended to be brought to an end (2 Cor. 3:7, cp. Rom. 10:4). If this ministry of death came with glory, how much more glory is revealed in the ministry of the Spirit (ἡ διακονία τοῦ πνεύματος)? "For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation (τῇ διακονίᾳ τῆς κατακρίσεως), the ministry of righteousness (ἡ διακονία τῆς δικαιοσύνης) must far exceed it in glory (3:9). Indeed, the glory of the old covenant is as if it had no glory when compared to the unsurpassable glory of the new covenant (3:10). Since the old covenant was being abolished, or "rendered inoperative" (the Greek word [καταργούμενον] is used to refer to being unemployed or put out of service), and the new covenant was powerful and abiding, the apostle had "great boldness" as a minister of God (3:11-12). Indeed, Paul's boldness here is quite remarkable, since he was claiming that his authority exceeded even that of Moses himself! (Of course Paul derived his boldness from Yeshua, who clearly taught that His authority was greater than that of Moses. For more on this, see "The Heart of the Law and the Law of the Gospel.")

Paul states that his boldness (παρρησία) is in marked contrast to the practice of Moses, who put a veil over his face to conceal that the "brightness" of the older covenant was fading away (3:13). Apparently Paul has in mind a midrash that taught that Moses' shining face began to fade over time, even though later Jewish tradition maintained he retained his radiance to the day of his death. The fading glory of Moses' face indicated that the covenant which he mediated was temporary and to be replaced by a better covenant (Heb. 8:6). Moses' attempt to keep the confidence of the people high was unsuccessful, however, since (ironically) the veil impaired the truth that the glory was fading, and this resulted in "their minds becoming hardened" or turned to stone. "Their minds were made stonelike; for to this day the same veil remains over them when they read the Old Covenant (הַבְּרִית הַיְשָׁנָה); it has not been unveiled, because only by the Messiah is the veil taken away (3:14). When a person returns (ἐπιστρέφω) to the LORD, however, the veil is taken away (3:16). How so? By understanding that Yeshua is the "end (τέλος) of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes" (Rom. 10:4). This was hinted at in the case of Moses himself, who turned to the LORD after the sin of the Golden Calf and understood the LORD (YHVH) as the Savior. When the Spirit of God reveals the truth, the Messiah appears on all the pages of the Torah and the prophets (John 5:39, 46; Luke 24:27, 44; Matt. 13:52, etc.).

New covenant life is marked by a different set of principles than the principles of adherence to a written lawcode. The Spirit of the LORD imparts a new nature within us that enables us to transcend the "law of sin and death" by means of the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua the Messiah" (Rom. 8:2-4). We are "new creations" in the Messiah and no longer subject to the principle of self-justification obtained through personal effort (2 Cor. 5:17; Titus 3:5-6). The righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ) "has been manifested apart from the law, though the law and the prophets bear witness to it" (Rom. 3:21-22). Salvation comes from the LORD, not from works of righteousness that we have done. "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Yeshua the Messiah (John 1:17).

The law prescribes death as the penalty for sin (Rom. 5:12-21). "Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them" (Deut. 27:26). Moreover, the law defines transgressions (Rom 4:15; 5:13) and identifies sin (Rom. 3:20; 7:7). The law is powerless to save (Rom. 7:10; 8:1-11). It is a "perfect mirror" that reveals our inward condition (for more on this, see "Why then the Law?", "Olam HaTorah," and "The problem of Torah"). "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). The law was given in glory, since that glory represents the Justice and Righteousness of God (אלהִים), but the glory of the law was untouched by the greater glory of God's grace and faithful love (יהוה)...

Our Freedom in Messiah

"The LORD is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). This is the "freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21). Of course this freedom is not the liberty to do whatever we want, since "by what a man is overcome, that is he enslaved" (2 Pet. 2:19). As Yeshua said, "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin" and went on to say that "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom is moral and spiritual rather than physical. Negatively stated, it is freedom from the power of sin's dominion within the heart; positively stated, it is the ability of the will to choose according to the light of moral and spiritual truth. That is why the new covenant promises that the law - the moral law that is clearly restated in the New Testament - would be written upon the heart of the believer. "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts" (Jer. 31:33).

True Inner Transformation

More radically, the Spirit of the LORD gives us freedom to access the Presence of God (Rom. 5:2). Because of Yeshua, we are now free to come "boldly before the Throne of Grace," without the need for the elaborate rituals the law prescribed. We can come into the "Holy of Holies" made without hands and there speak with God, panim el panim - personally, "as a man speaks to his friend" (Heb. 4:16; Exod. 33:11; John 15:15; James 2:23). God has given us the Spirit of His Son so we can call upon the LORD as Abba, Father (Gal. 4:6). This great liberty the Spirit of God gives allows us to behold the glory of the LORD, without the need of a veil - neither the veil to cover our shame nor the veil that once separated us from God's holy presence. As Paul puts it, "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29). In other words, true inner transformation comes exclusively through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Just as the proximity to the divine Presence caused Moses' face to shine, so the follower of Yeshua can experience a similar transformation by the indwelling Holy Spirit.... And since the role of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Yeshua (John 16:14), beholding the glory of God in Yeshua transforms us into God's likeness "from glory to glory" by the Spirit.

This is the great message of the gospel itself, and the consequences of getting this wrong are the highest imaginable (Gal. 1:8-9). As wonderful as the Torah is, it is nothing but death itself apart from the salvation given in Yeshua (on the other hand, with Yeshua the meaning of the Torah comes alive and is made real in our hearts).  As Paul warns us, "If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing (ἀπολλυμένοις). In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Messiah (אוֹר כְּבוֹד בְּשׂוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ), who is the image of God... For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:3-6). The light of Yeshua is the Light of the world...

"Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven
is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure
what is new and what is old" (
Matt. 13:52).

The Integrity of the Message

The integrity of the Gospel is at stake in this discussion, and therefore we must be absolutely certain we understand the truth about these matters. We cannot "adulterate" or mix the message of the gospel with the terms of the older covenant given at Sinai. In yet another analogy, Paul says that a widow is released from her obligation to her deceased husband and is therefore free to remarry another: "Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law (ὑμεῖς ἐθανατώθητε τῷ νόμω) through the body of Messiah, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God" (Rom. 7:4). In terms of this analogy, a "return to the law" is like a form of spiritual adultery, since it betrays the new covenant that God has given to us who believe (Rom. 7:1-4).

The most important mitzvah of ALL of Scripture is to trust in Yeshua as your LORD and Savior, since He alone is the one who gives us true spiritual life. "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39). Yeshua is the way (הַדֶּרֶךְ), the truth (הָאֱמֶת), and the life (הַחַיִּים); no one comes to Father apart from Him (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). As Yeshua said, "The Father judges has given all judgment to the Son, so that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father" (John 5:23-24). "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:12). If you get this one wrong, you've lost it all (for more on this, please read "The Most Important Mitzvah").

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

In all things Yeshua receives the preeminence, friends, including the glory of our personal and corporate salvation. We do not merit salvation; it is the gift of God  (Col. 1:18, Eph. 2:10-11). Much more could be said about these matters, but this will have to suffice for now. Be jealous for the purity of the gospel message, and beware of anyone who attempts to seduce you into thinking that you must somehow add to the finished work of our Savior. May the LORD God of Israel protect you from the lies and schemes of Satan. True spiritual life comes from trusting that Yeshua (alone) is the "end of the law for righteousness" for everyone who believes (Rom. 10:4).


Extending Paul's Midrash...

The apostle Paul seemed to associate the "glow" of Moses' face with the giving of the covenant that led to condemnation (2 Cor. 3:7). In other words, the radiance of Moses' face represented the holiness of God and his absolute moral perfection as the Lawgiver. Another way to understand the radiance of Moses' face might be according to the revelation of the Lord as the Savior... Let me explain my reasoning.

Recall that Moses went up the mountain a second time - after experiencing brokenness and confession (prefigured by the shattering of the first set of tablets) - and it was only then that God revealed that the meaning of His Name as "mercy, grace, longsuffering, faithfulness," and so on (Exod. 34:6-7). Notice that the Torah reveals that it was after this revelation that Moses' face began to shine with the glory of God, and it was after this that God gave him a new set of tablets representing the New Covenant with the people. When Moses went down the mountain with the "good news," however, the people backed away from the glory they saw in his face, and Moses was therefore forced to wear a veil. In other words, the people could only bear to look at Moses if God's glory was covered or veiled – and this demand of theirs induced a state of willful blindness. Metaphorically speaking, the people put a veil over their hearts...

Indeed, traditional Judaism still wants the "first set of tablets" and therefore willfully obscures from view the need for a new set (i.e., New Covenant) that is given based on confession, brokenness, and God's revelation as Savior (YHVH). It still wants to veil this need as it reads the Torah!  The rabbis make the assumption that the Jew can fulfill the terms of the original covenant and therefore obtain merit or favor before God. However, as Paul stated, the Jewish people will only be able to behold the true glory of the LORD if the Messiah takes away the veil from their eyes. Once the veil is removed, they will clearly see the truth of Yeshua and the New Covenant in the pages of the Torah... Furthermore, unlike Moses who - in concession to the weakness of the flesh - concealed God's glory by wearing a veil, we are to live our lives "unveiled" before others, steadfastly radiating the glory God as it is revealed in the truth of Yeshua and the New Covenant....


When considering the contrasts between "the law and the gospel," it is vital to remember that we are discussing something inherently Jewish. The ideas of grace, salvation, faith, and so on are all 100% Jewish concepts given throughout the Jewish Scriptures -- both in the Tanakh and in the New Testament writings. "Two mountains, two covenants," yes - but both are Jewish... There is a unity of revelation in Scripture, and the LORD God of Israel is the same today, yesterday, and forever. Keeping this in mind will guard you from the egregious errors of Replacement Theology.

