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November 2011 Updates


Vision and Reality...


 

11.30.11 (Kislev 4, 5772)   When Isaiah was given his awesome vision of the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, with the seraphim crying out to one another: "Holy, Holy, Holy... " so that the walls of the sanctuary tottered and the place was filled with Clouds of Glory, the LORD asked, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Isaiah then boldly replied, "Here I am! Send me!" (הִנְנִי שְׁלָחֵנִי). God then commissioned the prophet with these words: "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed" (Isa. 6:9).
 

קדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
 מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

ka·dosh · ka·dosh · ka·dosh · Adonai · tze·va·ot
me·lo · khol · ha·a·retz · ke·vo·do

"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
(Isa. 6:3



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Yeshua often spoke in the form of a parable (παραβολή) to "code" his meaning, to make it accessible only to those who were genuinely willing to make comparisons, to reason analogically, and so on (Isa. 1:18; 1 Cor. 2:13). He used "indirection," allusion, allegory, and "figures of speech" (παροιμία, lit. "[speech] beyond the usual way"), in order to provoke people to explore and ask the hard questions about life... The message given to Isaiah was ultimately a prophecy of the rejection of the gospel message of Yeshua: "Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive" (Matt. 13:14-15; Luke 8:10). This was a dark saying, a mystery, since "God so loved the world" that He disguised himself as a bondservant to die in shame upon a cross; "God so loved the world" that he became entirely unesteemed -- "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief" (Isa. 53:3). Yet even Moses foresaw the stupor of the people in relation to the truth of God (Deut. 29:4). Regarding the "hiding of face," in His sovereign judgment God decreed: "They know not, nor do they discern, for he has smeared their eyes so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand" (Isa. 44:18). God "gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own devices" (Psalm 81:12; Rom. 1:24); they went "backward and not forward" (Jer. 7:24). This was not a blindness induced by the "god of this world" as much as it was a darkness induced by the flesh and its apathy toward God. The mind became dull and sleepy because it ceased to believe in the miracle - and to realize that God's truth is always something extraordinary, spectacular, and wonderful...

Before he offered himself for our sins, Yeshua plainly explained the plan of salvation to his followers apart from parabolic "figures of speech" (παροιμία) he often used. His disciples then said, "Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech. Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God" (John 16:29-30). Upon hearing this, Yeshua then rhetorically asked, "Do you now believe?" Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone..." (John 16:31-32).

We have to want healing before we will be given it, and that implies that we understand who we are and how desperate our condition really is... When Isaiah saw the LORD, he abandoned his "flesh" (i.e., his ego and all its trappings) and realized his inherent impurity. He saw the infinite distance between whatever story he told about himself and Reality... It would require a miracle on the order of creating the world yesh me'ayin - "out of nothing" -  to produce the boldness and grace for the heart of a sinful human being to speak on behalf of God. Likewise, the illusions of the disciples themselves had to be dashed before they could become true witnesses of the glory of Yeshua and His resurrection....

But what if you were so asked, as was Isaiah? What if you said to God, "Hineni, shelachteni!" (Here I am, send me!), only to be told to go tell others to "keep on hearing, but do not discern; keep on seeing, but do not understand." Would you be up to this task? Would you have passion to follow through with this call of God? And yet is that not precisely our task to this benighted and moribind generation, chaverim?

This line of thinking leads to the rather obvious question as to whether we really want to serve God - in the truth - or whether we are only interested in the good things He provides... I realize this is not necessarily an "either-or" proposition, but our motives before God need to be checked on occasion.  Do you really want to serve the LORD, to follow Yeshua, to take up the cross? Are you willing to give up everything to know Him?

May God help us never to "trifle" with Him, to play "religious games," and thereby fool ourselves... "God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth (πίστει ἀληθείας) - 2 Thess. 2:13. It is the truth that sets us free, and for the truth Yeshua gave Himself up for us: "For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world -- to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).

By the grace of God "we are what we are" (1 Cor. 15:10), and therefore God perfectly understands that we can't give away what we don't have ourselves... "God chooses what the world thinks is foolish to put to shame the so-called wise, and God chooses what the world thinks is weak to put to shame the so-called strong. And God chooses what is insignificant and despised in this world - even things that are not, to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast in the Divine Presence" (1 Cor. 1:27-29). Contrary to the propaganda of this evil world, God helps those who can't help themselves, chaverim, and therefore our hope is in Him alone for all that really matters. Shalom.
 




Playing Games with God?


 

11.30.11 (Kislev 4, 5772)   "To what then should I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to one another, 'We played the flute for you, but you refused to dance; we wailed in mourning, but you refused to weep'" (Luke 7:31-32). This was really a taunt or a statement of derision -- words spoken by children who wanted others to dance to their tune, but who were quick to complain when others wouldn't join their game... Yeshua likened the religious authorities of his day to children who were offended that the "game" was not following their own idiosyncratic rule book (Luke 7:33-34). For example, the great prophet John was demonized (i.e., made a permanent "outsider") because he refused to dance to the "flute playing" of the Pharisees, while Yeshua was disparagingly called "a friend of tax collectors and sinners" because he refused to (insincerely) weep with the religious establishment over the "scandal" of the sinner (the self-righteous always find it offensive to "befriend the sinner").  Children playing cruel games invariably invent their own sort of wisdom - a childish "rule book" that favors the strong and scorns whatever it deems weak (this is the substance of the sanctimonious mummeries and traditions that Yeshua abhorred). The "game makers" refuse to open their minds to see beyond the realm of their closed system, however, because "wisdom is vindicated by all her children" (Luke 7:35).

A word for believers: Return to your "first love" (אַהֲבָתְךָ הָרִאשׁנָה).... The love of Yeshua must be the highest aim of our lives; it is the vital and distinguishing mark that we entirely and truly belong to Him (Matt. 10:37-38). Our passion is a result of His passion that gives us hope. Grace is revealed in our love for our Savior (Eph. 6:24). The remedy for a "cooled heart" is threefold: 1) remember from where you have fallen; 2) turn back (shuvah), and 3) do the works of love once again (Rev. 2:5). The love of Yeshua is not an option; it is not a "recommendation" for our own personal happiness or blessing. No - we are commanded to abide in His love with all our being (Deut. 6:5; John 14:21), and indeed those who do not truly love Yeshua are under divine curse (1 Cor. 16:22).

The way of healing forever remains the way of teshuvah:
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
 כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ
 קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים
 וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו
 כָּל־תִּשָּׂא עוֹן וְקַח־טוֹב
 וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ

shuvah · Yisrael · ad · Adonai · Elohekha
 ki · khashalta · ba'avonekha;
 kechu · imakhem · devarim
 veshuvu · el · Adonai, · imru · elav,
 kol · tisa · avon · vekach · tov
 u'neshalemah · farim · sefateinu

"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words
and return to the LORD; say to him,
"Take away all iniquity; accept what is good,
and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips."
(Hosea 14:1-2)


 
 

"Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him" (Isa. 30:18). There is nothing more important... After we have died and face our day of judgment, will we recall lost opportunities to serve Him?  will we regret that we did not love our LORD more dearly, fully, and passionately? May God help each of us to have hearts overflowing with love and praise for the glory and wonder of Yeshua our King and Savior! May He help us love Him without compromise, reservation, hesistation, delay, or any trace of shame... May our heartfelt love for Yeshua be the most important thing about who we really are...
 




Jacob's Vision of the Messiah

Albert Houthuesen detail
 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayetzei. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

11.29.11 (Kislev 3, 5772)   In our Torah portion this week, it is written that Jacob "came to a certain place and stayed there that night" (Gen. 28:11). The Hebrew text, however, indicates that Jacob did not just happen upon a random place, but rather that "he came to the place" -- vayifga bamakom (וַיִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם). The sages therefore wondered why the Torah states bamakom, "the place," rather than b'makom, "a place"?  Moreover, the verb translated "he came" is yifga (from paga': פָּגַע), which means to encounter or to meet, suggesting that Jacob's stop was a divine appointment.

The Hebrew word makom ("place") comes from the verb kum (קוּם), meaning "to arise," and in Jewish tradition, ha-makom became a Name for God.  The early sages therefore interpreted the verse to mean that Jacob actually had his dream while in Jerusalem rather than in Bethel... Indeed, the Talmud identifies "the place" Jacob encountered as Mount Moriah - the location of the Akedah - based on the language used in Genesis 22:4: "On the third day, Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place (הַמָּקוֹם) in the distance" (Sanhedrin 95b, Chulin 91b).  If that is the case (i.e., if Jacob had been miraculously transported south from the mountains of Bet El to what would later be called Jerusalem), then Jacob's dream of the ladder would have functioned as a revelation of the coming glory of the resurrected Messiah - the Promised Seed whom Isaac foreshadowed and through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. It was Yeshua, the Angel of the LORD, who came to "descend" (as the Son of Man) and to "rise" (as the resurrected LORD) to be our mediator before God (see John 1:47-51). Perhaps the Talmud makes the claim that Jacob's vision occurred in Jerusalem because Bethel later became the site for one of two idolatrous shrines (i.e., the golden calves at Bethel and Dan) established by King Jeroboam of the Northern Kingdom which he set up to discourage worship at Solomon's Temple in the City of Jerusalem (see 1 Kings 12:28-29).

At any rate, the Hebrew word for "intercessor" (i.e., mafgia: מַפְגִּיעַ) comes from the same verb (paga') mentioned in our verse. Yeshua is our Intercessor who makes "contact" with God on our behalf. Through His sacrifice for our redemption upon the cross (i.e., his greater Akedah), Yeshua created a meeting place (paga') between God and man.  Therefore we see the later use of paga' in Isaiah 53:6, "...the Lord laid on him (i.e., hifgia bo: הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ) the iniquity of us all," indicating that our sins "fell" on Yeshua as He made intercession for us (i.e., yafgia: יַפְגִּיעַ) for us (Isa. 53:12). Because of Yeshua, God touches us and we are able to touch God... And today, our resurrected LORD "ever lives to make intercession (paga') for us" (Heb. 7:25). He is still touched by our need and sinful condition (Heb. 4:15).
 

כֻּלָּנוּ כַּצּאן תָּעִינוּ אִישׁ לְדַרְכּוֹ פָּנִינוּ
וַיהוָה הִפְגִּיעַ בּוֹ אֵת עֲוֹן כֻּלָּנוּ

kul·la·nu  katz·on  ta·i·nu,  ish  le·dar·ko  pa·ni·nu
vadonai  hif·gi·a  bo,  et  a·von  kul·la·nu

"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned each to his own way;
but the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
(Isa. 53:6)
 

Paga' is also a term for warfare or violent meetings, and this alludes to the collision between the powers of hell and the powers of heaven in the outworking of God's plan of redemption: "... he (i.e., the Savior/Messiah) will crush your head (ראשׁ), and you (i.e., the serpent/Satan) will crush his heel (עָקֵב)."  This was the original prophecy of redemption, an encounter with evil that would provide atonement and retribution (see the "Gospel in the Garden").  Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, the mashgiach of Ponevezh, points out that the entire future of the Jewish people hinged on the vision given to Jacob - and in Jacob's response to it.  Had he been prevented to return (i.e., through Laban's schemes to keep him in Charan), the Jewish people would have become enslaved and assimilated into the people of Aram, and ultimately the Messiah Himself would not have been born. Laban, then, embodied the desire of Satan to thwart the coming of the Promised Seed, and therefore he may be compared to Pharaoh, who likewise tried to enslave Israel in Egypt...

As I mentioned in my additional commentary on parashat Balak, Laban's worship of the serpent (nachash) led him to become one of the first enemies of the Jewish people (see "The Curses of Laban"). He tried to make Jacob a slave from the beginning, later claiming that all his descendants and possessions belonged to him (Gen. 31:43). After Jacob escaped from his clutches, Laban had a son named Beor (בְּעוֹר) who became the father of the wicked prophet Balaam (בִּלְעָם). In other words, the "cursing prophet" Balaam was none other than the grandson of diabolical Laban. Here is a diagram to help you see the relationships:

 

In Jewish tradition, Laban (the patriarch of Balaam) is regarded as even more wicked than the Pharaoh who enslaved the Jews in Egypt.  This enmity is enshrined during the Passover Seder when we recall Laban's treachery as the one who "sought to destroy our father, Jacob." Spiritually understood, Laban's hatred of Jacob (i.e., Israel) was intended to eradicate the Jewish nation at the very beginning. Had Laban succeeded, Israel would have been assimilated and disappeared from history, and more radically, God's plan for the redemption of humanity through the Promised Seed would have been overturned....

Thankfully, Jacob was enabled by God's grace to overcome Laban and to return to the Promised Land, and even more thankfully, the Messiah was able to crush the rule of Satan through His atoning sacrifice and resurrection at Moriah. Yeshua, our ascended LORD, is ha-makom - the place where we encounter the Living God....


