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September 2011 Updates

 

Fall Holiday Schedule

[ Note: For site updates, please scroll past this entry.... ]

Preparations for the High Holidays begin a month in advance. This year, the 40-day season of teshuvah (return or repentance) runs from Aug. 29th (Elul 1) until the end of Yom Kippur (Oct. 7th). Just five days after Yom Kippur is the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.  Here is a simple diagram to help you visualize this season of the Jewish calendar:

 

The following is a list of the fall holiday dates according to the Gregorian Calendar. Note that in accordance with Jewish tradition, all holidays begin at sundown:
 

  1. The Month of Elul

    When?  Aug 29th - Sept 28th




    According to Jewish tradition the month of Elul represents the time that Moses spent on Sinai preparing the second set of tablets after the idolatrous incident of the Golden Calf. Moses ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul and descended 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri, the end of Yom Kippur. The 30 days of Elul are considered a time of selichot (prayers for forgiveness) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days (Tishri 1-10). For more, see this page.

    Note: It is customary to blow the shofar every day of the month of Elul in anticipation of the High Holidays (see shofar blessings, below).

     
  2. Rosh Hashanah

    When?  Wed. Sept 28th

    Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) begins Wednesday, September 28th this year (the seventh "new moon" of the Jewish Year) and ends on Friday, September 30th. According to traditional Jewish thinking, this holiday commemorates the creation of mankind by God. The Mishnah (earlier part of the Talmud) refers to Rosh Hashanah as the "Day of Judgment" (Yom ha-Din) since all of creation owes allegiance to the Creator and is accountable to Him. The Name Elohim (אֱלהִים) revealed in Genesis 1:1 bespeaks God as the Creator and Judge of the universe (the Name YHVH, on the other hand, reveals God's compassion, as the One who intimately relates to humanity and breathes into us the breath of life (Gen. 2:4)). In Jewish tradition on Rosh Hashanah we stand before God as our personal Creator and Judge. Many Messianic Jews believe that the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a symbol of the rapture (ἁρπάζω) of the followers of the Messiah. You can download a free Rosh Hashanah Seder Guide here.

    Yom Kippur

    Note: The minor Fast of Gedaliah traditionally is observed on Tishri 3, unless that happens to be a Sabbath (which it is this year), in which case it postponed. This year the sunrise to sunset fast occurs on Sunday, October 2nd.
      
     
  3. Yom Kippur

    When?  Fri. Oct 7th


    Yom Kippur begins an hour before sundown on Friday, October 7th, which is a Shabbat this year. It is customary to eat a late afternoon meal with loved ones (called Seudat Mafseket, a meal of cessation), just before the fast begins (the 25 hour fast runs until an hour past sundown on Satuday, October 8th).  This is perhaps the most important holiday of the Jewish Year and holds tremendous prophetic significance regarding the Second Coming of Mashiach, the restoration of national Israel, and the final judgment of the world. It is also a day that reveals the High-Priestly work of the Mashiach Yeshua as our Kohen Gadol (High Priest) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (Heb. 5:10, 6:20).

    Yom Kippur

    The sound of the shofar at the end of the Yom Kippur minchah (afternoon service) is called gedolah, since it signifies the "sealing of the books" for the coming year.... Yom Kippur prophetically pictures the "Day of the LORD" or the Day of Judgment in Acharit Ha-Yamim (the End of Days).
     
     
  4. Sukkot

    When?  Wed. Oct 12th - Wed. Oct 19th

    Just five days after Yom Kippur marks the start of the seven-day festival of Sukkot (referred to as "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). It can be argued that Sukkot is the climax of all the festivals in Scripture....  Everything leads to it as a culmination in God's prophetic plan.  Sukkot concludes with an additional holiday called "Shemini Atzeret," on Wednesday, October 19th.

    Sukkot

    Note: The Torah Reading Cycle is suspended for the holiday week of Sukkot as well as for Shemini Atzeret (sometimes referred to as the "eighth day" of Sukkot). Sukkot, Hoshana Rabba, and Shemini Atzeret Torah readings are from Leviticus 22-23, Numbers 29, and Deuteronomy 14-16. These readings detail the laws of all of the mo'edim or "appointed times" on the Jewish calendar and include the mitzvot regarding the festival of Sukkot.
     