But we also need to remember something else whenever this discussion comes up. "Torah" is a function-word of the underlying covenant. Much of the moral and spiritual truth of the Torah of Moses is embedded (and even amplified) in the New Covenant Scriptures. What is different is not so much the Torah (the New Testament writers do not negate the moral or spiritual law at any place), but rather the means by which we are in relationship with God. God gave us an new brit ("agreement" or "contract") by which we can access His Presence by means of an older and more fundamental priesthood that was fulfilled in Yeshua. This is the priesthood after the order of Malki-Tzedek, and we see the future korban principle evidenced by Moses -- before Sinai -- when he instructed Israel to sacrifice the Passover lamb. Moses himself understood the gospel, as Yeshua taught, and wrote about its meaning (i.e., the Akedah of Isaac; the Red Heifer, the various laws of sacrifice, etc.). It is simply a mistake to identify "Torah" with the teachings of Moses alone, however... God's Torah both predates Moses and is fulfilled by Yeshua. We now live under the Torah of the Messiah (תּוֹרַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ), which is the Torah of Faith, Hope, and Love...  The inner meaning of the Torah of Moses has been perfectly fulfilled in Yeshua our Lord, and now we are enabled - by the power of the Holy Spirit - to likewise fulfill it within our own lives.

In all these matters, follow the path of peace. Shalom chaverim...

The Sign of the Sabbath...


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

02.15.11 (I Adar 11, 5771)  How important is the idea of the Sabbath day to you? Are you a Christian who goes to Church on Sunday, believing this is the "Lord's Day?"  If so, please prayerfully consider the following entry, which hopefully will challenge some of your assumptions and help you better discern the truth of the Scriptures....

Recall that after the people heard the Voice of the LORD speak at Mount Sinai, they drew back in fear and begged Moses to be their mediator before God. The LORD then called out to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction" (Exod. 24:12). The "tablets of stone" (לֻחת הָאֶבֶן) referred to the sapphire blocks engraved with the Ten Commandments, of course, whereas (as explained before) the "law and the commandment" (וְהַתּוֹרָה וְהַמִּצְוָה) referred to the detailed instructions for creating the Tabernacle and establishing the sacrificial system of the Torah. In this week's Torah portion (Ki Tisa), just after God finished explaining the final details of the Mishkan and named Betzalel as its chief architect, He turned his attention back to the Ten Commandments. Before He actually handed the physical tablets to Moses, however, the LORD elaborated on the importance of observing the Sabbath day:

    "Above all you shall keep (שָׁמַר) my Sabbaths, for this is a sign (אוֹת) between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the LORD, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you (כִּי קדֶשׁ הִוא לָכֶם). Everyone who profanes it (חָלַל) shall be put to death (מָוֶת). Whoever does any work (מְלָאכָה) on it, that soul shall be cut off (כָּרַת) from among his people. Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest (שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן), holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work (מְלָאכָה) on the Sabbath day shall be put to death. 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 לְעוֹלָם) between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed." (Exod. 31:12-17)

Before commenting on this passage, I'd like to point out how remarkable it is that God would repeat and elaborate upon the Fourth Commandment just before He was about to hand the tablets to Moses (Exod. 31:18). After all, God could have reviewed each of the Ten Commandments with Moses at this time; or, in light of the subsequent narrative concerning the dreadful sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 32:1-29), God could have repeated the warning against idolatry. So why did the LORD stress the importance of observing the Sabbath at this critical moment?

As this passage makes clear, the Sabbath was intended to commemorate God as our personal Creator, King, and Judge (Gen. 1:31-2:2). It is a "sign" that God has set us apart as His own treasured people. In Moses' restatement of the Torah given later, we are further commanded to remember the Sabbath day in light of God's redemption: "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day" (Deut. 5:15). In other words, the Sabbath is a weekly reminder that the LORD is both our Creator and our Redeemer....

Some commentators believe that the commandment to "guard" the Sabbath is placed at this point in the narrative in light of the work that was required to create the Tabernacle. Even though its construction was sanctified work, the workmen must not overlook the sacred institution of the Sabbath, since that would confuse the means with the end of the Sanctuary itself.  Indeed, the sages regarded the word shavat (rest) as a technical term, understood to be the opposite melakhah (work). What is work, then? The sages identified 39 creative activities that were required for the creation, set up, and maintenance of the Mishkan and its furnishings. These 39 activities are called the Avot Melakhah, the "fathers of work," and are regarded as foundational categories for understanding other types of work which are similar and derived from them.

The Sabbath is called brit olam (בְּרִית עוֹלָם), an "everlasting covenant," like the sign of the creation itself (Gen. 1:31-2:2), the sign of the rainbow (Gen. 9:16), the act of ritual circumcision (Gen. 17:7, 13,19), the promises made to the patriarchs (Psalm 105:8-10), the promises given to King David (2 Sam. 23:5; Isa. 55:3), and the promises that one day God would restore the Jewish people by renewing covenant with them (Jer. 32:37-40). The fact that the prophet Ezekiel lamented that Israel did not honor the sign of the covenant and therefore experienced God's wrath (Ezek. 20:12-14) did not imply that the LORD had abandoned the Jewish people, of course, especially since the prophet later speaks of the renewal of the covenant with the Jewish people in the latter days (e.g., Ezek. 37:26). The Sabbath is the sign (אוֹת), the identifying mark, of a Jew. It is a "statement of faith," a visible practice of bittachon, that honors the LORD as both our Creator and our Redeemer.

The penalty for desecrating the Sabbath was severe, namely death itself. The sages discuss this at some length, wondering how the death penalty is to be understood in light of the law that saving a life (pikuach nefesh) must take precedence over the laws of the Sabbath. Doesn't pikuach nefesh imply that no Jew should ever be put to death for the sake of the Sabbath? The sages answer by noting the qualification given in the text itself: "for whoever does any work on it shall be cut off (כָּרַת) from among his people." This "cutting off" means being severed from his or her roots, and therefore the profane person has effectively become dead to the things of the spirit already.

Now whatever else your theology of "Sabbath" might imply, one thing is clear: the Sabbath day (יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת) begins on Friday at sundown and lasts until after sundown on Saturday (i.e., Havdalah). The idea that Sunday replaces the Sabbath in the Divine Calendar is therefore simply not true, and there is no evidence whatsoever that Yeshua called for His followers to rest on a different day of the week other than the Sabbath. Indeed, it is unthinkable that the King of the Jews - the LORD of Glory who spoke from the midst of the fire at Sinai to Moses - would repeal this commandment or otherwise contradict Himself, especially since the Sabbath foreshadowed His deeper work of salvation in our lives. On the contrary, Yeshua no more repealed the Fourth Commandment in light of the Cross than He repealed the commandment against adultery (Matt. 5:28) or murder (1 John 3:15).

Of course there is some controversy regarding the issue of what day might be best to corporately worship the LORD, whether it is Shabbat or another day of the week (Rom. 14:5), but it needs to be remembered that the Sabbath day was primarily set apart as a time for kedushah (holiness), menuchah (rest), and oneg (joy), and later synagogue services were intended to serve these ends. The quarrel Yeshua had with the Pharisees of His day concerned the addition of "fences" (gezerot) that obscured the deeper meaning of rest as a means of healing and life. "Shabbat was made for man, and not man for Shabbat" (Mark 2:27), which means it is a gift of God to us, a time of rest and reflection, a joyful time set apart from the busy week when we can focus on what is really important in our lives. Yeshua's acts of healing on the Sabbath were intended to teach that there is no rightful law against meeting the needs of others before fulfilling religious obligations...

Nonetheless, there is a nagging question about what day of the week we should regard as the "Lord's Day."  Of course Christian tradition, following the lead of the early church fathers of Rome, taught that Sunday was the "new" Lord's Day, and the weekly Sabbath was to be consigned to the "Old Testament" of God's wrath. Of course this is a cartoonish viewpoint that is blind to the grace revealed in the Torah, but it is a view that nevertheless has prevailed in Christendom, and many followers of the Messiah have long suffered by this confused perspective. 

Of course it is important to always read the Scriptures in context, since that often eliminates potential sources of misinterpretation. For example, those who seek to justify the change from Saturday to Sunday as the "Lord's Day" have argued that Paul's instruction to offer contributions on the "first day of the week" (i.e., not on the Sabbath) reveals that the earliest Christians worshipped on Sunday (1 Cor. 16:2). However, given the Jewish background of the Apostle Paul, it is more likely to understand his request in terms of avoiding the prohibition of handling money on the Sabbath day (which was traditionally regarded a profane practice). Furthermore, while it is true that Yeshua was raised from the dead on Saturday night (i.e., before sunrise on the first day of the week), it is clear that God's act of raising His Son was performed only after the Sabbath day was complete.... God did not even perform the work of the resurrection on the Sabbath day!

Perhaps the most popular argument offered that Sunday should replace the Sabbath as the "Lord's Day" comes from the argument that the Holy Spirit was given on "Pentecost Sunday." However, it begs the question whether Pentecost (i.e., Shavuot) indeed occurred on Sunday rather than on another day of the week.  Recall that the Torah commanded that 49 days were to be counted from the "day following the Sabbath" of Passover until Shavuot, or "Pentecost." This is called the Omer Count in Jewish tradition.  The Saduccees (and later the Karaites) believed that the count should begin following the first weekly Sabbath after Passover (i.e., Sunday), whereas Jewish tradition maintained that countdown should begin on the day following the Sabbath of the Passover day. The key phrase is mi-machorat ha-shabbat (מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת), "the day after the Sabbath."  Does this phrase refer to Sunday or to the Sabbath of Passover? Jewish tradition has held that this refers to the day after the Sabbath of Passover, and this of course implies that Pentecost could occur on any day of the week, not just on a Sunday, as some Christian theologians attempt to argue. Indeed, the Greek text of Matthew 28:1 uses the plural word for Sabbath (σαββάτων) to indicate that just this sort of distinction was used during the time of the resurrection of Yeshua....

Another verse that is sometimes cited to establish the idea of "Sunday" worship is Rev. 1:10, where it is written, "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet." Some teachers will claim that the Apostle had his vision on a Sunday, since it says, "on the Lord's day..."  The Greek text for this phrase, however, (i.e., ἡ κυριακῇ ἡμέρα), does not suggest a particular day of the week, but rather refers to the great "Day of the LORD," that is, Yom Adonai (יוֹם יְהוָה), of which the apostle John was to receive his great vision.