Addendum:

The authority and reign of Satan has been gloriously vanquished by Yeshua our Savior, blessed be He, though there is coming a time of judgment for all who dwell upon the earth. The time immediately preceding the appearance of the Messiah will be a time of testing in which the world will undergo various forms of tribulation, called chevlei Mashiach (חֶבְלֵי הַמָּשִׁיחַ) - the "birth pangs of the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98a; Ketubot, Bereshit Rabbah 42:4, Matt. 24:8). Some say the birth pangs are to last for 70 years, with the last 7 years being the most intense period of tribulation -- called the "Time of Jacob's Trouble" / עֵת־צָרָה הִיא לְיַעֲקב (Jer. 30:7). The climax of the "Great Tribulation" (צָרָה גְדוֹלָה) is called the great "Day of the LORD" (יוֹם־יהוה הַגָּדוֹל) which represents God's wrath poured out upon a rebellious world system. On this fateful day, the LORD will terribly shake the entire earth (Isa. 2:19) and worldwide catastrophes will occur. "For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?" (Rev. 6:17). The prophet Malachi likewise says: "'Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,' says the LORD Almighty. 'Not a root or a branch will be left to them'" (Mal. 4:1). Only after the nations of the world have been judged will the Messianic kingdom (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים) be established upon the earth. Yeshua will return to Jerusalem to establish His glorious kingdom (as foretold by the prophets) and then "all Israel will be saved." The Jewish people will finally understand that Mashiach ben Yosef (the Suffering Servant) and Mashiach ben David (the anointed King of Israel) are one and the same... The 1,000 year reign of King Messiah will then commence (Rev. 20:4).

Presently our responsibility is to come to "the place" (ha-makom) where God's work of redemption was completed - that is, to the Cross of Yeshua.  There we turn to God in repentance (teshuvah) and consign our sins to the judgment borne for us through Yeshua's sacrifice as our kapporah (atonement). By faith we understand that the resurrected Savior is forever ha-makom, "the place" where God meets with us, and we learn to abide in His gracious Presence by means of the Holy Spirit. We cease striving to justify ourselves (i.e., by virtue of works), but instead receive God's love and Spirit into our hearts.  This means that we will study the Scriptures (truth), obey the Torah of Yeshua and His emissaries, and share the good message of God's redemption with a lost and dying world...

We are fast approaching, however, the prophesied "End of Days" (acharit hayamim), when the LORD will return to earth to "settle accounts" with its inhabitants (including those who profess to obey Him).  We do not have much more time, chaverim.  We must encourage people to call upon the LORD for salvation before it is too late...
 

כִּי־כֵן אהֵב אֱלהִים אֶת־הָעוֹלָם
עַד־אֲשֶׁר נָתַן בַּעֲדוֹ אֶת־בְּנוֹ אֶת־יְחִידוֹ
וְכָל־הַמַּאֲמִין בּוֹ לא־יאבַד
כִּי בוֹ יִמְצָא חַיֵּי עוֹלָם׃

ki-khen  o·hev  E·lo·him  et-ha·o·lam,
ad-a·sher  na·tan  ba·a·do  et-be·no  et-ye·chi·do,
ve·khol-ha·ma·a·min  bo,  lo-yo·vad
ki  vo  yim·tza  cha·yei  o·lam

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son,
so that whoever trusts in Him should not be destroyed, but have eternal life"
(John 3:16)

Hebrew Study Card
 




The Surpassing Glory of Yeshua...


 

[ I've been reading a bit from the Book of Revelation lately, and the following are just a few thoughts regarding the unsurpassable glory of Yeshua, the glorious LORD of Glory who is coming soon to judge the world and establish the kingdom of God upon the earth in Zion... ]

11.29.11 (Kislev 3, 5772)   Who is as great as our LORD Yeshua, the King of king of kings (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים) and the only true Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם)? Who else died on the cross for our sins to redeem us from destruction and everlasting despair? Who else "loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5)? There is salvation in no other Name (Acts 4:12) and "of Him all the prophets bear witness that He alone is our Redeemer" (Acts 10:43). His is the Name above all other Names -- far above all other so-called gods and idols of this world (Phil. 2:9-11). Only Yeshua has the power to deliver us from death and hell, and without Him we can do nothing of spiritual value (John 14:5).
 

כּה־אָמַר יְהוָה מֶלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל
 וְגאֲלוֹ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
 אֲנִי רִאשׁוֹן ואֲנִי אַחֲרוֹן
 וּמִבַּלְעָדַי אֵין אֱלהִים

 
koh · a·mar · Adonai · me·lekh · Yis·ra·el
ve·go·a·lo · Adonai · Tze·va·ot
a·ni · ri·shon · va·a·ni · ach·a·ron
u·mi·bal·dai · ein · E·lo·him
 

"Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
"I AM the first and I AM the last;
beside me there is no god."
(Isa. 44:6)
 

Note that the passage continues: "Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen" (Isa. 44:7).

It is instructive to compare these words found in the Book of Isaiah with John's vision given at the island of Patmos recorded in the Book of Revelation: "When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, "Fear not, I am the first and the last (אֲנִי רִאשׁוֹן ואֲנִי אַחֲרוֹן) and the Living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hell" (Rev. 1:17-18).

Anyone who claims to have "revelation" that pretends to go beyond that which is revealed by the King of Glory who is the First and the Last, the LORD and Redeemer of all; the LORD of the armies of heaven, the One who died and yet is alive forevermore -- will surely face the judgment from the One who holds the keys of death and hell... "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled... Blessed are all they that put their trust in him (Psalm 2:12).
 

אֲנִי יְהוָה וְאֵין־עוֹד אֱלהִים מִבַּלְעָדַי
 אֵל־צַדִּיק וּמוֹשִׁיעַ אַיִן זוּלָתִי
 פְּנוּ־אֵלַי וְהִוָּשְׁעוּ כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
 כִּי אֲנִי־אֵל וְאֵין עוֹד
 בִּי נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי יָצָא מִפִּי צְדָקָה
 דָּבָר וְלא יָשׁוּב כִּי־לִי תִּכְרַע כָּל־בֶּרֶךְ
 תִּשָּׁבַע כָּל־לָשׁוֹן

 
a·ni · Adonai · ve·ein · od · Elohim · mi·bal·a·dai
el · tzad·dik · u·mo·shi·a · a·yin · zu·la·ti
pe·nu ·  e·lai · ve·hi·va·she·u · kol ·  af·sei ·  a·retz
ki · a·ni · El · ve·ein · od
bi · nish·ba·ti ·  ya·tza ·  mi·pi · tze·da·kah
da·var · ve·lo ·  ya·shuv · ki · li · tikh·ra ·  kol · be·rekh
ti·sha·va ·  kol · la·shon
 

"I AM the LORD. There is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.
Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return: 'To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance."
(Isa. 45:21-23)
 

Of Yeshua it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God" (Rom. 14:11); "therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on him the Name that is above every name, so that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Yeshua the Messiah is LORD (יהוה), to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11). Yeshua said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). Let's give Yeshua the glory due His Name, chaverim!

 

"Abide in me as I abide in you (μείνατε ἐν ἐμοί, κἀγὼ ἐν ὑμῖν). Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

Yeshua's words are hauntingly true: "apart from Me you can do nothing..."
 




Parashat Vayetzei - ויצא


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah reading, Parashat Vayetzei. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

11.28.11 (Kislev 2, 5772)   In last week's Torah portion (Toldot), Jacob "grappled" the blessing from his father, but it cost him dearly.... His brother Esau was so enraged by the betrayal that Jacob was forced to flee his parent's home in shame, never to see his mother again (indeed, Rebekah "lost both her sons in one day," just as she had feared [Gen. 27:45]).  Jacob's 20 year exile from the family began in heartache and sorrow -- "fleeing as an outcast over stony lands" -- away from the love of his mother and devoid of the hope given to his father and grandfather...

While he was on the run to Charan, however, the sun began to set, and Jacob "crashed into" an appointed place (יִּפְגַּע בַּמָּקוֹם) before departing from the Promised Land (according to midrash, the sun miraculously set quickly into a "thick darkness" so that Jacob was forced to dwell there before his long exile). Wearied from the journey, Jacob devised a makeshift "bed" in the field and used a stone as a pillow. That night Jacob dreamed his famous dream of the ladder (i.e., sullam: סֻלָּם) that was set up on earth and reached toward heaven with the angels of God (מַלְאֲכֵי אֱלהִים) ascending and descending upon it:
 

    And behold, the LORD stood over him (נִצָּב עָלָיו) and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your descendants (lit., sing. "your seed": זַרְעֶךָ) shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Gen. 28:13-15).


     

When Jacob awoke he was overawed.  "Surely the LORD is in this place (בַּמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה) and I knew it not." Shaken by the vision, he said, מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה / mah nora ha-makom hazeh - "How awesome is this place!" and added, ein zeh ki im-bet Elohim v'zeh sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם): "This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen. 28:17). Jacob then made a monument from the stone he had used as a pillow, anointed it with oil, and called the place Bet-El (בֵּית־אֵל) - "the house of God." It is likely that this was the place that Abraham erected an altar to the LORD after he came to the Promised Land (Gen. 12:8).

The sages explain that ha-makom (הַמָּקוֹם), literally "the place," was actually Mount Moriah, the location where Jacob's father Isaac was bound as the "sacrificed seed" (and which later became the site of the Holy Temple). In later Rabbinical thought the title Ha-Makom (הַמָּקוֹם) became synonymous for God Himself ("God is the place of the world, but the world is not God's only place"). Other Rabbinical names for God include: Ha-Kadosh Baruch Hu ("The Holy One, blessed be He"), Ribbono Shel Olam ("The Master of the Universe"), Avinu She-bashamayim ("Our Father in Heaven"), Shekhinah ("Divine Presence"), among others.

Yeshua later referred to Jacob's dream when he said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man" (John 1:51). Just as Jacob saw the ladder ascending to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua told Nathanael that He was the very Ladder to God, the true sha'ar ha-shamayim (שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם) - the way into heaven (John 14:6). Indeed, Yeshua is the true Temple or "house of God" (בֵּית־אֵל) and its Chief Cornerstone (Rosh Pinnah, Matt. 21:42). He is the divine communication (Word) from heaven to earth -- the Angel of the LORD who descends and ascends. The Son of Man is God's link with the children of Adam (Dan. 7:13; Matt. 26:64). Yeshua is the new "Bet-El," God's dwelling place (Gen. 28:17; John 1:14). Nathanael and the other disciples witnessed the glory of God come down to mankind in the Person and Life of Yeshua the Mashiach. Just as Jacob awoke and realized he was in the awesome presence of God, so Nathanael realized that he was in the presence of the very LORD of the universe!

Yeshua is the Gate to Heaven, the Mediator between Heaven and Earth. Jacob dreamed a dream, but Yeshua became the Substance of that dream by willingly becoming the Promised Seed of Jacob. It is through Yeshua, the Promised Seed, that all the nations of the earth are blessed (Gen. 28:14). Because of the Messiah, the Gate to Heaven stands wide open and the grace of God is available for all who put their trust in the Son of Man. Yeshua is our Bridge back to God (John 14:6). Ask Him to connect you with the infinite and loving condescension of Heaven today....
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ׃
קְחוּ עִמָּכֶם דְּבָרִים וְשׁוּבוּ אֶל־יְהוָה אִמְרוּ אֵלָיו
כָּל־תִּשָּׂא עָוֹן וְקַח־טוֹב וּנְשַׁלְּמָה פָרִים שְׂפָתֵינוּ׃

shu·vah  Yis·ra·el  ad Adonai  E·lo·he·kha,  ki  kha·shal·ta  ba·a·vo·ne·kha,
ke·hu  i·ma·khem  de·va·rim,  ve·shu·vu  el-Adonai,  im·ru  e·lav,
kol-tis·sa  a·von  ve·kach-tov,  u·ne·shal·le·mah  fa·rim  se·fa·te·nu

Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all iniquity; accept what is good, and we will pay with bulls the vows of our lips." (Hos. 14:2-3h)
 
 




Shabbat "Table Talk" for Toldot


 

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

11.25.11 (Cheshvan 28, 5772)  It's an old custom to discuss the weekly Torah portion with your family (and friends) during the Sabbath. To make it a little easier to remember what to discuss, I created a brief summary of the Torah reading along with a set of questions and answers. Hopefully this material will prompt some interesting (and enjoyable) discussion for your weekend, chaverim. You can download the PDF file from the linked page (above) or by directly clicking here: 
 

Shabbat Shalom to you all! May the peace of God (שְׁלוֹם אֱלהִים) that "surpasses all understanding" guard your heart and mind in Yeshua our Messiah (Phil. 4:9).
 




Barrenness and Prayer

Chagall
 

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

11.25.11 (Cheshvan 28, 5772)  The Jewish sages assumed that there are no "unnecessary words" in the written Torah.  All 304,805 letters are carefully counted by the soferim (scribes).  Moreover, Yeshua spoke about "kotzo shel Yod" (קוֹצוֹ שֶׁל יוֹד), that is, the smallest stroke atop the smallest Hebrew letter, in order to stress that every detail of God's revelation has its purpose (Matt. 5:18; Luke 16:17). Every "jot and tittle" has its place, and this implies that words spelled in unusual ways, the exact order of words in a phrase, and various textual oddities (such as redundant words, oversized or undersized letters, etc.) were intended to teach us something we might otherwise not have known.
 