     
  5. Simchat Torah

    When?  Thur. Oct 20th - Fri. Oct 21st

    Simchat Torah ("Joy of Torah") immediately follows the festival of Sukkot (Shemini Atzeret evening service). On Simchat Torah we conclude, and begin anew, the annual Torah-reading cycle. First we read the Torah section of V'zot Haberakhah, and then we read the first chapter of Genesis (the beginning of the next Shabbat's Torah reading).

    Simchat Torah


    It should be noted that all the fall holidays are prophetic of the return of Yeshua our Messiah and the End of the Age...
     



 

"Table Talk" for Ha'azinu


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ha'azinu.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.30.11 (Tishri 2, 5771)  This is an important Sabbath, the very first of the New Year. The Torah portion for this Shabbat is always Ha'azinu, the great prophetic song of Moses. The Ha'azinu records Moses' last words to Israel and ranges over the sweep of Jewish history - from its beginning to the End of Days. It is an astounding revelation that reveals the faithfulness and love of God for Israel and the ongoing need for teshuvah.

In an attempt to make it a bit easier to read through this Song, I created a new "Table Talk" for Ha'azinu. 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.

Since Ha'azinu is always read during the High Holy Days, the haftarah portion is read with great emphasis: "Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God."
 

שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ כִּי כָשַׁלְתָּ בַּעֲוֹנֶךָ׃

shu·vah  Yis·ra·el  ad  Adonai  E·lo·hey·kha,  ki  kha·shal·ta  ba·a·vo·ne·kha

"Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity"
(Hos. 14:2[h])



Download Study Card
 

Shabbat Shuvah is a call to "return to your first love." As Yeshua said, "I have this against you: You have departed from your first love. Do the deeds you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place..." (Rev. 2:4-5). This is a call to teshuvah from Yeshua to us all...

"Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me" (Rev. 3:20). These are words of Yeshua, who speaks these words to those who "hear his voice." Open the door of your heart! Return to Him now!

But why do we need to repent, or do teshuvah? Because we all need life - true life - instead of the emptiness this fallen world affords. Teshuvah is about returning to real love...
 

כִּי־שְׁתַּיִם רָעוֹת עָשָׂה עַמִּי
אתִי עָזְבוּ מְקוֹר מַיִם חַיִּים
לַחְצב לָהֶם בּארוֹת בּארת נִשְׁבָּרִים
אֲשֶׁר לא־יָכִלוּ הַמָּיִם

ki  shet·ta·yim  ra'ot  a·sah  am·mi
o·ti  a·ze·vu  me·kor  ma·yim  chai·yim
lach·tzov  la·hem  bo·rot,  bo·rot  nish·ba·rim
a·sher  lo  ya·khi·lu  ham·ma·yim

"For my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns
that can hold no water"
(Jer. 2:13)


 

Notice that this word is spoken to "My people..." There are two sorts of breaking. One is to be broken by the inevitable sin and ruin of this world, and the other is to have lev-nishbar, a broken heart, in teshuvah before the LORD. The former breaking leads to a vain attempt to find life in the "broken vessel" of this world. This breaking eventually leads to spiritual death. The latter breaking is a gift from heaven to you that moves you to turn back to the Source of life and salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). God alone holds the Vessel of Life that contains the living water the soul needs to live (John 4:14; 7:38)... We all must drink from this vessel, lest we suffer spiritual dehydration and death.

Note: Yom Kippur begins an hour before sundown on Friday, October 7th, which is a Shabbat this year....  Shabbat Shalom, chaverim. May your return to the LORD be sweet...


 


Happy New Year 5772!


 

09.29.11 (Tishri 1, 5772)  Happy New Year - Shanah Tovah - chaverim! Here are a few pictures from our Rosh Hashanah simchah (celebration) last evening:
 

Rosh Hashanah 5772

Left-to-right (top): 1. Apples and honey; 2. the yom tov table; 3. lighting the candles;
4. two "crown challah" loaves; 5. eating the "simamin"
(bottom): 1. lismo'ah kol shofar; 2. Judah; 3. Josiah made honeyed apples;
4. pomegranate (rimon); 4. blowing shofars (yom teruah)


Our family sincerely wishes you "shanah tovah u'metukah ba'adoneinu Yeshua ha-Mashiach" - a good and sweet year in our Lord Jesus the Messiah! The great day draws near....  May you walk strong and full of God's love and blessing in this coming year.
 