Finally, it is clear that the Sabbath will be honored in the Millennial Kingdom to come, and indeed, in the heavenly state. Speaking of the coming Kingdom of God that will be established upon the earth, the prophet Isaiah foretold: "From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath (שַׁבָּת בְּשַׁבַּתּוֹ), all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD" (Isa. 66:23). Since this vision concerns the prophetic future, it is clear that the Sabbath day (as well as Rosh Chodesh, the new moon) will be observed. Likewise, in the heavenly Jerusalem to come, the Tree of Life is said to yield "twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month" (Rev. 22:2). Notice that the "twelve fruits" (καρποὺς δώδεκα) from the Tree of Life are directly linked to the "twelve months" of the Jewish year (κατὰ μῆνα ἕκαστον ἀποδιδοῦν τὸν καρπὸν αὐτοῦ: "each month rendering its fruit"). In other words, the sequence of the holidays (moedim) - including the Sabbath - were always intended to teach us great revelation about God. That is why God created the Sun and the Moon for signs and for "appointed times" (Gen. 1:14). As it is also written: "He made the moon to mark the appointed times (לְמוֹעֲדִים); the sun knows its time for setting" (Psalm 104:19). Note further that the Majority Text of Revelation 22:14 reads: "Blessed are those who do His commandments (Μακάριοι οἱ ποιοῦντες τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ) so that they may have access the Tree of Life..." Faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin.

There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. The Sabbath is a delight – not a burden; a time for celebrating your personal rest in our Messiah Yeshua (Isa. 58:13; Heb. 4:9). Indeed, all those who honor the Sabbath - including the "foreigners" of Israel - reveal that they honor the LORD and hold faith in His promises:

    Thus says the LORD: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, for soon my salvation will come, and my righteousness be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil." Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people"; and let not the eunuch say, "Behold, I am a dry tree." For thus says the LORD: "To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant - these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares, "I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered." (Isa. 56:1-8)



Just as there is a deeper sense of Torah that Paul appealed to make his case that he was not teaching "against the law" (e.g., Gal. 3:16-18), so there is a deeper sense of rest (שָׁבַת) that God promised those who are trusting in Him (מְנוּחַת שַׁבָּת, Heb.4:9). This rest comes from trusting in the finished work of Yeshua as our Torah righteousness before the Father. The principle of Sabbath is valid, just as the principle of adhering to faithful love is (i.e., the positive expression of the commandment not to commit adultery). Of course the statement that "there is a rest for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9-10) refers to the deeper sense of peace that comes from resting in the Lord's provision given in the Messiah...

As God's children, we are given precious liberty in the Messiah (Gal. 5:1). We no longer need to observe rituals to call upon the LORD and to be in a relationship with Him.  The question of what day of the week we should set aside for corporate worship is addressed in Romans 14:5.  We are to be "fully persuaded in his own mind" (ἕκαστος ἐν τῷ ἰδίῳ νοῒ πληροφορείσθω) and to act accordingly.

My point in this article is pretty simple, however. The Torah plainly teaches the sanctity of the Sabbath day, and there is no compelling reason to think that day was ever "changed" or to be "replaced" by Sunday, even in light of the fact of the resurrection of Yeshua on the "first day of the week." Churches that teach that Sunday replaces the Shabbat are simply wrong and need to be corrected, though that does not necessarily invalidate Sunday worship, of course.  We are free to worship the Lord on any day or night of the week -- at any time.... I only take issue with teachers in the Christian tradition who dogmatically insist that we should regard Sunday as a "type" or "fulfillment" of Sabbath.  For example, one popular Evangelical teacher writes: "the early church embraced Sunday rather than Saturday as "the Lord's Day," because God's new creation was decisively purchased on Good Friday and inaugurated by the resurrection on "the first day of the week."  This statement is wrong for several reasons, since Yeshua was not crucified on a Friday, and the first day of the week was never intended to replace the Torah's plain teaching about the Sabbath, as explained above. The idea that Sunday is the "Christian Sabbath" is yet another expression of "replacement theology" and its theological assumptions.

At any rate, in all things we are called to follow the path of peace (Heb. 12:14). Ask the Lord to give you wisdom regarding these matters. Shalom, chaverim.

Parashat Ki Tisa - כי תשא


02.13.11 (I Adar 9, 5771)  The Torah reading for this week is Ki Tisa, one of the Torah's longest. It includes the account of the Sin of the Golden Calf (עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה) and Moses' intercession for Israel. After a period of teshuvah (repentance) for Israel's idolatry, the LORD graciously revealed the thirty-two words that have become known in Jewish tradition as the Shelosh Esrei Middot, the Thirteen Attributes of God's Mercy. This was the LORD's own definition of His character and attributes to Moses after the breaking of the covenant.  See the Parashah Summary for the Hebrew text and audio of this vital revelation from God.

וְחַנּתִי אֶת־אֲשֶׁר אָחן וְרִחַמְתִּי אֶת־אֲשֶׁר אֲרַחֵם

ve·cha·no·ti  et  a·sher  a·chon,  ve·ri·cham·ti  et  a·sher  a·ra·chem

"And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,
and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
(Exod 33:19)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card


In this week's portion, God commanded that all Israelites over the age of twenty were required to help support the Sanctuary: "each shall give (וְנָתְנוּ) a ransom for his life to the LORD" (Exod. 30:12). The sages note that the word ve'natnu can be written backward and forward, alluding to the idea that whoever gives tzedekah (i.e., "charity") never feels the loss of having given anything away (Bava Batra). Giving benevolence produces wealth; tzedakah is an investment in your spiritual future! Indeed, "charity saves from death" - tzedakah hatzil mi-mavet: / צְדָקָה תַּצִּיל מִמָּוֶת (Prov. 10:2; 11:4). The love of God is like that: when we give it away, it becomes our own possession. The converse is also true. If we withhold from others, then eventually God will make it so that we are unable to give what we would have given had we the opportunity (and consequently, we lose our blessing). In this age of economic fear, giving tzedakah is truly countercultural and faith-affirming: but the truth abides: when we give, we receive....

The midrash Yalkut Shimoni adds that God showed many great treasures to Moses. "To whom does this treasure belong?" asked Moses. "To those who give tzedakah," answered God. "And to whom does this one belong?" "To those who support orphans." And thus did God answer him regarding each treasure.  Finally, Moses came upon a certain treasure and asked, "To whom does this belong?" "This belongs to one who has no merit of his own. I give him this treasure unearned," replied God. This is referred to in the words, "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious" (Exod. 33:19). God's love is given freely, even to those who are undeserving. That's the message of the Cross of Yeshua, after all. God's love and grace is poured out to those who are without merit or hope. 

Note: Please (please) keep this ministry in your prayers, chaverim. Things have been stressful for us lately and I am weary.  Thank you so much....

New Table Talk for Tetzaveh


[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Tetzaveh), which begins with instructions for kindling the menorah. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.11.11 (I Adar 7, 5771)  I managed to write a new "Table Talk" guide for Tetzaveh just in time for this week's Sabbath.  Like other Table Talk guides, I first provide a brief synopsis of the reading and then ask some discussion questions. I hope you find it helpful, chaverim.  You can download the page here

The role of the priest (כּהֵן) was to bring people close to God. Indeed, the word "korban" (sacrifice) means being brought near (karov). Aaron wore the "breastplate of judgment" over his heart as a token of the weight of people's suffering; his role was to represent the heart of the people before God. How do you understand Yeshua as your Priest before the Father?

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim. We send you our love in Yeshua.... Be well, stay strong, and may your Sabbath be filled with light, joy, peace, and holiness - despite the chaos and darkness of this evil world...

Korban Tamid


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

02.11.11 (I Adar 7, 5771)   The "Korban tamid" (קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) was the sacrifice of a lamb every morning and afternoon upon the altar at the Tabernacle. Along with it, a bread and wine offering were required, thereby prefiguring the Lamb of God and his sacrifice for us (Exod. 29:38-42). When the priest was consecrated for service, the blood of the "ram of ordination" was placed on his right earlobe, right thumb, and big toe of the right foot (Exod. 29:19-20). Likewise we are called to present our bodies as a "living sacrifice" (i.e., korban chai: קָרְבָּן חַי) in our own service to the LORD (Rom. 12:1-2). May God give each of us the courage to take up our cross daily...

More on the Tabernacle...


[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Tetzaveh), which continues the instructions from last week's Torah portion regarding the creation of the Tabernacle, or the "Mishkan." Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.10.11 (I Adar 6, 5771)   In an effort to be thorough regarding the study of our last two Torah portions (Terumah and Tetzaveh), I thought it would be worthwhile to review a few other elements of the Tabernacle, or the Mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן). Of course there are a number of outstanding resources available for studying these matters in great detail, such as the Kleinman Edition of the Mishkan (available here) and the Mishkan Illuminated available from Judaica Press, both of which I recommend for further study.

For our purposes, however, I think it is worthwhile to remember that first of all the Mishkan was the product of a divine-human partnership. God asked for terumah (תְּרוּמָה), that is, a donation for the materials, and then He promised to manifest His Presence among the people. Moreover, when God instructed Moses to ask the people for a donation, He said they were to "take" (לָקַח) - not give - from their substance, because a gift made to the LORD is really a means of receiving great blessing in the world to come.  The LORD said the donation was "for Me" (לִי), which the sages understood to mean "for my Name" (לִשְׁמִי). Of course God does not need anything since He is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth, but He extends to us the opportunity to sanctify His Name from our own substance. In other words, the LORD asked for "gifts from the heart" to create a "place" for Him: "Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The Hebrew word for "sanctuary" is mikdash (מקְדָּשׁ), which comes from the root word kadash (קָדַשׁ), "to be set apart as sacred." A mikdash is therefore a "set apart space," or a "holy place" that represents something treasured - a place of beauty and worship, a refuge, a place of rest. The "material" required to make this place was ultimately the heart, expressed in freewill offerings given to God, and the blessing received would result in treasured peace and joy....