 

Our Torah portion this week begins with a description of the birth of Jacob and Esau. Isaac and Rebekah had been married for twenty years but were still without an heir to carry on the family line. The Torah then states that "Isaac entreated the LORD before his wife, because she was barren" (Gen. 25:21). The sages asked why the Torah mentioned the prayer before mentioning its purpose. Wouldn't it have made more sense to first mention that Rebekah was barren and then to say that Isaac prayed for her?

The Talmud states that Rebekah was barren because God desires the prayers of the righteous. God made them barren in order to cause them to seek His face. Since Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born (Gen. 25:26), and he had married Rebekah at age forty (Gen. 25:20), we know that they had waited twenty years for the birth of their first descendants. Twenty years is a long time to wait, especially when the promise of the heir of Abraham and Isaac (and therefore the Messiah) is at stake. Rabbi Bachaya said that the prayer offered by Isaac was the goal all along, and the barrenness was the divinely appointed means to that end.  The Torah alludes to this by saying that Isaac first prayed before explaining his reason for doing so.
 

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ

tov  li khi-u·ne·ti,  le·ma·an  el·mad  chu·ke·kha

"It is good for me that I was afflicted,
that I might learn your statutes." (Psalm 119:71)
 


God wants us to be in a personal relationship with Him, and therefore He sometimes sends temporal affliction to remind us of our eternal need.... After all, is there anything worse than to be "forgotten" by God? Can there be any worse punishment in this life than to be untouched by need, suffering and testing?  Indeed, it is curse to be devoid of need before the LORD, and affliction is a blessing in disguise.  As A.W Tozer once wrote, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He's hurt him deeply." This is why, as the Talmud comments, the manna fell once a day during the 40 years, and not once a year, as we might have desired:

    The students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai asked him: Why did the manna not fall once a year [as opposed to once a day]? He answered, I will give you a parable: It can be compared to a mortal king who had a son for whom he provided food once a year; as a result, he saw his son but once a year. Thereupon he provided for his maintenance daily, so that he called upon him every day. The same is with Israel. One who had four or five children would worry and say, 'Perhaps no manna will fall tomorrow, and we will all die of hunger.' Thus they turned their faces to heaven in prayer (Yoma 76a).
     

Just as God humbled Israel with manna in the desert, so He humbles us. "Give us this day our daily bread..."  The purpose of affliction is ultimately good and healing: God humbles us with manna so "that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD" (Deut. 8:3). In other words, God uses the discipline of affliction to lead us to the truth.  We often pray that our problems be taken away, but God sometimes ordains these very problems so that we will draw near to Him... Yeshua told us, "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him."  Many of us are slow to learn, but God is patient with those whom He disciplines. The goal is to never lose sight of what's most important, which is God Himself.
 




The Mother of the Messiah...


 

[ The Hebrew text in Genesis 4:1 supports the interpretation that Chavah (Eve) actually expected the LORD Himself to be born as her son... ]

11.25.11
(Cheshvan 28, 5772)  In the "Gospel in the Garden," we looked at the very first prophecy given in the Torah, namely, God's promise that through the "seed of the woman" would come one who would slay the serpent and crush the kingdom of Satan (Gen. 3:15). This prophecy is sometimes called the proto-euangelion ("first gospel"), since it constitutes the starting point of all subsequent redemptive history revealed in the Scriptures.  In a sense this promise forms the "womb" for the whole course of God's redemptive plan for the human race.  The first prophecy of Torah clearly anticipated the coming of the Savior of mankind and a cosmic battle between good and evil: "... he (i.e., the Savior/Messiah) will crush your head (ראשׁ), and you (i.e., the serpent/Satan) will crush his heel (עָקֵב)."

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

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

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

Note: For more on this subject, follow the "Promised Seed" thread of articles found in the Torah readings for Genesis: 'of the Woman, of Shem, of Abraham, of Isaac, of Jacob, of Judah...'
 




The Seed of Isaac...


 

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

11.25.11 (Cheshvan 28, 5772)  In this Torah portion, we get further insight into the coming spiritual showdown between the LORD and the serpent (nachash). Recall that the original promise of the coming Messiah was given within the context of the curse and judgment upon Satan: "I will put enmity (אֵיבָה) between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he (i.e., the Savior/Messiah) will crush your head (ראשׁ), and you (i.e., the serpent/Satan) will crush his heel (עָקֵב)" (Gen. 3:15). The very first prophecy of Torah therefore describes the coming of the "Serpent Slayer" and the great conflict of the ages.  Since the Messiah would be "born of a woman," the prophecy implies perpetual warfare between those descendants of Eve who shared her faith and underwent teshuvah (called the "children of light" or "children of the promise") and those descendants of Eve who refused it (called the "children of darkness" or "children of the devil").  The ongoing enmity between these "two seeds" foretells the "tale of two kingdoms," the Kingdom of God (מַלְכוּת אֱלהִים) and the kingdom of the devil (John 8:34-36).

After Abraham was tested with the Akedah, he was promised to the heir of the world to come (Rom. 4:13). Genesis 22:18 clearly states that the blessing would come through Abraham's "seed" (זֶרַע), and indeed Abraham later bequeathed everything to his son Isaac (Gen. 25:5). Isaac and Rebekah had been married for twenty years but were still without an heir to carry on the family line. Finally their prayers were answered and Rebekah conceived, though her pregnancy was not without complications: "The children struggled together within her (וַיִּתְרצֲצוּ הַבָּנִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ), and she said, 'If it is thus, why is this happening to me?' So she went to inquire of the LORD" (Gen. 25:22). The LORD then told Rebekah (through the prophet Shem) that she was carrying twin sons who would father two great nations of opposite ideology and origins, though the younger child would be chosen as the heir of the godly line leading to the Messiah. The struggle within Rebekah's womb therefore recalled the original prophecy of God made in the Garden of Eden and the future conflict between the two "seeds." Note that the word translated "struggled" in this verse is ratzatz (רָצַץ), a verb used elsewhere to express violent conflict (e.g., to oppress (Deut. 28:33; 1 Sam. 12:3; Jer. 22:17), to crush (2 Kings 23:13), to break (Isa. 36:6), etc.).

Rashi quotes a fanciful midrash that says that when Rebekah would pass by the doorway of a House of Learning, Jacob fought to be born and enter it, but when she passed a temple devoted to idol worship, Esau fought to get out.  The battle between the sons, in other words, would fundamentally represent the ongoing enmity between the children of light and the children of darkness (as would be revealed in later narrative of the Torah).

When the time came for Rebekah to give birth, the first child came out with a full head of hair and ruddy complexion. Since he looked like a child who had been born long before, he was named Esav (from the past participle of asah [עָשָׂה], meaning "made," or "completed"). His twin brother then came out holding his heel, and therefore was dubbed Ya'akov (meaning "heel holder" or "grappler"). It is interesting to note that Esav's name comes from the same root used to describe "works" (מעשים) whether human or divine. The spirit of Jacob was protesting from the womb that his twin brother Esau was "complete" and that his works would be sufficient apart from divine intervention.  Isaac immediately favored Esau, presumably because he was the firstborn; but Rebekah, believing the promise of the LORD, favored Jacob. We have to wonder why Isaac did not believe the message given to Rebekah regarding the twins (Gen. 25:23). Did Isaac associate the name Ya'akov (grappler of the heel) with the original prophecy given in the Garden ("he shall bruise your heel [עָקֵב]")? If Isaac believed that the Messiah would come through his line, perhaps he associated the image of Jacob attacking the heel of his brother as a bad omen....

The question is raised as to why God chose Jacob and rejected Esau. If, as the New Testament affirms, Jacob was sovereignly chosen "before the children were born," how could Esau have overcome his natural tendencies to become righteous (see Rom. 9:11-12)? The sages remind us that both children grew up in a godly home, with virtuous and loving parents. Indeed, according to Rashi, throughout their youth they were "indistinguishable" in their goodness and virtue. It was only after the death of Abraham that Esau chose the path of impurity (according to tradition it was at this time that he sold his birthright for some stew).  And yet (as any parent with a wayward child knows) this might explain why Isaac refused to let go of his hope for Esau.  "According to the pain, is the reward" (Avot 5:22). Had Esau overcome his evil inclination during his adult years (as he had done in his youth), he would have been stronger than Jacob, who was described as ish tam yoshev ohalim, "a wholesome man, who lived in tents" (i.e., naturally inclined to holiness). As was later clearly revealed, however, Esau chose the path of darkness and made himself into an enemy of God's greater purpose of redemption. Like Cain before him, he was of the "seed of the serpent," and God therefore sealed his fate by rejecting him (Mal. 1:2-3; Rom. 9:13).

As mentioned elsewhere, it took a long time for Isaac to "open his spiritual eyes" to discern the truth about his two sons. During the dramatic episode of the "stolen blessing," some have suggested that Isaac actually knew he was blessing Jacob but "pretended" to be fooled in order to avoid destroying his relationship with his firstborn son Esau.... Isaac's blindness is central here: when he regarded his sons using his physical sight, he favored Esau, but when he looked away from the realm of appearances, he was empowered to anoint Jacob as the heir to the promise of God...
 




Offering Thanks for You...


 

11.24.11 (Cheshvan 27, 5772)  I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the LORD God of Israel, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, for all my friends and supporters over the years.... This ministry simply could not exist without your kindness and help... May the blessing and the Presence of the Divine Light of Yeshua always shine brightly within your hearts:
 

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ
 יָאֵר יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ
 יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם

ye·va·re·khe·kha  Adonai  ve·yish·me·re·kha;
ya·er  Adonai  pa·nav  e·le·kha  vi·chu·ne·ka;
yis·sa  Adonai  pa·nav  e·le·kha,  ve·ya·sem  le·kha  sha·lom

"The LORD bless you and keep you;
 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace"

(Num. 6:24-26)



Download Study Card
 

Undoubtedly Yeshua recited this "priestly blessing" over his disciples when he ascended back to heaven, though of course He would have spoken it using the first person: "I will bless you and keep you; I will shine upon you and be gracious to you; I will lift up my countenance upon you, and give you my peace" (Luke 24:50-51). As Yeshua said to his followers, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you" (John 14:27; 20:19). After all, who but the Prince of Peace (שַׂר שָׁלוֹם) could speak these words in the truth?
 




Counting your blessings...


 

11.24.11 (Cheshvan 27, 5772)  On Thanksgiving Day it is customary to recall all the many blessings that God bestows upon us, so I thought it would be good to listen to a portion from Psalm 103 that reminds us of how God's ongoing goodness sustains our lives:
 

בָּרֲכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה וְכָל־קְרָבַי אֶת־שֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ
 בָּרֲכִי נַפְשִׁי אֶת־יְהוָה וְאַל־תִּשְׁכְּחִי כָּל־גְּמוּלָיו
 הַסּלֵחַ לְכָל־עֲוֹנֵכִי
 הָרפֵא לְכָל־תַּחֲלֻאָיְכִי
 הַגּוֹאֵל מִשַּׁחַת חַיָּיְכִי
 הַמְעַטְּרֵכִי חֶסֶד וְרַחֲמִים
 הַמַּשְׂבִּיַע בַּטּוֹב עֶדְיֵךְ
 תִּתְחַדֵּשׁ כַּנֶּשֶׁר נְעוּרָיְכִי

ba·ra·khi  naf·shi  et  Adonai,  ve·khol  ke·ra·vai  et  shem  kod·sho;
ba·ra·khi  naf·shi  et  Adonai,  ve·al  tish·ke·chi  kol  ge·mu·lav;
ha·so·le·ach  le·khol  a·vo·ne·khi,
ha·ro·fe  le·khol  ta·cha·lu·ai·khi;
ha·go·el  mi·sha·chat  chai·ya·khi,
ha·me·a·te·re·khi  che·sed  ve·ra·cha·mim;
ham·mas·bi·a  ba·tov  ed·yekh,
tit·cha·desh  ka·ne·sher  ne·u·rai·khi

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me,
 bless his holy name
 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
 and forget not all his benefits,
 Who forgives all your iniquity,
 Who heals all your diseases,
 Who redeems your life from the pit,
 Who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
 Who satisfies you with good
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's."

(Psalm 103:1-5)


 

Despite the turmoil of living close to the time of the prophesied "End of Days," we can find supernatural peace and joy in God's providential love and care for our lives (Phil. 4:7)... Happy Thanksgiving and love to you and your family, chaverim, in Yeshua our Messiah!
 




Thanksgiving Opens the Door...


 

11.23.11 (Cheshvan 26, 5772)  The Midrash says that in the days to come, when the Messiah will rebuild the Temple, the sin offering (chatat) and the guilt offering (asham) will no longer be needed and only the thank offering (i.e., zevach ha-todah: זֶבַח הַתּוֹדָד) will be offered to commemorate God's salvation (יְשׁוּעָה). Likewise, the Shemoneh Esrei will no longer be recited except for the blessing of Modim, thankfulness. This is because at that time "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26) and the prophetic fulfillment of Yom Kippur will be realized for the entire world....