זֶה־הַיּוֹם עָשָׂה יְהוָה נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בוֹ

ze  hai·yom  a·sah  Adonai,  na·gi·lah  ve·nis·me·chah  vo

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

Shofar Blast!

(larger picture)


Note that the word "nagilah" (נָגִילָה) in this verse means "let us rejoice," from a root word "gil" (גִּיל) that means a "circle." Just as Rosh Hashanah represents the circle of life, the day when Adam first opened his eyes and rejoiced to behold God as his King, so we will one day open our eyes in the world to come, at the sound of the great shofar, when we are called up to make aliyah before the LORD. That will be a time of great simchah for us all!


 


L'Shanah Tovah, Chaverim!


 

09.28.11 (Elul 29, 5771)  L'Shanah Tovah to you in Yeshua our Messiah - Melech Malchei Ha-Melachim (מֶלֶךְ מַלְכֵי הַמְּלָכִים) - the King of king of kings! All glory belongs to our Savior, our King, our Judge, and gracious and wonderful LORD. His is the Name above all Names. Ascribe to Him your praise!  And may we all merit to soon hear the sound of his shofar as he calls us home! Maran atah, Yeshua!

  Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)
 

May you have a wonderful and sweet year, chaverim! We are off to our Rosh Hashanah seder/simchah now... We send you warm greetings, love and thanks.

 


 


L'Shanah Tovah in Messiah


 

09.27.11 (Elul 29, 5771)  It is customary to wish one another a "good and sweet year" during Rosh Hashanah. The traditional Jewish blessing is not appropriate, however, since followers of Yeshua believe that their names are indeed written (and sealed) in the Lamb's Book of Life forever.  Therefore the following blessing may be recited instead:
 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ
וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אמן

ye·hi  ra·tzon  mil·fa·ne·kha,  Adonai  E·lo·hei·nu
ve·lo·hei  a·vo·tei·nu,
she·te·cha·desh  a·lei·nu  sha·nah  to·vah  u·me·tu·kah
ba·A·do·nei·nu  Ye·shu·a  ha·Ma·shi·ach  [a·men]

"May it be your will, LORD our God
and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good and sweet year
in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." [Amen]



(Download Study Card)


  Listen to the Shofar:
 



 

Thanking God for the Mo'edim


 

09.27.11 (Elul 29, 5771)  Just as the spring festivals (Passover, Firstfruits, and Shavuot) have been perfectly fulfilled in the first coming of Yeshua as Mashiach ben Yosef, so the fall festivals (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot) will be fulfilled in His second coming as Mashiach ben David. Since the first advent fulfilled all of the spring holidays to the smallest of details, we believe that His second advent portends similar fulfillment as revealed in the fall holidays. Let us thank God for His great plan of salvation revealed in the festivals:
 

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה אֱלהֵנוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם
אֲשֶׁר נָתַן לָנוּ חַגִּים, חֻקּוֹת, וּמוֹעֲדִים לְשִׂמְחָה
לִכְבוֹד יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אֲדוֹנֵינוּ, אוֹר הָעוֹלָם

ba·rukh  at·tah  Adonai  E·lo·he·nu  me·lekh  ha·o·lam,
a·sher  na·tan  la·nu  chag·gim,  chuk·kot,  u·mo·a·dim  le·sim·chah,
likh·vod  Ye·shu·a  ha·ma·shi·ach  A·do·nei·nu,  or  ha·o·lam

"Blessed art You, LORD our God, King of the universe,
who has given to us holidays, customs, and seasons of happiness,
for the glory of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, the light of the world."
 


(Download Study Card)
 

Awaiting for the heavenly shofar blast with you all....

  Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)



The Rope of His Inheritance


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ha'azinu.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.27.11 (Elul 29, 5771)  Moses was a truly great prophet, and the Ha'azinu is an oracle that encompasses the past, present, and the future redemption of Israel - including the world to come and the coming reign of the Messiah. Indeed, the words of the later prophets, especially Jeremiah and Isaiah, essentially echo the message of Moses' prophetic song.