It should further be noted that God required the Mishkan to be made exactly according to His specifications, since it was intended to reveal a hidden, spiritual reality that ultimately would be fulfilled in the ministry of Yeshua our Messiah. The Torah therfore repeatedly states that Moses should make all the elements precisely according to the pattern (תַּבְנִית) revealed to him at Sinai. "Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it" (Exod. 25:9, Heb. 8:5). A study of the Mishkan reveals the "blueprint" for God's redemption given through the atoning sacrifice of His Son, who served as our great High Priest after the order of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק). (For more information about the role of Yeshua as our High Priest, see the article "Yom Kippur and the Gospel.")

A note about measurements

Before we look at some of the elements of the Mishkan, we should be familiar with the measurement system commonly used to discuss it.  Apparently the ancient Israelite system of measurement used the width of a finger (אֶצְבַּע) as its basic unit of measure. Four fingers wide, or a "handbreadth," is called a tefach (טֶפַח), which measures roughly 3.5" (8.9 cm). The plural of tefach is tefachim (טְפָחִים). Now six tefachim, or "hands," is called an amah (אַמָּה), which measures roughly 21" (an amah is sometimes called a "cubit"). The plural of amah is amot (אַמּוֹת).

  1. Etzbah (אֶצְבַּע) - a fingerbreadth; roughly .875" (plural is etzba'ot)
  2. Tefach (טֶפַח) - a handbreadth; roughly 3.5" (plural is tefachim)
  3. Amah (אַמָּה) - six handbreadths (i.e., "cubit"); roughly 21" (plural is amot)

Overview of the Tabernacle

The Mishkan would consist of two main parts: a tent-like structure called the ohel (אהֶל) and an outer court called the chotzer (חָצֵר). The tent was 30 amot long (52.5') and 10 amot wide (17.5') and was to be divided into two separate chambers. The innermost chamber was called the "Most Holy place" (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים), measuring 10x10 amot, that would enclose the Ark of the Testimony (אֲרוֹן הָעֵדֻת). The Most Holy place was to be separated from an adjoining chamber (called the "Holy place") by means of an intricately woven curtain called the parochet. The Holy place was divided into two regions. In the region closest to the parochet were to be placed three special furnishings: a table of "showbread" (שֻׁלְחָן), a menorah (מְנוֹרָה), and an altar of incense (מִזְבַּח הַקְּטרֶת). The altar of incense (often called the Golden Altar) occupied the exact center of the Holy place. The outer court of the Mishkan measured 100 amot long (175') by 50 amot wide (87.5'). On the east side of the courtyard, 30 amot from the entrance, a copper altar was to be used for daily sacrifices. In addition, a copper water basin was to be used by the priests after performing their ministrations. The outer court was to be surrounded by a series of interconnecting posts held in place by silver sockets, from which curtains of blue, purple, and scarlet linen were to be hung. Here is a very simplified diagram of the layout:

Mishkan Layout


The Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים)

The Holy Ark (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ)

The first element of the Mishkan was a chest or "ark" (i.e., aron: אֲרוֹן) that is described in Exodus 25:10-22. The ark was essentially a wooden box measuring 2.5 amot in length (i.e., 52.5") and 1.5 amot in width and height (31.5"). This wooden box was covered by another (larger) box, made of pure gold, that surrounded it, and the inside of wooden box contained a (smaller) gold box that covered the inside. In other words, the ark was composed of three separate (and overlapping) boxes: a wooden box covered by a gold box with another gold box inside.  The outermost box also had a border (or "diadem") called a zer (זֵר) that would hold the cover (kapporet) in place (Exod. 25:11). Four rings of gold were placed on the upper corners of the outer box, used for two gold-covered carrying poles (Exod. 24:14).


Interestingly, unlike the other furnishings of the Mishkan, the poles of the ark were never to be removed, and the ends of the poles were therefore made thicker than the width of the rings (Yoma 72a). The exact length of the poles of the ark is unknown. When the ark was carried, the poles rested on the shoulders of the Levites.

The ark was the holiest object of the Mishkan and a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. It was the only furnishing placed in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Inside the ark were placed the two tablets (i.e., the luchot) and the Sefer Habrit (the scroll containing the mishpatim that was ratified by the elders of Israel at Sinai). Jewish tradition also says that an additional scroll containing the 70 Names of God was also placed within the ark (Baal Haturim).  A wooden copy of the Ark (sometimes called the "war ark") was later taken into battle by the war priests (Deut. 10:1).

The Kapporet (כַּפּרֶת)

Upon the ark was placed the kapporet, a cover of pure gold (sometimes called the "Mercy Seat") upon which were to be fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that would face one another (Exod. 25:17-18). The kapporet rested upon the top walls of the ark - just inside the outer box - and was held in place by the crown (or border) of the ark. The cherubim were made from the same piece of gold as the kapporet. According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), the cherubim resembled children - one boy and one girl - and measured ten tefachim to the top of their heads (i.e., 35").  The wings of the cherubim were spread upward, over their heads, covering most of the cover, while their eyes gazed upon the ark (Exod. 25:20). From between the outstretched wings of the cherubim God would appear to reveal additional Torah (Exod. 25:22). God's Word would descend from heaven to the space between the cherubim, where Moses would be able to hear it at the appointed time.


The Holy Place (הַקּדֶש)

Three sacred objects were to be placed within the Holy Place (הַקּדֶשׁ) of the Tabernacle: the Table that held the "bread of faces" (Exod. 25:23-30), the Menorah (Exod. 25:31-40), and the Golden Altar of Incense (Exod. 30:1-10). It is worth noting that although the Holy Place was an area of the tent intended for the priests to serve, non-Levites could come into this area of the Tabernacle on occasion, and some were even honored with lighting the menorah on special occasions.

The Table (שֻׁלְחָן)


The table held the bread that was to be ritually eaten by the priests as they served in the tabernacle (Exod. 25:30). The root word of shulchan (table) is shalach (שׁלח), meaning "to send," and is therefore symbolic of God's provision for his people. We eat food at our tables in order to be "sent" into the world in service to the LORD. A midrash stated that any priest who ate a portion of the lechem ha-panim (the bread of presence) the size of a bean was completely satisfied. 

The table itself was made out of acacia wood covered with pure gold. The table top was 1 tefach thick (3.5") with a supporting frame that had a diadem or crown (Exod. 25:24-25). The four legs were attached to the frame (though some say that frame appeared above the top, like a tray, and therefore the legs were attached directly to the top). The table measured 2 amot in length (42"), 1.5 amot high (31.5"), and 1 amah wide (21"). Like the ark, two gold-covered poles were used to carry the table, though these were apparently removed when the table sat in the Holy Place.

Included with the table were golden "bread molds," spoons, and a supporting frame that would hold the loaves of (unleavened) bread (Exod. 25:29). According to Rashi, the bread itself was called lechem ha-panim (lit., "the bread of faces") because the two "faces" (or ends) of the loaves were to face the sides of the sanctuary. The bread loaves looked a little like open boxes:


The twelve loaves of bread were made of matzah from pure wheat (Lev. 24:5-6) and were "stacked" upon one another in two columns of six loaves. Each loaf measured 5 tefachim wide (17.5"), six tefachim long (21"), and two tefachim high (7"). The base of the bread was thin, just a fingersbreadth. According to the Talmud, the tops of the loaves had grooves that held golden "half tubes" (shaped like a straw that was split down the middle) that were used to stack the loaves atop one another. These half tubes would function as a sort of "tray" that would connect to a supporting "scaffold" attached to both sides of the table. The half tubes and the supports created a frame for the bread to be placed on the table:


In addition to the bread molds, two spoons were made, one for each stack, that had flat bottoms (like a measuring cup), that were used for incense for the table (Lev. 24:7). The lechem ha-panim was baked on Friday and placed on the table on Shabbat (Lev. 24:8).

The Menorah (מְנוֹרָה)

The menorah (מְנוֹרָה) was formed from one piece of pure beaten gold weighing 3,000 shekels of silver (nearly 100 pounds). It was a highly decorative work that had seven branches (with seven lamps), nine flower blooms, eleven fruits, and twenty two cups. According to the Talmud, the menorah measured eighteen tefachim (i.e., "palms") in height (from the base to the start of the lamps), or roughly 5.25 feet. It is called the "lamp of God" (נֵר אֱלהִים) in the Scriptures (1 Sam. 3:3).


The "lamp of God" was to be made by hammering a single piece of solid gold into shape (Exod. 25:36). Note that the word translated "hammered" or "beaten" (מִקְשָׁה) comes from the word for "difficult" in Hebrew (קָשֶׁה). According to midrash, the method for constructing the menorah was difficult for Moses to comprehend, so the LORD first showed him one in the fire and told him: "This is how you will make it." Moses was unable to do so, however, so the LORD told him to take a block of gold and have Betzalel (the carpenter from Judah) throw it into the fire. After a flash of dazzling light, a menorah came out formed by God Himself. (For more information about the Menorah, see the article, "A Closer Look at the Menorah.")

The Altar of Incense (מִזְבֵּחַ הַקְּטרֶת)


The golden altar (mizbe'ach ha-zahav) was the last item that was to be placed in the Holy Place of the Mishkan. It is described later in the Torah, however, after the description of the outer court, the copper altar, the copper basin, and so on.  According to midrash, when the Mishkan was completed and the sacrifices were finally offered upon the copper altar, the Shekhinah did not descend until the ketoret (incense) was offered upon the altar within the Holy place (Tanchuna Tetzaveh).

The Golden Altar, or "Altar of Incense," was made out of wood and covered entirely with pure gold. It measured 2 amot in height (42"), and was 1 amah in both length and width (21"). The top of the altar included four corner pieces that measured 1 tefach (i.e., a 3.5" square). The altar also included a "crown" or border like the Ark and the Table. Like the other furnishings in the Mishkan, rings were attached for carrying poles (though these were apparently removed when it was placed in the Holy Place).  The purpose of the altar was to burn ketoret upon its roof, or top surface (Exod. 30:1). In addition, blood was sprinkled upon its corner pieces during Yom Kippur and other occasions (Exod. 30:10). The location of the altar was exactly in the center of the Holy Place (Yoma 33a). As such, the altar symbolized the centrality of prayer and sacrifice before the Throne of God.