The Scriptures state, "Whoever offers a thank offering (זבֵחַ תּוֹדָה) glorifies me" (Psalm 50:23). The todah offering was unusual because it was accompanied with an elaborate offering of bread - including the offering of otherwise forbidden leavened bread (Lev. 2:11). "With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring near (karov) loaves of leavened bread" (Lev. 7:13). The only other time leavened bread (i.e., chametz) was offered at the altar was during the holiday of Shavuot, as a token of thanks for the fulfillment of the wheat harvest. The wave offering (i.e., tenufah: תְּנוּפָה) of the two loaves prophetically pictured the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) before the LORD, which was the climax of God's plan for the world's redemption through Yeshua, the true Passover Lamb of God. The 50 day countdown to Shavuot therefore anticipated the advent of the Holy Spirit given to the followers of Yeshua (Acts 1:8, 2:1-4).

The thank offering mentioned in the Torah reappears in the New Testament. In the Book of Hebrews were are instructed to "continually offer up a sacrifice of thanks (זֶבַח תּוֹדָה) to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his Name" (Heb. 13:15). It is interesting to note that the Greek verb used to "offer up" (i.e., ἀναφέρω) is used to translate the Hebrew verb "to draw near" (karov) in Leviticus. In other words, the "offering up of thanks" for the sacrifice of Yeshua functions as "korban" and draws us near to God. Thanking God for personal deliverance constitutes "right sacrifices" (זִבְחֵי־צֶדֶק) as we draw near to God in the hope of His love (Psalm 4:5; Heb. 7:19). As Yeshua said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32).
 

מִזְמוֹר לְתוֹדָה הָרִיעוּ לַיהוָה כָּל־הָאָרֶץ׃
 עִבְדוּ אֶת־יְהוָה בְּשִׂמְחָה בּאוּ לְפָנָיו בִּרְנָנָה׃
 דְּעוּ כִּי־יהוה הוּא אֱלהִים
 הוּא־עָשָׂנוּ ולוֹ אֲנַחְנוּ
 עַמּוֹ וְצאן מַרְעִיתוֹ׃
 בּאוּ שְׁעָרָיו בְּתוֹדָה חֲצֵרתָיו בִּתְהִלָּה
 הוֹדוּ־לוֹ בָּרֲכוּ שְׁמוֹ׃
 כִּי־טוֹב יְהוה לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ
 וְעַד־דּר וָדר אֱמוּנָתוֹ׃

mizmor  le·to·dah:  ha·ri·'u  ladonai  kol  ha·a·retz;
iv·du  et  Adonai  be·sim·chah,  bo·u  le·fa·nav  bir·na·nah;
de·u  ki  Adonai  hu  E·lo·him,
hu  a·sa·nu  ve·lo  a·nach·nu,
am·mo  ve·tzon  mar·i·to;
bo·u  she·a·rav  be·to·dah,  cha·tze·ro·tav  bit·hil·lah,
ho·du  lo  ba·ra·khu  she·mo;
ki  tov  Adonai  le·o·lam  chas·do,
ve·ad  dor  va·dor  e·mu·na·to

"A thanksgiving psalm. Shout out praises to the LORD, all the earth!
 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
 Know that the LORD, he is God!
 He made us and we belong to him;
 we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!
 Give thanks to him; bless his name!
 For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever,
 and his faithfulness to all generations." (Psalm 100)


 

The targum notes that the offering for thanksgiving (i.e., the todah: תוֹדָה) is inherently superior to all other offerings. Other sacrifices were intended to serve as a means to an end - namely, to expiate sin in order to restore fellowship - but the thank offering was meant to praise God for His deliverance and glorifies His Name as our Savior. In other words, because the LORD has saved us, we are now under obligation to "serve the LORD with gladness" and to sing joyfully to His Name... We are commanded to be delighted, to be happy, to see the wonder and glory and beauty and love of the LORD -- even if we experience sadness during the days of our exile or find ourselves in distress --since our salvation assuredly draws near (may the Messiah return speedily and in our days).

We can trust that we truly belong to God on the authority of the Messiah himself:  "I tell you the solemn truth, whoever hears my message and believes the One who sent me has eternal life (חַיֵּי עוֹלָם) and will not be condemned in judgment, since he has passed over from death to life (כִּי־עָבַר מִמָּוֶת לַחַיִּים)" (John 5:24).

As Yeshua said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never ever be lost -- no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one" (John 10:27-30). "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out" (John 6:37). "For He is our God and we are His people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand" (Psalm 95:7).
 

וַאֲנַחְנוּ עַמְּךָ וְצאן מַרְעִיתֶךָ
 נוֹדֶה לְּךָ לְעוֹלָם
 לְדר וָדר נְסַפֵּר תְּהִלָּתֶךָ

va·a·nach·nu  am·me·kha  ve·tzon  mar·i·te·kha,
no·deh  le·kha  le·o·lam,
le·dor  va·dor,  ne·sa·per  te·hil·la·te·kha

"But we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will give thanks to you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise."
(Psalm 79:13)


 


Serving God is ultimately a source of gladness and great joy. Our hearts rejoice in the Divine Presence, since there is nothing else like this joy and there is no one like Him. You are invited to come boldly before His Presence at all times (Heb. 4:16). When you pray let your heart be glad that you are calling upon the LORD Most High, Maker of Heaven and Earth. Because God has saved us, "we are His" - we are am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה) - His "select possession," and therefore one of the sheep of His pasture (John 10:27-30).

We are given the great privilege of giving thanks to God and glorifying His Name, since we understand the goodness and mercy of the LORD God revealed in Yeshua.... Thanksgiving "opens the door" to God and enables us to enter into the gates of the Divine Presence.
 




Thanksgiving Day and Sukkot...


 

11.22.11 (Cheshvan 25, 5772)  The American holiday of Thanksgiving certainly has its roots in the Jewish tradition of giving thanks to God, and some historians even believe that the early "pilgrims" derived the idea directly from the Biblical festival of Sukkot (i.e., "Tabernacles").  Indeed, before coming to the New World, the pilgrims lived for a decade among the Sephardic Jews in Holland, since Holland was considered a safe haven from religious persecution at the time. Since the pilgrims were devout Calvinists and Puritans, their religious idealism led them to regard themselves as "new Israel," and it is likely that they learned that Sukkot commemorated Israel's deliverance from their religious persecution in ancient Egypt during this time. After they emigrated to the "Promised Land" of America, it is therefore not surprising that the pilgrims may have chosen the festival of Sukkot as the paradigm for their own celebration. As the Torah commands: "[Celebrate the feast] so that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God" (Lev. 23:39-43). The highly religious pilgrims regarded their perilous journey to the new world as a type of "Exodus event" and therefore sought the appropriate Biblical holiday to commemorate their safe arrival in a land full of new promise...
 

הוֹדוּ לַיהוה כִּי־טוֹב כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

ho·du  la·Adonai  ki  tov,  ki  le·o·lam  chas·do

"Give thanks to the LORD for He is good;
for His steadfast love endures forever."



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Note:
For more information about the possible connection between the holiday of Sukkot and Thanksgiving Day, see this article.
 




Isaac's Troubled Family...


 

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

11.22.11 (Cheshvan 25, 5772)  Like Abraham's wife Sarah, Isaac's wife Rebekah (רִבְקָה) had trouble getting pregnant, though Isaac determined never to resort to the use of a concubine as did his father. Indeed, the story of Hagar and Ishmael haunted Isaac throughout his life. Therefore, after experiencing 20 years of barrennness and infertility, the Torah records that Isaac finally "entreated" (יֶעְתַּר) the LORD on behalf of his wife. The sages note that this verb (עתר) means to slaughter, and the midrash explains that Isaac ascended Mount Moriah, pitched a tent, and there offered a sacrifice during his prayers. This must have been terribly difficult for Isaac, since the trauma of the Akedah never left him. Nevertheless, Isaac's intercession for his wife proved fruitful, and Rebekah later conceived twins (Gen. 25:21).

Rebekah's pregnancy was not an easy one, however, and the children "struggled within her" (the Hebrew verb used here (רָצַץ) comes from a root that means "to run," suggesting that the children were "running in different directions" within the womb; see Rom. 9:11-12). According to Jewish tradition, Rebekah feared she might miscarry and decided to go to the School of Shem (i.e., Malki-Tzedek) to inquire of the LORD. There she was told that "two nations" were in her womb, and "two peoples from within you shall be divided"; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger" (Gen. 25:23; cp. Rom. 9:11-12). When the children were born, the first came out hairy and was named Esau (perhaps from the Hebrew word esev (עֵשֶׂב), "grass"), whereas the second came out with his hand on his brother's heel, and was named Ya'akov (יַעֲקב, "grappler," from the word עָקֵב, "heel"). When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, an outdoorsman, while Jacob was a quiet man, studying Torah in the tents of Abraham and Isaac (Gen. 25:27). In later Jewish tradition, Esau represented the nation of Rome (and later "Roman versions" of Christianity), whereas Ya'akov represented the nation of Israel.

Perhaps opposites attract. The Torah states that Isaac loved Esau whereas Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen. 25:28). Isaac grew up as the quiet, disciplined, and dutiful son of Abraham, and he perhaps saw something in his son Esau which he himself lacked.  Rebekah, on the other hand, grew up adventuresome, strong, and outgoing, and she perhaps saw something in her son Jacob which she lacked....  At any rate, the sibling rivalry was deep and abiding in the family, and perhaps even reflected the problematic differences between the parents themselves. As we will see, Isaac and Rebekah were opposites, just as were their twin sons....

The Torah gives an episode in the lives of the two boys to indicate something of their respective characters. Once when Jacob was cooking lentil stew, Esau came in from the field quite exhausted. Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stew, for I am exhausted!" (Gen. 25:29-30). Some scholars note that Esau's words should be rendered, "Let me swallow from that red-red," suggesting that he was in such a hurry to meet his needs that he didn't even bother calling it "stew" (the Torah parenthetically notes here that this was the reason Esau was later known as "Edom" (אֱדוֹם, "red")). Jacob, however, decided to take advantage of his brother's weakness by manipulating Esau into "selling" him his birthright.  The Torah gives a realistic view of this exchange: while Esau "despised" his status as the firstborn son, Jacob was cunningly manipulative and exploited his brother's weakness.

Some time later, when Isaac "was old and his eyes were dimmed from seeing," he sought to bless Esau as the family heir before he died (Gen. 27:1-4). The midrash states that Isaac's eyes were dimmed on account of the ordeal of the Akedah. When he was bound to the altar, Isaac looked up and saw the Throne of Glory with the angels of God circling about. Some of the angels' tears fell on Isaac's eyes, and from that time his eyes had begun to darken. Perhaps Isaac "saw" God as Elohim (אֱלהִים) - the Judge and Ruler of the Universe - but became blind to God as YHVH (יהוה), the Source of Compassion and mercy. The "afterimage" of the Akedah never left him - despite the divinely supplied substitute of the ram - and haunted him later as a form of blindness.  Isaac revealed that he was "blind" to the character of Esau, "blind" to his wife's vision regarding Jacob, and so on.

When Rebekah overheard Isaac's plans, she decided to trick her husband into conferring the blessing upon Jacob instead of Esau. For his part, Jacob was left with a serious dilemma: Either he had to defy his mother or else deceive his father.  And of course Rebekah knew that Isaac would discover the deception after the fact. Rebekah's deception of her husband was intended to show him that he was gullible and thereby easily deceived by Esau's hypocrisy. It was an object lesson, if you will, rather than a outright case of lying. After all, Esau was soon to arrive - venison in hand - and the charade would be exposed for all to see... Apparently Rebekah's plan was to "open the eyes" of her myopic husband, revealing to him that he had been guilty of sacrificing the righteous son Jacob for the sake of deceptive Esau (for more on this, see the "Deception of Esau").

The trickery proved to be tragic, however, for everyone involved.  Jacob desperately wanted the love and approval of his father, but he sought to get it through false pretenses. "Come close and kiss me my son..." (Gen. 27:26). This was Jacob's deep desire, and yet after "grappling" the blessing from his father he ironically lost his father's embrace. Indeed, Jacob lost not only his father's embrace, but his mother's as well (after fleeing to Haran, Jacob never saw his mother again). Moreover, Jacob's pathetic attempt to "be Esau" severed any hope of a relationship with his twin brother, who afterwards became his sworn enemy. Away from home and on the run, Jacob's life was also marked with painful irony. He was later deceived by his father (in-law) Laban, his wife Leah, his firstborn son Reuben, and even by his own children (regarding the death of Joseph, his firstborn son from Rachel).  And Rebekah's subterfuge cost her dearly, too: after the charade was exposed, Esau turned against her (Gen. 27:45), Jacob was lost to her forever , and her marriage undoubtedly suffered...