Messiah in the Tabernacle

The Mishkan can be seen to prefigure the ministry of Yeshua the Messiah in various ways. For instance, the three-colored gate of the outer court faced east, toward the tribe of Judah (Exod. 27:9-19, Num. 2:3), which served as the only entrance to the Tabernacle itself (the connection with Judah has to do with Shiloh, the promised redeemer and Messiah of Israel). Likewise Yeshua identified Himself as the Gate and the point of entry to the Presence of God (John 10:7-9; 14:6). The Copper Altar (Exod. 27:1-8) was the first object visible in the outer court and represented the various offerings that were given to God, including the daily (tamid) offering of a yearling lamb with wine and unleavened bread. Yeshua can be seen as the fulfillment of the various offerings represented by His finished work upon the cross for our salvation as the Lamb of God.


Washing in the Copper Basin (Exod. 30:17-21), or kiyyor, was the means by which access to the Holy Place was granted, and may represent cleansing, teshuvah, or baptism (mikveh).


The tent itself (ohel) was divided into three geometric sections, the Holy Place (2 parts) and the Holy of Holies (1 part). Within the Holy Place were three furnishings: the Altar of Incense, the Menorah, and the Table of showbread. The Altar of Incense (Exod. 30:1-8) was the central object of the Holy Place, situated directly in front of the Ark of the Covenant. The incense represented the "aroma" or fragrance of prayer and sacrifice in service to God (Rev. 8:3-5; Heb. 7:25). The Menorah (Exod. 25:31-39) represented the Divine Light and was the only source of light in the Tabernacle itself. The central branch of the Menorah (shamash) was called the "westernmost" lamp because it faced the Ark of the Covenant. Unlike the other lamps, the westernmost lamp burned continuously and therefore represented the Eternal Light (John 1:4; 8:12). The table (shulchan) held the Bread of Presence which represented the manna and God's provision for His people (John 6:33-35). The veil (parochet) separating the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies is likened to the body of Yeshua that was broken for us (Heb. 10:20; Matt. 27:51; Heb. 9:20; 10:10,12,14). The Ark of the Covenant, and in particular the Mercy Seat (kapporet) represented the Throne of God (Heb. 4:16; 2 Ki. 19:15) where propitiation for our sins was made (Rom. 3:25).

A few other quick comments in this connection. Yeshua is said to have "tabernacled" with us, thereby implying the connection between His ministry and the redemptive program of the Mishkan (John 1:14). The Mishkan and its furnishings were created by Betzalel, a young man filled with the Ruach HaKodesh from the tribe of Judah who was described using the same attributes as the Creator of the Universe (Exod. 35:31; Prov. 3:19-20). According to the Talmud, Betzalel was just 13 years old when he began building the Tabernacle. As a young man chosen by God Himself, Betzalel "came and healed the wound" that was caused by the sin of the Golden Calf (Shemot Rabbah), which likewise prefigures healing from the consequences of the original sin. The High Priest (kohen gadol) and his garments likewise are richly symbolic of the ministry of Yeshua, including the elaborate ordination process that required the anointing (mashach) of oil and the application of sacrificial blood to upon the priest's hands, feet, and forehead.  The clothing also suggests an imputed righteousness that allowed access into the Divine Presence by God's grace... Of course, the author of the Book of Hebrews makes many more comparisons and distinctions between the Levitical priesthood and the greater priesthood of Yeshua, especially in light of the symbolism associated with Malki-Tzedek.

Unfortunately I do not have time to go into the rest of the fascinating furnishings of the Mishkan at this time, so this will have to suffice for now.... If God wills, I will continue this survey at a later time. Shalom chaverim.

The Beginning of Wisdom


[ The following entry considers the ongoing need to apply our hearts to wisdom, especially in these perilous days leading up to the Great Tribulation... ]

02.9.11 (I Adar 5, 5771)   The subject of wisdom (i.e., chokhmah: חָכְמָה) is vitally important to all of us, though a verse that is sometimes overlooked in its discussion is: "The beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה) is this: 'Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight'" (Prov. 4:7). The word translated "insight" is binah (בִּינָה), which comes from the Hebrew word for "between" (i.e., bein: בֵּין), thereby implying the ability to distinguish the real from the unreal, the true from the false. Ultimately wisdom comes from the practice of the "fear of the LORD" (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), as it is written: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom (רֵאשִׁית חָכְמָה), and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight (Prov. 9:10).

Wisdom requires balance and discernment. For instance, the other night I was trying to pray with my children but things were chaotic and no one was listening. I tried to offer gentle correction with no success. I began to get angry... I was attempting to honor the LORD and instill His awe in my sons, but I was simply ineffective. I needed wisdom to discern how much of this was prompted by "me" (i.e., my needs) and how much was prompted by the Holy Spirit... There is a continuum here.  If you "let go," you run the risk of disobedience (i.e., letting things follow a natural trajectory, which inevitably leads to forgetting about God), but if you attempt to assert yourself, you run the risk of acting in the "flesh" or out of a sense of spiritual pride.  Perhaps you've likewise experienced this. Wisdom means finding the right balance to accept things as they are and yet to be empowered by the Holy Spirit to truly influence the situation for the glory of God. You let go and let God, but you also keep God first in your thoughts. This sort of wisdom is said to be full of peace (εἰρηνικός), flexible (ἐπιεικής), full of good fruits, and so on (James 3:17).

Sometimes we can discern the path of wisdom by pragmatic means (i.e., "this isn't working..."), though by itself pragmatism can never be the test for truth. After all, often being selfish can make life a lot "easier," especially when we are faced with ethical demands that impose upon our sense of personal comfort.  Preaching the gospel is not a popularity game, and spiritual warfare will invariably attend those who seek to live the truth in their lives.  Yeshua died for the sake of the truth and warned his followers that they likewise would suffer persecution in this age. There is a "good fight of faith," though again wisdom is needed to properly discern between a personal agenda and God's true will...

Long before the time of Socrates - who claimed to be wise only because he made no pretense to wisdom - King Solomon wrote that the beginning of wisdom is the confession that you are without it: "The beginning of wisdom is this: 'Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight'" (Prov. 4:7). The difference between Socrates and Solomon here is one of focus. Socrates looked to the ideal realm using the powers of speculative reason, whereas King Solomon looked to the revelation of the LORD God of Israel, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who demanded ethical purity and holiness within the heart.

Solomon linked wisdom (chokhmah) with the ability to discern between good and evil (binah). This connection is repeated in the New Testament as well: "Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil" (Heb. 5:14). Proper insight, then, comes from "rightly dividing the word of truth," since the Scriptures reveal the "knowledge of the Holy One" (2 Tim 3:15-16).

Still, there is the nagging question of how we are to live out the "divine-human" partnership among the challenges of daily life.  How much am I responsible for, and how much is God? Where do you draw the line?  How do we discern between our part and God's part in moments of personal testing? Do I "pummel my body into subjection" or do I trust that God will take care of me as he does the sparrow? My prayer throughout the day is simple: "God help." It takes a good deal of wisdom to truly surrender to God...

In this connection, I find Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer helpful:

    "God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.

    Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next.  Amen."

May God help us "number our days" so that we may obtain levav chokhmah (לְבַב חָכְמָה) - a heart of wisdom to live according to His will (Psalm 90:12). Above all else, may the "God of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the Father of Glory (אֲבִי הַכָּבוֹד), impart to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him (רוּחַ הַחָכְמָה וְהֶחָזוֹן לָדַעַת אתוֹ), having the eyes of your hearts (ὀφθαλμοὺς τῆς καρδίας) enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you... (Eph. 1:17-18). In these perilous days, we must stay strong, resolute, and fully focused on our LORD, chaverim.

A Closer Look at the Menorah


[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Tetzaveh), which begins with instructions for kindling the menorah. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

02.8.11 (I Adar 4, 5771)   The menorah (מְנוֹרָה) was formed from one piece of pure beaten gold weighing 3,000 shekels of silver (nearly 100 pounds). It was a highly decorative work that had seven branches (with seven lamps), nine flower blooms, eleven fruits, and twenty two cups. According to the Talmud, the menorah measured eighteen tefachim (i.e., "palms") in height (from the base to the start of the lamps), or roughly 5.25 feet. It is called the "lamp of God" (נֵר אֱלהִים) in the Scriptures (1 Sam. 3:3).


The "lamp of God" was to be made by hammering a single piece of solid gold into shape (Exod. 25:36). Note that the word translated "hammered" or "beaten" (מִקְשָׁה) comes from the word for "difficult" in Hebrew (קָשֶׁה). According to midrash, the method for constructing the menorah was difficult for Moses to comprehend, so the LORD first showed him one in the fire and told him: "This is how you will make it." Moses was unable to do so, however, so the LORD told him to take a block of gold and have Betzalel (the carpenter from Judah) throw it into the fire. After a flash of dazzling light, a menorah came out formed by God Himself.