When Esau returned from his hunting expedition to receive the blessing, the truth came out, but Isaac tremblingly acknowledged to his son: גַּם־בָּרוּךְ יִהְיֶה / "... he (Jacob, not Esau) shall be blessed" (Gen. 27:33). Isaac "trembled exceedingly" because he realized that he had been laboring under an illusion all these years. He now finally understood the truth about his sons and ratified heaven's decision. It is ironic that when Isaac had his sight, he favored Esau, but when he lost his (physical) vision he was enabled to give Jacob the blessing as the patriarch of Israel.

After Esau realized the implications, he used wordplay used to vent his anger: When he learned that Jacob had taken away his blessing, he exclaimed, "Is he not rightly named "heel holder" (i.e., יַעֲקב, "Jacob," from the word עָקֵב, "heel")? For he has taken me by the heel (יַּעְקְבֵנִי) these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing" (Gen. 27:36). Then he cried out, "Have you only one blessing, my Father?  Bless me too, my Father!" And Esau wept aloud." This is a terribly poignant moment.  Esau didn't accuse his father of being gullible or foolish, but simply implored him for his blessing all the more. Tragically, Esau learned the value of the blessing too late. Despite his many tears, he could not reverse the decree from heaven (see Heb. 12:16-17).

The sages talk about the "voice of Jacob" and the "hands of Esau" (Gen. 27:22). Both sons were counterparts of one another, though each needed the qualities of the other to be complete. Esau needed to learn the ways of Jacob - to love Torah, to respect the call of the family to be God's agents in the world, to value the things of heaven, and so on, whereas Jacob needed to learn the ways of Esau - to be a man of action, to work with his hands, to deal with the rough-and-tumble world at large. After Jacob fled to Charan to escape the clutches of his aggrieved brother, he learned to be a shepherd, a husband, and a father. In this way Jacob also learned the value of the blessing given to Esau, although this too was discovered needlessly late in his life.

In Jewish tradition, Abraham is known primarily for the quality of chesed (חֶסֶד), "kindness," "openness," "expansiveness," hospitality, and generosity.  His tent flaps were always open to all who happened to come his way. He was outgoing, welcoming, and solicitous for the welfare of others. His son Isaac, on the other hand, is known primarily for his quality of gevurah (גְּבוּרָה), "strength," "focus," concentration, and discipline. Isaac meditated alone in the fields, stayed close to his tent, and never ventured outside the Promised Land. The sages note that chesed unrestrained by gevurah is unbalanced (leading to indiscriminate leniency and gullibility), whereas gevurah unrestrained by chesed is also unbalanced (leading to stern judgmentalism or cruelty). Whereas Abraham was willing to sacrifice his beloved son at Moriah (chesed), Isaac was willing to be sacrificed (gevurah). The ideal is to have both chesed and gevurah function together to create an inner balance. This ideal is sometimes called tiferet (תִּפְאֶרֶת) and is thought to have been the characteristic later evidenced by Jacob (i.e., after he was renamed "Israel" at Peniel).  The enmity of Esau (the extreme of gevurah) haunted Jacob for years, even to the point of wrestling with the Angel of LORD over the issue (Gen. 32:24-29). From such wrestling (i.e., between the ideal of justice and the ideal of chesed) came an inner resolution -- the true blessing from God that resulted in a "limp" -- and the new name of "Israel."

Some have speculated what it would have been like for the twins if Isaac and Rebekah had a better relationship. Was their marriage mirrored in the lives of their sons? Why didn't Rebekah tell Isaac about the prophecy about the "elder serving the younger" -- or if she had told him, why didn't Isaac listen to her?  And why didn't Isaac tell Rebekah about his plan to bless Esau as the heir of the family?  Why did Rebekah feel the need to literally deceive her husband? And why did each parent favor a different child, thereby creating a ferocious sibling rivalry? Rebekah perhaps encouraged Jacob's duplicity because she felt ignored or disrespected by her husband.  She found an ally in her son - a "tool" she could use to find leverage and a voice in the family. But Isaac perhaps encouraged Esau's profanity because he never resolved his inner turmoil regarding the Akedah. Perhaps he inwardly chafed at the ideal of strict justice and wanted to be set free.... After all, Isaac was wounded and left nearly blind from the encounter of God as Judge, but somehow he could not embrace God's sacrificial love for himself...

It's clear that the families of the patriarchs had serious struggles and were often quite dysfunctional. When we idealize these people, however, we tend to forget their humanity, and they may appear disconnected from us - on a higher spiritual level. For example, Isaac is often characterized as the obedient son who was willing to be sacrificed at Moriah at the hands of his loving father, whereas Abraham is characterized as being so "sold out" to God that he was willing to sacrifice the son he so dearly loved. Now while it is gloriously true that the sacrifice of Isaac presents a clear foreshadowing of the greater "Akedah message" of the Gospel (John 3:16), there is a human side to this story that is sometimes overlooked. Jewish tradition states that Sarah died from the shock of the Akedah, leaving both Abraham and Isaac bereaved.  Isaac's "personal holocaust" at the hands of his father caused him to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder that profoundly affected him for the rest of his life: He struggled as a son (he fled from his father Abraham after the Akedah), as a husband (he seemed unable to communicate with his wife), and as a father (his preference of Esau over Jacob caused a terrible rift in the family).  Most of all Isaac struggled to understand God's love, despite God's justice...

The story of Isaac's family is ultimately one of hope for us all.  Isaac was deeply wounded but ultimately found healing, just as his son Jacob later wrestled through his family issues to become "Israel."  Take heart, chaverim: God can use us for His kingdom purposes despite whatever dysfunctionality might be in our family backgrounds.
 




Parashat Toldot - תולדת


 

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

11.21.11 (Cheshvan 24, 5772)  Last week's Torah portion (Chayei Sarah) explained how Isaac acquired a wife from among his father's relatives living back in Mesopotamia (i.e., Rebekah), while this week's reading (Toldot) continues the story by revealing some of the troubles that Isaac and Rebekah faced as a couple... For instance, it is clear that Rebekah favored her son Jacob over Esau, and she indeed had received prophetic revelation about Jacob's chosen status before the twins were born, and yet Isaac seemed indifferent to his wife's testimony and faith.  It was only later, after Isaac had become physically blind, that he was able to begin looking beyond mere appearance to apprehend the truth about his sons.

Indeed during the dramatic episode of the "stolen blessing," some have suggested that Isaac actually knew he was blessing his younger son Jacob but "pretended" to be fooled in order to avoid destroying his relationship with his firstborn son Esau....   Isaac's blindness is central here: when he had his carnal sight, he favored Esau; when he lost it, he was finally able use spiritual discernment to pass the family blessing on to Jacob...
 




Rosh Chodesh Kislev...


 

[ Note that the new month of Kislev begins Saturday, Nov. 26th at sundown this year... ]

11.20.11
(Cheshvan 23, 5772)  Rosh Chodesh marks the start of a new month in the Jewish calendar. The sages metaphorically considered the lunar cycle to be a picture of ongoing "sacrifice and restoration." The renewal of the moon (i.e., the first crescent) was regarded as a kind of "rebirth" that issued from the previous service of the month (i.e., the moon's "self-diminution," or waning to complete darkness).

On the Biblical calendar the month of Kislev (כִּסְלֵו) is the ninth month of the year (counting from Nisan), which begins Saturday, Nov. 26th (after sundown) this year. In Jewish tradition, the last Sabbath of the month before the appearance of the new moon (i.e., Rosh Chodesh) is called Shabbat Mevarkhim (שַׁבַּת מְבָרְכִים, "Sabbath of Blessing"), and an additional prayer is recited asking God to bless the coming month. In addition, a special Haftarah is read called Machar Chodesh – "tomorrow is the new moon" (1 Sam. 20:18-42).

The month of Kislev is one of the "darkest" months of the year, with the days progressively getting shorter and the nights getting longer. Indeed, the Winter Solstice often occurs during the last week of Kislev, and therefore the week of Chanukah (which straddles the months of Kislev and Tevet) often contains the longest night of the year. It is no wonder that, among other things, Chanukah represents an appropriate time to kindle the lights of faith - and to remember the Light of the World in the Messiah's advent to earth...

 


A Month of Dreams

The month of Kislev is sometimes called the "month of dreams" because the weekly Torah portions for this month contain more dreams than any other. No less than nine dreams (of the ten in the Torah) appear in the portions of Vayetzei, Vayeshev, and Miketz - which are all read during the month of Kislev. In the Torah, the primary figure connected with dreams is Jacob's son Joseph, who was nicknamed by his brothers as "that dreamer" and who was later named "Decipherer of Secrets" (Tzofnat Paneach) by Pharaoh (Gen. 41:45). Joseph was able to mediate the spiritual and the physical realms through the Spirit of God within him (Gen. 41:38). Prophetically Joseph represents Yeshua the "disguised Egyptian" who likewise was rejected and hated by his brothers - but who later became their savior (for more on this, see "Mashiach ben Yosef").


 


A Month of Hope

Some of the commentators think the name Kislev comes from a root (כּסל) that means "trust" or "hope." In the Scriptures the root appears in several places, including: "And they placed in God their hope (כִּסְלָם)" (Psalm 78:7); and, "Did I place my hope (כִּסְלִי) in gold?" (Job 31:24). Interestingly, the root can also refer to foolishness, suggesting that the wisdom of God (i.e., His "dream" for saving humanity through Yeshua) often appears as foolishness to men (1 Cor. 3:19). If Yeshua was born during Sukkot (i.e., Tabernacles), then it is likely that He was conceived during Chanukah - perhaps near the Winter Solstice itself. The true light - that enlightens everyone - would shine in the darkest night of this world (John 1:9; 1 John 2:8).


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·hey·nu  ve·lo·hey  a·vo·tey·nu
she·te·cha·desh  a·ley·nu  cho·desh  tov,  ba'a·do·ney·nu  Ye·shu·ah  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."



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Chodesh Tov to you all, chaverim. Remember that the Divine Light shines like a fire and yet does not destroy or consume. The light of God does not necessarily take away the darkness but always overcomes it and shines within it: "The darkness and the light are both alike unto Thee" (Psalm 139:12; John 1:5). May this month be one of blessing and the Presence of the Divine Light of Yeshua within your hearts (John 8:12).


Chanukah Dates for 2011

Note:
This year Chanukah begins on Tuesday, December 20th at sundown (1st candle) and runs through Wednesday, December 28th.
 




New "Table Talk" for Chayei Sarah


 

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

11.18.11 (Cheshvan 21, 5772)  This week's Torah portion begins with the account of Sarah's death and explains how Abraham legally purchased the Cave of Machpelah (in Hebron) to bury her in the promised land. Ironically, the first "deeded property" to the Jewish people in the land of Canaan was a burial site...

As mentioned the other day, when Abraham approached the Hittites to purchase a burial site, he said: "I am a sojourner and settler (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a place to bury my dead..." (Gen. 23:4). King David likewise confessed: "For we are strangers with You, and sojourners like our fathers; our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope [in this world]" (1 Chron. 29:15). Life in olam hazeh (this world) is nothing but a "burial site," a graveyard, a shadowy place of passing that leads to olam haba, the world to come, and to God's glorious kingdom.  We cannot find lasting hope in this world and its values; all that must be buried and surrendered to God.
 

כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ
כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ
וְאֵין מִקְוֶה

ki  ge·rim  a·nach·nu  le·fa·ne·kha,
ve·to·sha·vim  ke·khol  a·vo·tei·nu,
katz·tzel  ya·mei·nu  al  ha·a·retz
ve·ein  mik·veh

"For we are strangers before you
and sojourners, as all our fathers were.
Our days on the earth are like a shadow,
without hope."

(1 Chron. 29:15)
 


Some time after Sarah was buried, Abraham's chief servant, Eliezer of Damascus (the one Abraham had originally thought would be his heir), gave his solemn promise to Abraham to help find Isaac a wife from among Abraham's relatives in Mesopotamia (not from among the Canaanites). Eliezer - who pictured the role of the Holy Spirit - then set out on the long journey in search of a bride for the beloved son...

To make it a bit easier to work through some of the text, I created a brief summary of the Torah reading along with a set of questions and answers. Hopefully this material will prompt some interesting (and enjoyable) discussion for your Sabbath, chaverim. You can download the PDF file from the linked page (above) or by directly clicking here: 
 

May you fall before the cross in despair of your sins, but may you be raised up by the power of God's salvation... May you then walk in awe of God's ways, "to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul." Amen.
 

וַאֲנִי תְפִלָּתִי־לְךָ יְהוָה עֵת רָצוֹן
 אֱלהִים בְּרָב־חַסְדֶּךָ עֲנֵנִי בֶּאֱמֶת יִשְׁעֶךָ

va·a·ni  te·fil·la·ti  le·kha  Adonai  et  ra·tzon
E·lo·him  be·rov  chas·de·kha,  a·nei·ni  be·e·met  yish·e·kha

"But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At a time of favor,
O God, in the abundance of your love answer me in the truth of your salvation."

(Psalm 69:13)


 

Shabbat Shalom to all you needy in Yeshua! The LORD "raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile, that he might seat him with princes, with the princes of his people" (Psalm 113:7-8).
 




The Gospel in Few Words


 

11.16.11 (Cheshvan 19, 5772)  Can you expound the essential meaning of the gospel in a single (and preferably short) sentence? How about "Yeshua the Messiah came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15), or perhaps, "For our sake he made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21)? Of course "unpacking" the meaning of these sentences is where things get more difficult, but a succinct expression of faith can often provide us with a starting point...

"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ). "For in him all the fullness (πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα) of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the message (εὐαγγέλιον) that you heard" (Col 1:19-23).

"For the Messiah also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous (δίκαιος ὑπὲρ ἀδίκων), that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit" (1 Pet. 3:18). "And God is so rich in mercy (מָלֵא רַחֲמִים) and who loves us with such intense love (בְּרב אַהֲבָתוֹ אֲשֶׁר אָהַב אתָנוּ), even when we were dead because of our acts of disobedience, he brought us to life along with the Messiah- it is by grace that you have been delivered (בַּחֶסֶד נוֹשַׁעְתֶּם). That is, God raised us up with the Messiah Yeshua and seated us with him in heaven, in order to exhibit in the ages to come how infinitely rich is his grace, how great is his kindness toward us who are united with the Messiah Yeshua. For you have been delivered by grace through trusting, and even this is not your accomplishment but God's gift" (Eph. 2:4-8).

And of course there is always the "stand by" verse of John 3:16:
 

כִּי־כֵן אהֵב אֱלהִים אֶת־הָעוֹלָם
עַד־אֲשֶׁר נָתַן בַּעֲדוֹ אֶת־בְּנוֹ אֶת־יְחִידוֹ
וְכָל־הַמַּאֲמִין בּוֹ לא־יאבַד
כִּי בוֹ יִמְצָא חַיֵּי עוֹלָם׃

ki-khen  o·hev  E·lo·him  et-ha·o·lam,
ad-a·sher  na·tan  ba·a·do  et-be·no  et-ye·chi·do,
ve·khol-ha·ma·a·min  bo,  lo-yo·vad
ki  vo  yim·tza  cha·yei  o·lam

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only and unique Son,
so that whoever trusts in Him should not be destroyed, but have eternal life"
(John 3:16)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Here are a few other simplified expressions of our faith (I am sure you can come up with some others, chaverim): "He has freed us from our sins by his blood" (Rev. 1:5); "he that has the Son has life" (1 John 5:12); "Yeshua died for our sins, was buried, rose again on the third day, and forever reigns" (1 Cor. 15:3-4,25).

Let's push this approach a bit further.  How about just four words?


Three words?


Can we find two words?

  • "Messiah Crucified" (המָּשִׁיחַ הַנִּצְלָב);
  • "Jesus Saves"
  • My help (בְּעֶזְרָתִי)
     

Or how about just one word:

  • Chesed / love (חֶסֶד)
  • Abba (Father)
  • Spirit (הָרוּחַ)
  • Truth (הָאֱמֶת)
  • Messiah (הַמָּשִׁיחַ)
  • Moshia - Savior (מוֹשִׁיעַ)
  • King (הַמֶּלֶךְ)
  • "Jesus" / Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) - because whatever your need, the answer is found in Him.
     

Finally - dare I suggest it? - how about no words at all? To paraphrase Francis of Assisi, "Go into all the world an preach the gospel - and sometimes use words." Of course words are important, but by themselves they are never enough, and very often they are unnecessary (James 2:18)... There is a language of love ("the works of love") that goes beyond any diction the tongue may express.  This is why the Name of the LORD always is something more than a mere word, concept, or idea... The Name of the LORD is God's love and power and glory and grace and kindness and mercy and passion as He Himself knows it to be real, true, and utterly invincible in all things...
  

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ
צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

che·sed  ve·e·met  nif·ga·shu,
tzedek  ve·sha·lom  na·sha·ku

"Love and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed." (Psalm 85:10)

The cross, not the scales

Download Hebrew Study Card
 





Walking in Darkness...


 

11.15.11 (Cheshvan 18, 5772)  It is dangerous to assume that a person who is walking in spiritual darkness must necessarily be outside of God's will, or that such a person is being punished by God... As Charles Spurgeon once remarked, "Spiritual darkness of any sort is to be avoided and not desired; and yet, surprising as it may seem to be, it is a fact that some of the best of God's people frequently walk in darkness; some of them are wrapped in a sevenfold gloom at times, and to them neither sun, nor moon, nor star appears. As the pastor of a large church, I have to observe a great variety of experiences, and I note that some of whom I greatly love and esteem, who are, in my judgment, among the very choicest of God's people, nevertheless, travel most of the way to heaven by night."

Indeed, Yeshua himself entered into darkness for our sake, and he sometimes has his followers go there, too:
 

מִי בָכֶם יְרֵא יְהוָה שׁמֵעַ בְּקוֹל עַבְדּוֹ
 אֲשֶׁר הָלַךְ חֲשֵׁכִים וְאֵין נגַהּ לוֹ
 יִבְטַח בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה וְיִשָּׁעֵן בֵּאלהָיו

mi  va·khem  ye·rei  Adonai  sho·mei·a  be·kol  av·do
a·sher  ha·lakh  cha·she·khim  ve·ein  no·gah  lo
yiv·tach  be·shem  Adonai  ve·yi·sha·en  be·lo·hav

"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness and has no light
trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God."

(Isa. 50:10)



 

Note first that this verse is really the application or culmination of the "Third Servant Song" of the Book of Isaiah (i.e., Isa. 50:4-9), where the Messiah is described as persevering despite terrible injustice, affliction, and suffering... After considering the perseverance of the Servant of the LORD, the prophet forewarns that a godly person, that is, "one who fears the LORD and obeys the voice of His Servant," may indeed walk in darkness and have no light.

Trusting in God (i.e., bittachon - בִּטָּחוֹן) does not mean that we are obligated to affirm that this is "the best of all possible worlds," though it does mean we believe that eventually God will wipe away every tear and make all things right... Bittachon is a word for this world, which says, "Though he slay me, I will trust in him..." Those who call upon the LORD can trust not only in concealed good behind ambiguous appearances ("all things work together for good") but also in a future, real, substantive good that will one day be manifest for us...
 

בִּטְחוּ בַיהוָה עֲדֵי־עַד
 כִּי בְּיָהּ יְהוָה צוּר עוֹלָמִים

bit·chu  va·Adonai  a·dei  ad
ki  be·Yah  Adonai  tzur  o·la·mim

"Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is the Rock of Ages."

(Isa. 26:4)


 

There is of course great consolation to those who remain stedfast in their faith, despite hardship, darkness, affliction, and so on: "Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before Him of those who feared the LORD and revered His Name. 'They shall be mine,' says the LORD of hosts, 'in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him'" (Mal. 3:16-17).
 




System Crash...


 

11.14.11 (Cheshvan 17, 5772)  A firewall program I use was performing an "auto-update" last night when suddenly the computer froze up, crashed, and then refused to restart.... When I finally rebooted using an operating system CD, I discovered the software update had corrupted the hard drive of the computer, making it unable to read/load the operating system files. Oy... Since this was a system error, I realized I would lose all data once I reinstalled the operating system and the various applications. Fortunately most of the data for this site carefully backed up, though sadly I will will lose many precious family pictures and some other personal data.  Unfortunately, it looks like I will be spending the next few days trying to repair things on this side of the monitor, chaverim.  Shalom.
 




Strangers and Settlers


 

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

11.14.11 (Cheshvan 17, 5772)  When Abraham approached the Hittites to acquire a place to bury his wife Sarah, he said: "I am a sojourner and settler (גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב) among you; sell me a burial site..." (Gen. 23:4). King David likewise confessed: "For we are strangers with You, mere transients like our fathers (כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ); our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope" (1 Chron. 29:15). Life in olam hazeh (this world) is nothing but a "burial site," a graveyard, a shadowy place of passing that leads to olam haba, the world to come, and to God's glorious kingdom. We cannot find lasting hope in this world and its values; all that must be buried and surrendered to God.
 

כִּי־גֵרִים אֲנַחְנוּ לְפָנֶיךָ
וְתוֹשָׁבִים כְּכָל־אֲבתֵינוּ
כַּצֵּל יָמֵינוּ עַל־הָאָרֶץ
וְאֵין מִקְוֶה

ki  ge·rim  a·nach·nu  le·fa·ne·kha,
ve·to·sha·vim  ke·khol  a·vo·tei·nu,
katz·tzel  ya·mei·nu  al  ha·a·retz
ve·ein  mik·veh

"For we are strangers before you
and sojourners, as all our fathers were.
Our days on the earth are like a shadow,
without hope."

(1 Chron. 29:15)
 

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

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

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

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָבִינוּ מֵעוֹלָם וְעַד־עוֹלָם

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

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

(Blessing Card)
 

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


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


Addendum:
The Warning of Reformed Judaism



 

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

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




Parashat Chayei Sarah - חיי שרה


 

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

11.14.11 (Cheshvan 17, 5772)  Recall that Sarah gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old and later died at age 127, when Isaac was 37 years old.  The Torah does not explicitly state the cause of her death, though according to Jewish tradition Sarah died from shock after learning about what happened to her son at the hand of her husband (i.e., the near sacrifice of Isaac at Moriah). It was just too much for her heart to bear.  How could she comprehend Abraham's actions?  Was he insane?  And what about Isaac? How could Sarah bear the terror her son must have endured? And what about the cherished dream of the family to be God's chosen people on the earth? Because of this great trauma, her soul departed from her....

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


 

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

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

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




Why the Jewish Roots?


 

[ Recently someone wrote me to insist that studying Hebrew, understanding the Torah, and observing the Jewish holidays has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus and the gospel... Woah. Stand with me, friends... ]

11.11.11 (Cheshvan 14, 5772)  Consider: God chose to reveal Himself to this world as a Torah-observant Jewish man. The gospel is 100% Jewish (John 4:22). It is nothing short of astonishing that the institutionalized Christian church has become alienated from its Jewish roots, especially in light of Paul's warning in Romans 11. An axiom of understanding Scripture is this: "A text without a context is a pretext," and therefore it is evident that we cannot even begin to rightly understand the message of the New Testament apart from the foundational truths of the Torah! The churches have failed to present the truth of the Jewishness of the message of Yeshua, and this has led to confusion, misunderstanding, and unwarranted arrogance. "Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you!" (Rom. 11:18)
 

אַשְׁרֵי אָדָם עוֹז־לוֹ בָךְ
 מְסִלּוֹת בִּלְבָבָם

ash·rei  a·dam  oz  lo  vakh,
me·sil·lot  bil·va·vam
"Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion"
(Psalm 84:5)
 





New "Table Talk" for Vayera


 

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

11.11.11 (Cheshvan 14, 5772)  This week's Torah portion contains some fascinating and important topics, including the "Gospel according to Moses," that is, the account of Abraham's sacrifice of his beloved son Isaac....

To make it a bit easier to work through some of the text, I created a new Shabbat "Table Talk" guide for parashat Vayera. The guide includes a brief summary of the Torah reading along with a set of questions and answers. Hopefully this material will prompt some interesting (and enjoyable) discussion for your Sabbath, chaverim. You can download the PDF file from the linked page (above) or by directly clicking here:
 

The story of the Akedah, or the "binding of Isaac," is recited every day during the morning prayer service (as well as during the Rosh Hashanah service). The Akedah represents the supreme test of Abraham's life which forever established his merit as the "father of faith." Abraham later called the place of sacrifice Adonai Yireh (יְהוָה יִרְאֶה), "God will see," and the Torah adds the comment that "On God's mountain He will be seen," referring ultimately to the sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross in Jerusalem (Gen. 22:14).

Time is short, chaverim... Keep pressing on and fighting the good fight of faith. Soon -- sooner than any of us would ever think -- we are going to see our King and give account for our lives. Be encouraged. The victory is in Yeshua who alone is the Savior of the world. There is no other Name; there is no other hope; and the hour is drawing near. Be strong and keep focused. Shalom!
 

בֵּאלהִים אֲהַלֵּל דָּבָר בַּיהוָה אֲהַלֵּל דָּבָר
 בֵּאלהִים בָּטַחְתִּי לא אִירָא מַה־יַּעֲשֶׂה אָדָם לִי

be·lo·him  a·hal·lel  da·var,  ba·Adonai  a·hal·lel  da·var;
be·lo·him  ba·tach·ti,  lo  i·ra,  mah  ya·a·seh  a·dam  li?

"In God, whose word I praise, in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
(Psalm 56:10-11)


 

"Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever (Isa. 40:8). The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times (Psalm 12:6). The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35); sanctify us in your truth: Your Word is truth (John 17:17). The truth shall make us free (John 8:32). The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever" (Psalm 119:160).
 




Finding Your Focus...