Details of the Menorah

Although the details have been discussed (and debated) in the Talmud and related Jewish literature, the following are considered to be reliable details regarding the construction and function of the menorah. Refer to the illustration (above) for more information:

  1. Seven lamps (i.e., nerot: נֵרוֹת). The menorah had seven lamps, one lamp on top of the middle stem and one on top of each of its six branches. Each lamp was made of the same gold used to form the rest of the menorah. The lamps were "boat shaped" with pointed ends that faced the center lamp. The center lamp, however, resembled a basin. Each lamp had a cover on it with a hole in the middle for the oil. The wicks were positioned by either bending them toward the center or by clamping them down between the bowl and the cover. The lamps themselves were lit daily, "from evening until morning," from right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), each lamp held about 9 ounces of the purest olive oil, sufficient to burn throughout the night. Wicks were created from worn-out garments of the priests.
  2. Seven branches (i.e., kanim: קָנִים, from קָנֶה, a "reed" or "stalk"). The middle branch (or "stem") ascended straight up from the center of the base, and the six branches emerged from three "apples" (or fruit) proportionately located on the stem. Two branches extended diagonally from each side of the apple until they reached the exact height of the middle stem. Unlike modern depictions of the menorah, it is thought that the branches were all straight (yashar), not curved. In that sense, the menorah itself resembled a tree, just as the Torah is referred to as a Tree of Life (עֵץ־חַיִּים). According to the Talmud, the height of the menorah, from base to the end of the branches, was 18 "handbreadths" (i.e., tefachim: טְפָחִים), or roughly 63 inches (160cm). The first three tefachim were the base itself. The other elements (cups, buds, and flowers) were then placed up the tree.
  3. Nine Flowers (i.e., perachim: פְּרַחִים)  These were ornamental parts intended to beautify the menorah. According to Targum Yonathan, the flowers were similar to roses. The flowers appeared at the top of each branch, just before the lamps (the other two occurred on the main stem, including one at the base of the menorah). According to Tosofot, all the ornaments of the menorah measured one tefach in height (i.e., 3.5" or the width of a handbreadth), except for the combined flower/cup/apple that appeared on the stem at tefach 6.
  4. Eleven fruits (i.e., kaftorim: כַּפְתּוֹרִים)  These were functional ornamentations that protruded on the stem and formed the start of the pairs of branches for the menorah. The branches would extend outward from the top of the three fruits on the main stem, and also appeared at the top of each branch as well. The Talmud (Menachot 28b) states they were shaped like apples. They are sometimes likened to the "buds" that develop into fruit. All of the apples had almond decorations engraved on them.
  5. Twenty-two cups (i.e., gevi'im: גְבִעִים). The "goblets" or "flower cups" were really chalice-like containers used to hold larger quantities of liquid that resembled almond buds (Exod. 25:33; Jer. 35:5). They are likened to "stems" that supply the liquid for the blossoms and fruit. According to Rashi, the cups resembled long and narrow tubes rather than flower cups. There were three cups located at the top of each branch, and an extra cup located lower on the main stem.
  6. One base (i.e., yarech: יָרֵךְ) with three legs. The base was either square or rectangular in shape and made of hammered pure gold. A flower that adorned its top (Exod. 25:31; Num. 8:4). The exact dimensions of the base are not stated. The Talmud (Menachot 28b) says that the base had three legs that rose three tefachim high (i.e., approx. 10.5").
  7. Various Utensils (i.e., kelim: כֵּלִים). In addition to the menorah itself, "utensils for oil" (כְּלֵי שַׁמְנָהּ) were created (Num. 4:9). These included tongs (to place/remove the wicks), trays, and spoons to remove ashes from the wicks (Exod. 25:38). In addition, a three-stepped platform was placed in front of the menorah for kindling the wicks.  Like all other utensils of the Mishkan, these items were made out of pure gold.

As mentioned above, the lamps of the menorah were lit daily, "from evening until morning," starting from the central lamp (the shamash) and then moving right to left (Exod. 27:21). According to the Talmud (Shabbat 22b), while all the lamps received the same amount of olive oil, the "westernmost" lamp (according to Rashi, the center lamp, due to its orientation) miraculously never ran out of oil, even though it was kindled first in the sequence.  In other words, when Aaron would rekindle the lamps every evening, he found the shamash still burning, so he simply refilled it with oil and trimmed its wick. This miracle is also said to have occurred during the Temple period, though it abruptly ended about 40 years before the destruction of the Second Temple (c. 30 AD), after the death of Yeshua the Messiah, the true Servant and Branch of the LORD. As it is attested in the Talmud: "Our Rabbis taught: During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot ['For the Lord'] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-colored strap become white; nor did the westernmost light shine" (Yoma 39a).

After the death and resurrection of Yeshua, the parochet of the Temple was rent asunder and the miraculous center light of the menorah began to shine throughout the whole world. "God is light" (1 John 1:5); in His light we do see light (Psalm 36:9). "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6).

נֵר־לְרַגְלִי דְבָרֶךָ וְאוֹר לִנְתִיבָתִי

ner  le·rag·li  de·va·re·kha,  ve·or  lin·ti·va·ti

" Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path "
(Psalm 119:105)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card


The 49 Gates of Torah

According to the Malbim, the Menorah itself is said to reveal the light of the Torah. These are sometimes called the "49 Gates of Torah." The seven branches represent the first seven words (i.e., verse) of Genesis. 1:1; the eleven fruits represent the first eleven words of of Exodus 1:1; the nine flowers represent the nine words of Leviticus 1:1; and the twenty two cups represent the twenty two words of Deuteronomy 1:1. But what about the Book of Numbers? The seventeen words of Numbers 1:1 refer to the seventeen tefachim (handbreadths) of the Menorah's height (excluding the lamps on the top).

The Hidden Light of the World

The light from the menorah is a spiritual light. It was not seen from the outside of the Tabernacle, but only while inside the holy chamber, before the holy place of sacrificial atonement. It enabled service to God to be performed, though it was not a light to be used for profane purposes. Notice that the six lamps faced the central lamp -- a picture of Yeshua, the Light of the World whose arms and legs were "hammered" for our sins....  He is the suffering servant (shamash) who lightens everyone in the world. He is the center, the supporting trunk for the other branches (John 15:5).

The light itself came from the burning of pure olive oil - a symbol of anointing and the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ). It was kindled by the hand of a man of peace and humility. Likewise, when we are given light to behold the sacrifice of Yeshua for our atonement (כַּפָּרָה), we are filled with the divine light (John 8:12; 1 John 1:7, Eph. 5:8). When we come to the cross, we can behold the truth of God's unfailing love that draws us to be united with Him.

Parashat Tetzaveh


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

02.7.11 (I Adar 3, 5771)   This week's Torah potion continues the commandments God gave to Moses regarding building the Mishkan (Tabernacle). It begins with instructions for kindling the menorah (מְנוֹרָה): "Command the people of Israel to bring to you pure beaten olive oil (שֶׁמֶן זַיִת) for the light, to offer up (olah) a continual lamp (i.e., ner tamid: נֵר תָּמִיד)." (Note that the word "menorah" comes from the root word ner, meaning "lamp.") According to the Mishnah (Menachot 8:4), only the purest olive oil could be used for the lamps of the menorah (i.e., only the first drop from each olive, to avoid any sediment). Moreover, as described in parashat Beha'alotekha, the wicks of the menorah were to be bent toward the central wick, thereby signifying the glory of the shamash, or Servant Branch of the LORD (Num. 8:1-2). Just as oil was intended to emit the purest kind of light, so Yeshua was indeed the light of the world (John 8:12).


The portion further describes the garments the High Priest was required to wear as he served in the Tabernacle, including the sacred choshen mishpat (חשֶׁן מִשְׁפָּט) - a breastplate that held twelve precious stones inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. This beautiful vestment was worn over the ephod (linen apron) and contained a pouch holding two special gemstones called the urim v'tummin (אוּרִים וְתוּמִּים), usually translated as "lights and perfections." According to the Targum Jonathan, when a matter was brought to the High Priest for settlement, he would sometimes hold the urim (from אוֹר, "light") and tummin (from תָּם, "integrity" or "completeness") before the menorah and the Shekhinah would irradiate various letters inscribed on the choshen to reveal the will of God. (It should be noted that the letters Tzade and Tet do not appear in the list of names of the 12 tribes of Israel, so the entire Hebrew alphabet was not represented by the stones on the breastplate.) The Mishnah stated that the High Priest used the Urim and Tummim only at the behest of the king or for the court.


One detail you might miss as you read the description of the priestly garments, however, is that there is no mention of shoes, and in fact neither the regular priests nor the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) were allowed to wear shoes or slippers. In other words, they served in the Mishkan (and later at the Temple) barefoot.

כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
וְעַד־דּר וָדר אֱמוּנָתוֹ

ki  tov  Adonai  le·o·lam  chas·do,
ve·ad  dor  va·dor  e·mu·na·to

"For the LORD is good; His steadfast love is eternal;
His faithfulness is for all generations."
(Psalm 100:5)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card


Note: I have been struggling lately, chaverim, and humbly ask for your prayers.  If it pleases God, I will add additional commentary on this portion of Torah later this week.  Shalom for now...

Sanctuary of the Heart...


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

(Shevat 30, 5771)   In this week's Torah portion God asked the people to offer "gifts from the heart" to create a "place" for Him: "Let them make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8). The Hebrew word for "sanctuary" is mikdash (מקְדָּשׁ), which comes from the root word kadash (קָדַשׁ), "to be set apart as sacred." A mikdash is therefore a "set apart space," or a "holy place" that represents something treasured - a place of beauty and worship, a refuge, a place of rest.  Other words that share this root include kedushah (holiness), kiddushin (betrothal), kaddish (sanctification), kiddush (marking sacred time), and so on. When God said, "Let them make for me a mikdash," then, he was inviting the people to make a sacred place within their hearts for His Presence to be manifest.... The "material" required to make this place was ultimately the heart, expressed in free-will offerings given to God.

The purpose of mikdash, this "set apart space," was for God to "dwell" in their midst. Note that the word "dwell" comes from a root (שָׁכַן) meaning to "lodge together" or to "lie down with someone," and therefore the Tabernacle was called the mishkan (מִשְׁכָּן), a "set apart place" intended for rest and intimacy. Inviting God's Presence within our hearts gives us communion and fellowship with Him. The sages note that the phrase, "that I may dwell in their midst" could be translated as "that I may dwell within them," suggesting that the point of the Tabernacle was to bring God within the hearts of His people... We must create a place within our hearts, in other words, for God to dwell within us... Yeshua likewise told us that we would experience peace and joy when we would "abide in Him."

Some of the sages have said that the physical Tabernacle (and later, the Temple) was given as a concession to the frailty of man. After all, when the people had the opportunity to encounter God without a mediator at Sinai, they shrank back in terror.  The Tabernacle, then, presented a form of "mediation" that provided symbols to help bring "heaven down to earth."  The physical presence of the Tabernacle attempted to convey a sense of the immanence of God in the world. "Holy holy holy is the LORD God of hosts; the whole world is filled with His glory" (Isa. 6:3). The Scriptures plainly teach, however, that there is literally no "place" where God can physically dwell. When King Solomon dedicated the Bet Ha-Mikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem, he rhetorically prayed: "Will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27). Likewise the prophet Jeremiah reports the word of the LORD: "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" (Jer. 23:24)  Understood in light of this truth, it is clear that the Tabernacle was meant to symbolize a deeper, spiritual reality of the heart. As Yeshua said, "The Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).