 

11.10.11 (Cheshvan 13, 5772)  The divided heart is sick. A double-minded man is "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). Therefore King David said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). David understood the great need for focus, for passion, for surrender: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). Here is David's prayer for healing from a broken and divided heart:
 

הוֹרֵנִי יְהוָה דַּרְכֶּךָ אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ
 יַחֵד לְבָבִי לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ
 אוֹדְךָ אֲדנָי אֱלהַי בְּכָל־לְבָבִי
 וַאֲכַבְּדָה שִׁמְךָ לְעוֹלָם
 כִּי־חַסְדְּךָ גָּדוֹל עָלָי
 וְהִצַּלְתָּ נַפְשִׁי מִשְּׁאוֹל תַּחְתִּיָּה

ho·re·ni  Adonai  dar·ke·kha  a·ha·lekh  ba·a·mi·te·kha
ya·ched  le·va·vi  le·yir·ah  she·me·kha;
o·de·kha  Adonai  E·lo·hai  be·khol  le·va·vi,
va·a·kha·be·dah  shim·kha  le·o·lam;
ki  chas·de·kha  ga·dol  a·lai
ve·hitz·tzal·ta  naf·shi  mi·she·ol  tach·ti·yah

"Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your Name.
I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,
and I will glorify your name forever.
For great is your steadfast love toward me;
and you have delivered my soul from the depths of hell."
(Psalm 86:11-13)


 

David understood that walking in the truth required "uniting his heart," or "repairing the breach" within his inner affections so that he could experience reverence and awe before the Divine Presence... In effect David prays to the LORD: "After You have healed my ambivalent heart, I will thank You with all my heart - entirely, wholly, completely - and I will glorify Your Name forever. My healing comes from Your great love (chesed) toward me, and through your love I am delivered free from the depths of hell...."

If "purity of heart is to will one thing," then impurity of heart is the result of simultaneously willing two things... It is therefore a state of inner contradiction, of having two separate "minds" or "hearts" holding contrary thoughts or desires.... "How long will you go limping between two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him" (1 Kings 18:21).
 

הַעֲבֵר עֵינַי מֵרְאוֹת שָׁוְא בִּדְרָכֶךָ חַיֵּנִי

ha·a·ver  ei·nai  me·re·ot  shav,  bid·ra·khe·kha  cha·ye·ni

"Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things;
in your ways give me life."
(Psalm 119:37)


 

Note that the word ha'aver (הַעֲבֵר) is related to the word for Hebrew, ha-ivri (עִבְרִי), implying that a "Hebrew mindset" can help you "cross over" from the realm of vanity to that of reality. Consider further the profound connection between turning away from worthlessness (i.e., idols) and finding life in the ways of God... Teshuvah does not mean closing our eyes to true beauty, but rather opening them to behold God's wonder and glory.
 




Very Present Help...


 

11.09.11 (Cheshvan 12, 5772)  According to many of the Jewish sages, Psalm 46 concerns the birth pangs of the Messianic Age and the prophetic war of Gog and Magog (Ezek. 38-39) that will usher in the Kingdom of God during the End of Days. This is hinted at in the opening of the psalm, where it is written, "Of the sons of Korach: according to alamot (עֲלָמוֹת)," i.e., the "hidden things" or "ages" to come. Recall that the sons of Korach were miraculously delivered from the rebellion of Korach in the desert and therefore they foreshadow the community of Israel delivered at the end of the present age. God is our refuge and strength during perilous days - so "hide yourself for a little moment, until the indignation will have passed" (Isa. 26:20).
 

אֱלהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעז
 עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאד
 עַל־כֵּן לא־נִירָא בְּהָמִיר אָרֶץ
 וּבְמוֹט הָרִים בְּלֵב יַמִּים
 יֶהֱמוּ יֶחְמְרוּ מֵימָיו
 יִרְעֲשׁוּ־הָרִים בְּגַאֲוָתוֹ סֶלָה

E·lo·him  la·nu  ma·cha·seh  va·oz
ez·rah  ve·tza·rot  nim·tza  me·od
al  ken  lo  ni·ra  be·cha·mir  a·retz
u·ve·mot  ha·rim  be·lev  ya·mim
ye·he·mu  yech·me·ru  me·mav
yir·a·shu  ha·rim  be·ga·a·va·to  Se·lah

"God is our refuge and strength,
an everpresent help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah"
(Psalm 46:1-3)


 

God is a very present help in times of trouble, so "if from there [i.e., the trouble of the latter days] you shall seek the LORD your God with all your heart, you will find him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deut. 4:29-31). The sages say that machaseh (refuge) implies being protected by God, while 'oz (strength) implies being empowered by God to withstand afflictions that originate from the hand of man. During the time of tribulation, God will grant both to His people. God is our help during distress, "very available," that is, very much present both in quality (i.e., His full Presence) and in quantity (i.e., He is ever-present, or always present). Fear is not an option for the heart of faith, since God gives providential help during time of our need (Heb. 4:16).

Ultimately any true help comes from the LORD Yeshua, of course, who will deliver Israel from all her enemies at the end of the great tribulation period (i.e., at His second coming). It is interesting that the sages say that the word "very" (i.e., me'od: מְאד) in the phrase, "a very present help" is thought to be an acronym for Messiah, Adam, David (מָשִׁיחַ אָדָם דָוִד) - that is, to the "Messiah, son of man and son of David," who will wield the authority of both the first man as well as God's chosen regent upon the earth...

We will not fear - even though the earth will change due to the mighty wars between the nations - and even if the mountains themselves are moved into the heart of the sea -- a prophetic allusion to the return of Yeshua upon the Mount of Olives at the end of the tribulation (Zech. 14:4). Despite the "rage and foam" of the nations, the LORD will break their godless pride as our Messiah returns with the multitude of His servants to exact vengeance upon the enemies of God (Zech. 14:5). "And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one" (Zech. 14:9). May that great Day come soon!
 

לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה
 קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה לִישׁוּעָתְךָ
 יְהוָה לִישׁוּעָתְךָ קִוִּיתִי

le·shu·a·ti  kiv·vi·ti  Adonai
kiv·vi·ti  Adonai  le·shu·a·ti
Adonai  le·shu·a·ti  kiv·vi·ti

"For Your salvation, I do wait, O LORD;
 I do wait, O LORD, for Your salvation;
 O LORD, for your salvation I do wait."

(Gen. 49:18) 





Faith Surpasses Reason:
Kierkegaard on the Akedah



 

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

11.09.11 (Cheshvan 12, 5772)  No consideration of the Akedah, or the sacrifice of Isaac, would be complete without considering the comments of the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). In his book "Fear and Trembling," Kierkegaard discusses the inner conflict Abraham faced when he was commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering on Mount Moriah. Although Abraham understood that God must be obeyed, he also understood that child sacrifice was immoral, and hence his struggle represented the collision between the imperative of reason and the imperative of faith. Choosing to heed the voice of reason (i.e., the "ethical" or the "universal") over the personal voice of God created a state of "fear and trembling" and a sense of being unable to communicate his passion and mission to others. Kierkegaard "resolves" the paradox by means of what he calls the "teleological suspension of the ethical," that is, the idea that the moral law may be (temporarily) "suspended" for the sake of a higher goal known only through the absolute surrender of faith.

Kierkegaard's point is meant to refute philosophers (like G.W. Hegel) and liberal theologians who attempted to identify the ethical (or moral duty) with genuine spirituality. If the ethical is "all there is" to spiritual life, then Abraham should not be regarded as the heroic "father of faith" but rather as a moral monster and murderer. Kierkegaard wants to force the issue by creating a dilemma. Faith itself cannot be understood in purely rational terms, since it concerns the individual's personal relationship with God, who is Absolute, and that means that faith can even transcend the universal demands of the moral law. Indeed, Kierkegaard states that the category of the ethical can present a temptation to keep us from passionately doing God's will. Ultimately, however, Abraham was justified for his complete obedience to God which resulted in the heavenly blessing.

In short, Kierkegaard's view attests to Blaise Pascal's statement that "faith has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." For more on this subject, you can read an excerpt of Fear and Trembling here.
 




The Angel of the LORD - מַלְאַךְ יהוה

Marc Chagall - Moses at the burning bush
 

[ I sometimes repost links to older articles I've written because they are releveant to the current week's Torah portion, and I think they are worth revisiting... The following entry is related to this week's Torah reading (Vayera). ]

11.08.11 (Cheshvan 11, 5772)  In Hebrew, an "angel" is called malakh (מַלְאַךְ), a word that basically means "messenger" or representative (from the root לאך, meaning "to send").  God created many angels, of course (Psalm 68:17, 103:20), but there there is one malakh who stands out from all the rest of the malakhim (angels) as a King stands above his subjects.  This "King of Angels" is called Malakh Adonai (מַלְאַךְ יהוה), or "the Angel of the Lord." Unlike the other angels that function as emissaries of God, Malakh Adonai is the supreme representation or Message of God Himself.  His Word/Voice is "one" with the Person of God, just as the Spirit of God is "one" with the Person of God.  Since the glory and power of God's infinite Being is incomprehensible to finite creatures, the Angel of the LORD is a form of God's condescension in a visible or audible manner so that an angel or a human being can apprehend His message....

Note:   For more on the Angel of the LORD, please click here.
 




Abraham's Three Visitors


 

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

11.08.11 (Cheshvan 11, 5772)  This week's Torah portion begins: וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יהוה / Vayera elav Adonai: "and the LORD appeared to him (i.e., Abraham) by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day" (Gen 18:1). The midrash colorfully states that the phrase "by the terebinth trees of Mamre" (בְּאֵלנֵי מַמְרֵא) should be read as "in the terebinth trees," that is, God manifested Himself "as a tree" to suggest that just as an old tree could still bear fruit, so would Abraham in his old age.

Rashi says it was the third day after Abraham's brit millah (i.e., circumcision) and God came (in a vision) to inquire as to his friend's welfare (this is regarded as a divine example of bikkur cholim (בִּקּוּר חוֹלִים), "visiting the sick"). During the vision, Abraham suddenly saw "three men" (שְׁלשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים) standing before him. But who were these strangers?  According to the Jewish sages, they were the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael disguised as wayfarers. Each angel had a distinct mission. Michael came to announce that Sarah would give birth to a son; Raphael came to heal Abraham from his circumcision; and Gabriel came to overthrow Sodom (Bava Metzia 86b).

Note: This entry continues in the article "Abraham's Three Visitors."
 




Parashat Vayera - וירא


 

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

11.07.11 (Cheshvan 10, 5772)  In last week's Torah (Lekh Lekha), we saw how the LORD spoke to Abram and invited him to forsake his ancestral home for the promise of God. In obedience to the call of the Word of the LORD, Abram left his homeland, his family, and his father's house to seek a better life - "for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (Heb. 11:10). But notice that it was only after Abram made the long journey into the unknown land of Canaan that God appeared to him saying, "To your offspring I will give this land" (Gen. 12:1-7). In other words, Abraham did not believe the promise because he saw God; but he was able to see God after he had walked in faith.... His faith in God enabled him to see God's hand, not the other way around. The principle of believing in order to understand is central to the walk of faith in this world.

Our Torah reading for this week (Vayera) includes what I call the "Gospel according to Moses," or rather Moses' account of how Abraham was tested by God to offer his "only begotten son" (בֵּן יָחִיד) as a sacrifice on Mount Moriah -- the place of the future Temple. This famous story is referred to as the Akedah (עֲקֵדָה), or Akedat Yitzchak (עֲקֵידָת יִצְחָק) - the "binding of Isaac" (Gen. 22:1-18). At the very last moment, the Angel of the LORD stopped Abraham from going through with the sacrifice and provided a ram as a substitute.  Abraham then named the location Adonai-Yireh (יהוה יִרְאֶה), "the LORD will provide/see" (from the 3p impf. of the verb ra'ah (רָאָה), "to see"). The binding of Isaac perfectly illustrates both the principle of sacrificial love and the principle that we must first unreservedly believe in that love in order to understand the ways of the LORD...


 

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

אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעלָה בְּנִי

E·lo·him  yir·eh-lo  has·seh  le·o·lah  be·ni

"God will see for himself the lamb for the burnt offering, my son."
(Gen. 22:8)


 

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

The very first occurrence of the word love in the Scriptures (i.e., ahavah: אַהֲבָה) refers to Abraham's love for his "only" son who was to be sacrificed as a burnt offering on Moriah (the very place of the crucifixion of Yeshua), a clear reference to the gospel message (Gen. 22:2; John 3:16). Some scholars have noted that the word ahavah comes from a two-letter root (הב) with Aleph (א) as a modifier. The root means "to give" and the Aleph indicates agency: "I" give (i.e., the Father gives). Love is essentially an act of sacrificial giving... The quintessential passage of Scripture regarding love (αγαπη) in the life of a Christian is found 1 Corinthians 13: "Love seeks not its own..."

Whereas the Akedat Yitzchak foreshadowed God's provision for the coming Temple, the Akedat Yeshua (i.e., the crucifixion of Yeshua at Moriah) was the altar where the justice and chesed (love) of the Father fully met. For more on this incredibly rich subject, please see the articles, "The Passion of Isaac" and "The Sacrificed Seed."

With God's help may we all learn more Torah this coming week, chaverim... Shalom.
 