The deepest message of the Tabernacle, however, has to do with sacrificial love. The entire reason for the sacrificial system was to draw us close to God. The sacrifice of an innocent animal for the sake of a sinner provided tangible hope that a holy and perfectly righteous God made a way for love and acceptance to prevail. Indeed the idea of "sacrifice" is korban (קרְבָּן), a word that means to draw near (karov) to God. The various sacrificial rituals were "examples" (ὑπόδειγματα) and "shadows" (σκιάς) of the heavenly reality that was given in the sacrifice of Yeshua, the Lamb of God (Heb. 8:5; 10:1). Because of Yeshua, God draws near to us so that we can draw near to Him.... He is the ultimate "Korban" that brings us into eternal fellowship with God.  Yeshua is the Father's "gift of the heart" given for you. The love of God put the blood of his son the cross, just as the love of God provided the altar at the Tabernacle. Both in the sacrificial rites of the brazen altar and in their later fulfillment in the crucifixion of Yeshua, the heart needs to trust in God's personal love. Yeshua stands at the door and knocks, ready to eat a "covenant ratification meal" with all who are trust in Him (Rev. 3:20). .

May you find courage to open your heart to Him now...

New Terumah "Table Talk" Guide


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

(Shevat 29, 5771)   I managed to write a new "Table Talk" guide for Terumah just in time for this week's Sabbath. Like other Table Talk guides, I first provide a brief synopsis of the reading and then ask some discussion questions. I hope you find it helpful, chaverim. You can download the page here

Shabbat Shalom and chodesh tov to you all.... Be well, stay strong, and draw close to Yeshua.

Up and Down the Mountain:
The Eight Aliyot of Moses


[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading (Terumah).... The account of Creation is described in just 34 verses, but the Tabernacle is described in over 250 verses -- and is meticulously repeated in the Torah!  Indeed, the sacrificial system is central to the Torah. Surely God did not want us to miss something important here, chaverim...  ]

(Shevat 28, 5771)    The chronology of the events surrounding Israel's experience at Sinai can be perplexing to understand. For instance, we know that Moses received the tablets with the Ten Commandments twice - once before the Sin of the Golden Calf (which were subsequently smashed), and a second time after God had forgiven the people for their idolatry. What is often overlooked, however, is that in his role as Israel's mediator, Moses actually ascended Sinai no less than eight times... In some cases Moses functioned as a "broker" between the Israelites and God; at other times, he revealed specific terms of the covenant (i.e., laws for the people to obey), and at still other times he received the tablets and instructions about building the tabernacle.  In light of his multiple trips up and down the mountain, the relationship between the covenant offered to Israel, the Ten Commandments, and the purpose of the Tabernacle can be a bit difficult to ascertain. In what follows, I hope to work through some of the texts to get a better idea of how we might understand the chronology and significance of these events...

The First Ascent (the call of Moses)

Moses first encountered the LORD at Sinai, "the mountain of God" (הַר הָאֱלהִים), nearly 40 years after he had fled from Pharaoh, while he worked as a shepherd for his father-in-law Jethro in Midian. According to midrash, the Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a flame of fire "out of the midst of a thorn bush" on Nisan 15 - the same day that Abraham once had his vision of his decendants in bondage (Gen. 15:12-14). As Moses gazed in wonder, God called out to him and commanded him to remove his sandals because the place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) he was standing was holy (i.e., kodesh: קדֶשׁ). God then identified Himself as "the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The LORD then said he had seen the affliction of his people in Egypt and heard their cries. "I know their sufferings and have come down to deliver them."  The Angel then told Moses that he was chosen to be the LORD's emissary to Pharaoh to take the children of Israel from Egypt back to the promised land (Exod. 3:1-10). God assured Moses that He would be with him, and "this shall be the sign (הָאוֹת) that I have indeed sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain" (Exod. 3:12).


Exactly one year after Moses first encountered God at the burning bush at Sinai, the children of Israel left Egypt (i.e., on Nisan 15 of the original Passover).  Instead of leading Israel along a direct route to the Promised Land, however, God directed them south, into the desert, so that He could meet with Moses and the Israelites at Mount Sinai as He had promised. The Shekhinah Glory appeared as a Pillar of Cloud by day (עַמּוּד עָנָן) and as a Pillar of Fire by night (עַמּוּד אֵשׁ) to lead them on their way (Exod. 13:20-22). Three days after the Exodus (i.e., on Nisan 18) Pharaoh mobilized his army and pursued the Jews to bring them back. After two days (i.e., on Nisan 20), Pharaoh and his army reached the Israelites while they were encamped before Baal-Zephon beside the sea (Exod. 14:9). God saved the people as they miraculously crossed the sea that night and destroyed the Egyptian army later that morning. Israel entered the desert on Nisan 21, seven days after the Exodus. The bread from heaven began to fall 30 days after the Exodus (on Iyar 15), and when the people arrived in the arid region of Rephidim (near Sinai) a week later, God gave them water from the Rock. While they were camped at Rephidim, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites but they were defeated as Moses lifted up his staff toward God. Soon afterwards, Moses' father in law Jethro visited Moses and wisely instructed him how to establish order within the camp.


The Second Ascent (the covenant offer)

After Jethro left, the Israelites encamped before Mount Sinai, exactly six weeks after the Exodus (Exod. 19:1-2). There Moses "ascended to God" (עָלָה אֶל־הָאֱלהִים) as God called out to him from the mountain (Exod. 19:3). This was Moses' second ascent to meet with God and fulfilled God's earlier promise that he would one day return with the Israelites to this very place. The LORD delegated him to ask the Israelites whether they would accept His covenant and become his treasured people, and Moses went down the mountain to deliver God's message to the elders of the people. When the elders heard God's proposal, they answered: kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do." 

The Third Ascent (Moses made mediator)

Moses went back up the mountain to report the words of the elders to the LORD (Exod. 19:7-8). During this ascent the LORD explained how he would come in the "thickness of the cloud" (בְּעַב הֶעָנָן) to reveal that he had chosen Moses to be Israel's mediator before Him (Exod. 19:9). The LORD then told Moses to go back to the people and to prepare them to meet with God in three days. "For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people" (Exod. 19:11). The LORD further instructed Moses to set a boundary around the mountain that no one should cross, for "whoever touches the mountain will be put to death."


The Fourth Ascent (The Ten Commandments)

On the morning of the third day (i.e., Sivan 6), exactly seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt, the glory of God descended upon Sinai in a dramatic display of thunder, lightning, billowing smoke and fire, while Moses assembled the people at the foot of the mountain (Exod. 19:15-19). The LORD called Moses to the top of the summit but told him to go back down to again warn the people not to cross the designated boundary (Exod. 19:20-25). After Moses rejoined the people at the foot of the mountain, God began uttering the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17). Upon hearing the utterances, the people drew back in terror and begged Moses to be their mediator before God (Exod. 20:18-20).

The Fifth Ascent (The Book of the Covenant)

After the people begged him to go, Moses ascended the mountain and "drew near to the thick darkness" where God began to explain to him the laws of idolatry and the laws of the altar (Exod. 20:21-26). During this ascent God also gave Moses various laws (mishpatim) about civil life for the Israelites (Exod. 21:1-23:33).


After receiving the various laws for the people, God told Moses to bring Aaron, his sons, and the 70 elders up to the mountain to ratify the terms of the covenant (Exod. 21:1-24:2). Moses then descended Sinai and told the elders all everthing the LORD had said. The people then replied in unison: kol ha-devarim asher dibber Adonai na'aseh: "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do" (Exod. 24:3). Moses then wrote down the rules into a separate scroll, called Sefer HaBrit (סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית), "the Book of the Covenant," and built an altar at the foot of Mount Sinai with twelve pillars (one for each tribe of Israel). Burnt sacrifices (עלָה) and peace sacrifices (שְׁלָמִים) were then slaughtered (Exod. 24:5). Moses took the sacrificial blood from the offerings, threw half upon the altar and read the book of the covenant to the people. The people ratified the covenant with the words kol asher dibber Adonai na'aseh ve'nishma: "all that the LORD says we will do and obey" (Exod. 24:7). Upon hearing their ratification, Moses took the other half of the sacrificial blood and threw it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words" (Exod. 24:8).

The Sixth Ascent (the ratification meal)

Immediately following this ceremony, Moses took Aaron (and his sons Nadab and Abihu), and seventy of the elders of Israel up to Sinai to eat a "covenant affirmation meal" between the people of Israel and the LORD. The elders of Israel then directly beheld the glory of God, under whose feet was "a pavement of sapphires, like the very heaven for clearness" (Exod. 24:9-11).

The Seventh Ascent (the tablets and Tabernacle)

After returning from the mountain with the elders, the LORD commanded Moses to once again go back up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments (Exod. 24:12). Moses then ascended the mountain, which was still covered by a shining cloud of fire. On the seventh day there - during his seventh ascent - Moses heard the Voice of the LORD calling to him from the midst of the cloud and entered into the midst of Presence of the LORD. He remained on the mountain for a total of 40 days and 40 nights while the Israelites waited for him at the camp down below (Exod. 24:15-18).


While upon the mountain, the LORD instructed Moses to ask the people for a contribution (terumah) for the various materials needed to build the tabernacle (i.e., mishkan), a tent-like structure that would symbolize the Divine Presence among the people. Gold, silver, brass, red and purple yarns, fine linens, oils, spices, precious stones, etc., all were needed. The LORD said to Moses, "Let them make me a sanctuary (i.e., mikdash: מִקְדָּשׁ) so that I may dwell in their midst. Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it" (Exod. 25:8-9).

The tabernacle would consist of two main parts: a tent-like structure called the ohel (אהֶל) and an outer court called the chotzer (חָצֵר). The tent was to be divided into two separate chambers. The innermost chamber was called the "most holy place" (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים) and would contain the Ark of the Testimony (אֲרוֹן הָעֵדֻת). The most holy place was to be separated from an adjoining chamber (called the "holy place") by means of a woven curtain called the parochet. Within the holy place there were to be three special furnishings: a table of showbread (שֻׁלְחָן), a menorah (מְנוֹרָה), and an altar of incense (מִזְבַּח הַקְּטרֶת). The outer court would contain a brazen altar used for daily sacrifices and the water basin to be used by the priests after performing their ministrations. The outer court was to be surrounded by a series of interconnecting posts from which curtains of blue, purple, and scarlet linen were to be hung.


Of particular importance was the chest or "ark" (אֲרוֹן) that would be used to store the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Upon the ark would be placed the kapporet (כַּפּרֶת) - a cover of pure gold (sometimes called the "Mercy Seat") upon which were to be fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that would face one another (1 Pet. 1:12). The wings of the cherubim were to be spread open to shield the cover while their eyes gazed upon the ark. From between the outstretched wings of the cherubim God would appear to reveal additional Torah (Exod. 25:22).

A special table (שֻׁלְחָן) would hold twelve loaves of bread (one for each tribe) along with plates, dishes, bowls, etc. that would be used by the priests as they served in the tent (Exod. 25:23-30). In addition, a seven-branched menorah (מְנוֹרָה) was to be made of beaten gold to resemble a tree. The oil cups used to kindle the lamps were to be in the shape of almond blossoms (Exod. 25:33-34; 37:19-20). (The other furninshings of the tabernacle are described in subsequent Torah portions.)


At this point I want to digress for a moment to consider a question the sages have asked regarding the meaning of all this in relation to the covenant that was made at Sinai. Recall that after the people heard God speak the Ten Commandments, the LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction" (Exod. 24:12). What puzzled the commentators was what the phrase "with the law and the commandment" means in this context, especially since what follows not additional moral laws, but only instructions for constructing the tabernacle....

Some of the commentators claim that Moses did not ascend Sinai for 40 days and nights only to receive the tablets and the instructions for the tabernacle. They cite other places in the Torah where Moses received instructions while at Sinai, for instance, the law of Shemittah (Lev. 25:1-7), the law of the Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-31), the law of redemption (Lev. 25:32-55); and various other laws (Deut. 5:31-6:1). What is not clear from these texts, however, is precisely when these instructions were given. For instance, it is entirely possible that these laws were given when Moses first received the various rules (mishpatim) that were written in the "Book of the Covenant."

The commentator Rashi had such a hard time believing that Moses spent 40 days and nights on the mountain only to be given the tablets and the instruction regarding the tabernacle that he claimed that chapters describing the commandment to build the tabernacle (i.e., Exod. 25-31) actually occured after the sin of the Golden Calf - not before - and therefore the text does not follow chronological order.  Contrary to the natural flow of the narrative, then, Rashi claimed that Moses received all of the Torah during the first 40 days and nights on Sinai except for the instructions about building the tabernacle! Apparently Rashi rearranged the narrative this way because he thought that the construction of the tabernacle was intended to atone (or "repair") for the sin of the Golden Calf.  According to Rashi, were it not for the sin of the Golden Calf, Israel would not have even needed the tabernacle.


The commentator Nachmanides completely disagreed with Rashi and argued that the narrative is presented in chronological order. Moses' 40 days on the mountain focused on the commandment to create the tabernacle because it was vital that God's Presence accompany the Israelites as they made their way to the Promised Land. The first order of business, so to speak, was therefore to explain how to build a "portable Mount Sinai" that would dwell among Israel in the wilderness.

For a number of reasons is clear that Nachmanides is correct and Rashi is wrong. After all, when Moses first ascended Sinai after the Exodus, he was told that the Israelites would be required to appear before God three times a year, "at the house of the LORD (בֵּית יְהוָה) your God" (Exod. 23:19). Since Moses was told this before the 40 days and nights, it is clear that God originally planned to establish a "house" among the people (Exod. 23:14-19). Moreover, at the beginning of this week's Torah portion it is written: "Let them make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell in their midst" (Exod. 25:8), and this commandment was likewise given before the sin of the Golden Calf.... Finally, the tabernacle reveals that the shedding of sacrificial blood is inextricably bound to the terms of the covenant. Indeed, the Book of Leviticus (ויקרא) is both the physical and spiritual center of the Five Books of Moses and comprises its ritual expression. The sages count 246 of the 613 commandments of the Torah in this book -- over 40% -- that concern laws of sacrifice and the Levitical priesthood. There simply is no true Torah apart from the blood of sacrifice, just as there is no true Christianity apart from the Cross of Yeshua.... "The life is in the blood given on the altar for the atonement" (Lev. 17:11). The role of the tabernacle clearly furthers the concept of the "altar" of the patriarchs, and especially the altar at Moriah where Isaac was bound by Abraham (Gen. 22:1-18).

If we follow the natural (i.e., chronological) order of the narrative, then, we see that the commandment to build the tabernacle was part of the original revelation at Sinai, and the sin of the Golden Calf clearly underscored its need for Israel. As the Book of Leviticus proves, blood atonement is absolutely connected with the giving of the Torah to Israel. (Again, there is no such thing as a "Torah-true" Judaism apart from blood sacrifice, any more than there is true Christianity apart from the cross of Yeshua. The "life is in the blood." )

The Eighth Ascent (the New Covenant)

All of this may be seen more clearly when we consider Moses' final ascent to Mount Sinai, after the sin of the Golden Calf.  Recall that after Moses received the first set of tablets, the people had talked Aaron into making a Golden Calf (i.e., chet ha'egel: חֵטְא הָעֵגֶל) which they began to worship (Exod. 32:1-6). The LORD told Moses of their idolatry and threatened to destroy the Israelites, but Moses interceded on their behalf (Exod. 32:7-14). As he rushed down the mountain, with the tablets in hand, he saw the people dancing about the idol. In a fit of indignation, Moses smashed the tablets to the ground (Exod. 32:19). He then destroyed the Golden Calf and instructed the Levites (the only tribe that did not contribute gold for the idol's creation) to slay 3,000 of the ringleaders.


In the aftermath of this grievous sin, Moses despaired of the Jews ever being able to find favor in God's eyes again. In a state of grief he moved his tent away from the camp where the Shekhinah Presence began to hover... Moses realized he was at an utter impasse. Would God continue His redemptive plan for Israel or was this the end of the great dream?  Therefore we read how Moses poignantly appealed to God: "If I have found favor (grace) in your eyes, let me know your ways, that I may know you and continue in your favor" (Exod. 33:13). God responded by reassuring Moses that His Presence would be with him (alone) and that he (alone) would "enter His rest." But Moses protested: "Unless You go in the lead, do not make us leave this place. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight -- I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?" And the LORD said to Moses, "This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name" (Exod. 33:15-17). Moses' successful intercession touched God's heart, causing Him to change from a mode of strict judgment (middat ha-din) to one of mercy and forgiveness (middat ha-rachamim).  This was the "gospel" moment at Sinai....

Upon hearing God's words of comfort, Moses was so overcome that he exclaimed: "Oh, let me behold Your Presence!" (Exod. 33:18), whereupon God answered, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name LORD (יהוה), and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19, cp. Rom. 9:15).


The LORD then instructed Moses to carve a new set of tablets and to meet him again at a place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) on the top of Mount Sinai, where He would descend in the cloud to "declare His Name" (Exod. 33:17-34:7). Note that Moses would receive the revelation of the Name when he "stood upon the Rock" (Exod. 33:21). This dramatic experience of revelation was later called middot ha-rachamim, or the revelation of the attributes of God's mercy, and was considered a divine addendum to the original covenant.  Jewish tradition later incorporated the recitation of middot ha-rachamim during the observance of Yom Kippur.

What are some of these attributes? Notice first that the LORD calls himself rachum v'chanun (רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן), often translated "merciful and gracious." The noun rechem (רֶחֶם) means "womb" in Hebrew, indicating that God's compassion is like a mother's deep love for her child. The word chanun (חַנּוּן) comes from the word for grace or favor (i.e., chen: חֵן), and indicates that God is a graceful giver who is favorably disposed to help those in need.  God is compassionate and favorable to those who call upon Him.

The curious phrase erekh apayim (אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם) literally means "long of nose," an idiom used to describe someone who is patient and slow to anger, i.e., "longsuffering" (Prov. 14:29). The word chesed (חֶסֶד), is often translated as "lovingkindess" or "steadfast love," and implies devotion and fidelity. God describes Himself as rav chesed v'emet (רַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת), that is abundant in His kindness and faithful love.

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת

Adonai  Adonai  El  ra·chum  ve·chan·nun
e·rekh  a·pa·yim  ve·rav  che·sed  ve·e·met

"The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"
(Exod. 34:6)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail) 
Download Study Card

It is wonderful to see how this revelation prefigures the New Covenant that was given to Israel.  Just as the first set of tablets, based as they were on the justice and holiness of God, were broken, so a second set was given based on the middot (attributes) of the LORD's mercy and grace.  Indeed, Yeshua was broken on behalf of the law but was raised again so that all who trust in Him can truly understand that God is "merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in stedfast love and truth" (Exod. 34:6, Psalm 86:15, 103:8).

It can be argued that the deeper revelation of the Name YHVH (יהוה) was a "gospel" moment for Israel. The episode of the Golden Calf revealed that the Jews were unable to keep the law, even though they personally experienced the power of God's deliverance from Egypt and His ongoing care on the way to Sinai.  Despite the pledge of the Israelites, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient" (Exod. 19:8; 24:7), the Sin of the Golden Calf revealed that something more was needed, and therefore the law by itself was insufficient to "circumcise" the inner heart of man.  The intercession of Moses on behalf of Israel revealed the heart of the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) of the LORD, the deeper revelation of the God's character of mercy and grace. Apart from God's gracious love and compassion, the law by itself rendered only the righteous sentence of death for Israel...

As the revelation of the Name discloses, the LORD is rav chesed v'emet (רַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת), "abundant in kindness and faithful love." This is demonstrated in the sacrifice of His Son for our sins (John 3:16-17; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21). "God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4).

The story of the giving of the Torah has a happy ending. Moses finally was able to enter the promised land and stood again with LORD in the cloud covering the mountain, though this was the mountain of Zion rather than Sinai (Matt. 17:1-5). Because of the avodah (finished work) and intercession of Yeshua, now we can all find favor in God's eyes once again...


<< Return


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