"Table Talk" for Lekh Lekha


 

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

11.04.11 (Cheshvan 7, 5772)  It seems as if I've been trying to "catch up" with my Torah studies ever since the busy holiday week of Sukkot...  At any rate, to make it a little easier to discuss some topics for this week's Torah portion, I created a new Shabbat "Table Talk" guide for parashat Lekh Lekha. The guide includes a brief summary of the Torah reading along with a set of questions and answers. Hopefully this material will prompt some interesting (and enjoyable) discussion for your Sabbath, chaverim. You can download the PDF file from the linked page (above) or by directly clicking here:
 

In parashat Lekh Lekha Abram is called ha-ivri (הָעִבְרִי) - "the Hebrew," a term that means "one who has crossed over" (עָבַר) from another place. Rashi identifies this "other place" as Ur Kasdim (אוּר כַּשְׂדִים), located east of the Euphrates River, though the midrash (Genesis Rabbah) symbolically identifies it as the realm of idolatry: "The whole world stood on one side, but Abram crossed over to the other." Abram separated himself from a world steeped in idolatry and polytheism by worshiping One God who is the sole Creator of all things.... Understood in this way, being "Hebrew" means being regarded as an "other," a "stranger," or an "outsider" to idolatrous world culture. Likewise followers of Yeshua are "Hebrews" since they have crossed over from death to life....  Shabbat Shalom, chaverim!

 

יְהוָה אֱלהַיִךְ בְּקִרְבֵּך גִּבּוֹר יוֹשִׁיעַ
יָשִׂישׂ עָלַיִךְ בְּשִׂמְחָה יַחֲרִישׁ בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ
יָגִיל עָלַיִךְ בְּרִנָּה

Adonai  E·lo·haikh  be·kir·bekh,  gib·bor  yo·shi·a,
ya·sis  a·laikh  be·sim·chah  ya·cha·rish  be·a·ha·va·to
ya·gil  a·laikh  be·rin·nah

"The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will be silent in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing."
(Zeph. 3:17)



Download Study Card
 

This verse foretells the future redemption of the Jewish people, after the great Day of the LORD when God will gather together the nations to pour out His fury upon them (Joel 3:2; Zeph. 3:8, etc.). Like Joseph who revealed his identity to his long-lost brothers, Yeshua will dwell in their midst of Israel and "will be silent" regarding Israel's past offenses against him. After all, the Savior of Israel was oppressed and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth in accusation: "Like a lamb led to the slaughtering block, like a sheep silent before her shearers, he did not even open his mouth" (Isa. 53:7). God will rejoice over Israel with gladness. "As the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee" (Isa. 62:5). "For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end - it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay" (Hab. 2:3).
 




Righteousness through Faith


 

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

11.03.11 (Cheshvan 6, 5772)  Our Torah portion this week includes the first explicit statement that we are declared righteous by trusting in the LORD's love for us, and not because of any merit of our own contrivance... Therefore we read that the "word of the LORD" (i.e., devar-Adonai: דְּבַר־יְהוָה) came to Abram in a vision (חָזוֹן) saying, "Fear not Abram, I am a shield for you (אָנכִי מָגֵן לָךְ); your reward shall be great" (Gen. 15:1). When Abram then rhetorically asked what sort of reward might benefit him, since he was still childless, the Word of the LORD led him outside, saying, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." And he believed the LORD, and he regarded it to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:5-6).
 

וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה

ve·he·e·min  ba·Adonai vai·yach·she·ve·ha  lo  tze·da·kah

"And he believed the LORD, and he regarded it to him as righteousness."
(Gen. 15:6)


 


The very first occurrence of the word "righteousness" in the Scriptures (i.e., tzedakah: צדקה) concerns this issue of trust: וְהֶאֱמִן בַּיהוָה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶהָ לּוֹ צְדָקָה / "And he trusted in the LORD, He regarded it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Undoubtedly Abraham's desire for a child was an expression of his faith in the Promised Seed to come.  It was Abraham's trust (emunah, אמוּנה) in the promise of God that resulted in the Divine verdict (חשׁבּוֹן) that he was righteous (Rom. 4:13). The Apostle Paul later analogized this event to expound the doctrine of "justification by faith," that is, that a person who trusts in the Divine merit of Yeshua as God's agent of reconciliation is (legally, forensically) declared righteous before God (Gal. 3:6, Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 4:1-4, etc).

Abram believed that miraculous life would come - despite the deadness of his own flesh - and that this new life (as represented by Isaac) was based exclusively on God's unconditional love. Therefore the promise of the seed to come was ratified by means of the unilateral "covenant between the parts" (בְּרִית בֵּין הַבְּתָרִים). Here Abram was "in a deep sleep" before he awoke to see the smoking firepot with a flaming torch passing between the sacrificial parts (Gen. 15:12-17). The "deep sleep" (תַּרְדֵּמָה) was symbolic of Abram's powerless to effect the substance of the vision. The power of the promise comes from God alone, not from man... (Abraham's later test - the Akedah of Isaac - represented the ultimate surrender to the promise of God).

There is "great reward" for those who trust in the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) and who therefore abandon the hopeless quest of self-justification and karma-based "religion." The Apostle Paul lamented that Jewish "religion" was established almost entirely on the mistaken assumption that divine righteousness was imputed through the performance of the various mitzvot listed in the lawcode of Moses, and that such merit would somehow counteract the consequences of disobedience to the law: "For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness" (Rom. 10:3). This is the essential error of all "karma-based" systems of religion, since they appeal to God in terms that mitigate his holiness and the need for radical deliverance from the power of sin....

We find our rest (מְנוּחָה) by trusting in Yeshua's merit for our righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). We are redeemed, accepted and beloved because God personally chooses us, not because we earned his approval. Therefore we trust in the righteousness of God (צִדְקַת אֱלהִים) for our life, which is the goal of the Torah and the end of the "flesh." As it is written, "The puffed up soul is not upright within him, but the righteous one shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4):
 

הִנֵּה עֻפְּלָה לא־יָשְׁרָה נַפְשׁוֹ בּוֹ
 וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה

hin·nei  u·pe·lah  lo  ya·she·rah  naf·sho   bo
ve·tzad·dik  be·e·mu·na·to   yich·yeh

"Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
 but the righteous shall live by his faith"
(Hab. 2:4)


 

Note that the root for the word translated "puffed up" (עָפַל) also means to be reckless and presumptuous, and is the same word used to describe how Israel recklessly attacked the Amalekites (and were crushed in defeat) following the Sin of the Spies (Num. 14:44). The contrast here is between the "chametz" of the flesh – puffed up, full of pride (and even false repentance) and true surrender to God in humility and brokenness.... This is the "end of the law" principle wherein we receive the higher principle of life in the Spirit that comes through the law of faith (תּוֹרַת הָאֱמוּנָה). There is a "rest" given to the people of God, and that rest comes from relying on God (alone) for righteousness, live, peace, joy, healing, and so on.

This is also part of the reason that the very first law of Torah given to the people of Israel after their deliverance from bondage was the law of rest... shabbat (Exod. 16:23). Note that this law, given before Sinai, was addressed to the flesh so that the spirit of man can be free to serve God. Therefore we read, "God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work "that he created to make" (אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָא אֱלהִים לַעֲשׂוֹת) [Gen. 2:3]. The phrase "asher bara Elohim la'asot" indicates that there are two orders of reality – one that is natural and that operates under the laws of nature (it is created "to do" or "to make"), and the other that is spiritual and that operates under the laws of the Spirit of God. When God rested from the works that "create to make," He did so only with regard to the natural; but with regard to spiritual, God never ceased working (since God Himself is Spirit, after all, and the Source of all life). Therefore Yeshua healed on the Sabbath day and justified the miracle by saying, "My Father works until now, and I am working" (John 5:17).

The doctrine of justification by faith goes back to the Garden of Eden, of course, when Eve was originally given the promise of the Seed to come... The very first prophecy of Torah describes - in the most succinct form - the coming of the Savior and the great conflict of the ages (Gen. 3:15). First, God declared that He would put enmity (אֵיבָה) between Satan and the woman. This enmity, or "hostile hatred," was based on the memory of Eve's misguided trust she evidenced in the garden. When Eve first sympathetically listened to the lies of the nachash (serpent), she immediately began her descent into exile and became a temptress herself. Her first step toward sin was a gullibility or openness that ultimately resulted in a lack of trust of God (which is part of the reason why we must be saved by trusting, as a "like-for-like" reversal of the original sin). At the very dawn of human history, then, we see that "truth" (אֱמֶת) apart from God (א) leads to death (מֵת). Eve was deceived because of Satan, but Adam deliberately chose to disobey God (2 Cor. 11:3; 1 Tim 2:14). In response to her teshuvah (repentance), God blessed Eve before He judged her by imparting to her a God-given hatred for Satan and his lies, as well as the promise that she would take part in the birth of the Savior of mankind. The first promise of the gospel, then, focused on the woman and her role in the coming redemption.

Ultimately the doctrine of justification by faith comes from the Torah itself. The Talmud (Makkot 23b-24a) states: "Moses gave Israel 613 commandments, David reduced them to eleven (Psalm 15), Isaiah to six (Isa. 33:15-16), Micah to three (Micah 6:8), Isaiah reduced them again to two (Isa. 56:1); but it was Habakkuk who gave the one essential commandment: v'tzaddik be'emunato yich'yeh, literally, "the righteous, by his faithfulness - shall live" (וְצַדִּיק בֶּאֱמוּנָתוֹ יִחְיֶה). The Apostle Paul had stated this same truth 200 years before the Talmud was compiled by explicitly teaching that we are justified by faith in God's righteousness revealed in Yeshua, not by trusting in our own adherence to the lawcode of Sinai (see Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38, etc.).

Who is able to keep you from falling? Who is able to cause you to stand before the Glorious Presence without stain of sin, with great joy that will abide forever? (Jude 1:24-25
 

מִי עָלָה־שָׁמַיִם וַיֵּרַד
 מִי אָסַף־רוּחַ בְּחָפְנָיו
 מִי צָרַר־מַיִם בַּשִּׂמְלָה
 מִי הֵקִים כָּל־אַפְסֵי־אָרֶץ
 מַה־שְּׁמוֹ וּמַה־שֶּׁם־בְּנוֹ כִּי תֵדָע

mi a·lah  sha·ma·yim vai·ye·rad?
mi a·saf  ru·ach be·chof·nav?
mi tza·rar  ma·yim ba·sim·lah?
mi che·kim  kol af·sei a·retz?
mah  she·mo  u·mah shem be·no, ki tei·da!

"Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is his Son's name? Surely you know!"
(Prov. 30:4)



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El Shaddai... אֵל שַׁדַּי


 

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

11.01.11 (Cheshvan 4, 5772)   In this week's Torah (Lekh Lekha), the LORD described Himself using the Divine Name El Shaddai (אֵל שַׁדַּי), often translated as "God Almighty." In Genesis 17:1, YHVH said to Abram:  "I am El Shaddai. Walk before me and be perfect." So why did the LORD choose to reveal Himself using this distinctive Name to Abram? 

Most English translations render El Shaddai as "God Almighty," probably because the translators of the Septuagint (i.e., the Greek translation of the Old Testament) thought Shaddai came from a root verb (shadad) that means "to overpower" or "to destroy." The Latin Vulgate likewise translated Shaddai as "Omnipotens" (from which we get our English word omnipotent). God is so overpowering that He is considered "Almighty."

According to some of the sages, Shaddai is a contraction of the phrase, "I said to the world, dai (enough)" (as in the famous word used in the Passover Haggadah, Dayeinu -- "it would have been sufficient").  God created the world but "stopped" at a certain point. He left creation "unfinished" because He wanted us to complete the job by means of exercising chesed (love) in repair of the world (tikkun olam).

Jacob's blessing given in Genesis 49:25, however, indicates that Shaddai might be related to the word for breasts (shadaim), indicating sufficiency and nourishment (i.e., "blessings of the breasts and of the womb" (בִּרְכת שָׁדַיִם וָרָחַם)).  In this case, the Name might derive from the contraction of sha ("who") and dai ("enough") to indicate God's complete sufficiency to nurture the fledgling nation into fruitfulness. Indeed, God first uses this Name when He refers to multiplying Abraham's offspring (Gen. 17:2).


 

El Shaddai is used almost exclusively in reference to the three great patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and (according to Exodus 6:2-3) was the primary name by which God was known to the founders of Israel (the Name YHVH given to Moses suggests God's absolute self-sufficiency). The word "Shaddai" (by itself) was used later by the prophets (e.g., Num. 24:4; Isa. 13:6, Ezek. 1:24) as well as in the books of Job, Ruth, and in the Psalms.  In modern Judaism, Shaddai is also thought to be an acronym for the phrase Shomer daltot Yisrael - "Guardian of the doors of Israel" - abbreviated as the letter Shin on most mezuzot:

 


Personal Update: I have been stressed out a lately, dealing with various personal attacks from others as well as from some health concerns. Please keep this ministry in your prayers, chaverim. Thank you.
 





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