There are many profound insights to be gleaned from Moses' last words given to Israel. For example, when Moses stated, "I will proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God" (Deut. 32:3), we learn that we must examine our hearts to be sure that reverence and awe are within us lest we take the Name in vain or regard it as "profane" (i.e., common). The central idea here is kavanah - concentration - and the intention to honor the LORD. Indeed, because of this very verse the ancient sages always hesitated before even mentioning God's Name.

Moses goes on to describe God as "the Rock" whose ways are perfect and whose judgments are sound. The LORD is the "God of Faith" who abhors iniquity; all he does is righteous and true:
 

הַצּוּר תָּמִים פָּעֳלוֹ כִּי כָל־דְּרָכָיו מִשְׁפָּט
אֵל אֱמוּנָה וְאֵין עָוֶל צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא

hatz·-tzur  ta·mim  po·o·lo, ki  khol  de·ra·khav  mish·pat
 El  E·mu·nah  ve·ein  a·vel,  tzad·dik  ve·ya·shar  hu

"The Rock, his work is perfect,  for all his ways are justice.
 A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he."
Deut. 32:4


 

The metaphor that God is "the Rock" emphasizes God's permanence and strength - that He is the very "bedrock" of our existence. The Talmud (Berachot 10a) notes that "rock" (צוּר) shares the same root as "artist" (יוֹצֵר), and therefore identifies God as the Ultimate Artist of reality. Indeed, the verb yatzar (יָצַר) means to fashion or shape (Gen. 2:7). Interestingly, the word "rock" first appears in the Torah when Moses was instructed to strike the rock to produce living water (Exod. 17:6). When Moses later sinned by striking the Rock instead of regarding it as the "Living Rock" (i.e., Messiah), he lost access to the promised land. The Apostle Paul identifies this Rock as none other than Yeshua (1 Cor. 10:4).

Another gem concerns the contrast between Israel and the nations, and how Israel is called am naval v'lo chacham (עַם נָבָל וְלא חָכָם), a "foolish and unwise people" (Deut. 32:6). Later Moses will make a wordplay based on this phrase, but for the moment he contrasts the blessing and benefits given to Israel and is scandalized by the apostasy he later foresees. The people have forgotten God, their Father and Creator, "the One who made and established you," and Moses counsels Israel to "remember" and "ponder" how God administered retribution in previous generations for the sins of the people. For example, he destroyed the world with the great flood in Noah's time, and later scattered the nations in judgment upon the inhabitants of ancient Babylon (i.e., the tower at Shinar). The Israelites were to remember their special calling and identity as God's chosen people:
 

בְּהַנְחֵל עֶלְיוֹן גּוֹיִם בְּהַפְרִידוֹ בְּנֵי אָדָם
יַצֵּב גְּבֻלת עַמִּים לְמִסְפַּר בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל׃
כִּי חֵלֶק יְהוָה עַמּוֹ יַעֲקב חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ׃

be·han·chel  El·yon  goy·im,   be·haf·ri·to  be·nei  a·dam
 ya·tzev  ge·vu·lot  am·mim,  le·mis·par  be·nei  Yis·ra·el;
ki  che·lek  Adonai  am·mo,  Ya·a·kov  che·vel  na·cha·la·to

"When the most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated
the sons of Adam, he set the bounds of the nations according to
the number of the children of Israel. For the LORD'S portion is his people;
Jacob is the rope of his inheritance" (Deut. 32:8-9)
 

When the Most High divided the nations, he "established their boundaries according to the number of the sons of Israel," though he gave to Israel his "chosen orchard" and the "treasures" that may be reaped in it.

The midrash comments. A king had many sons from different concubines but only one son from his queen. He loved the latter very much. When he divided his possessions, he gave fields and vineyards to the sons of the concubines, but to the son of the queen, he gave only one orchard. However, that orchard was unique, and all of the king's treasures were hidden within it. The son was not aware of the uniqueness of his gift and complained to his father, questioning why the inheritance given to him was less than that given to the others. The king took him aside and explained to him all the treasures that could be reaped from it.

Israel inherited God's own special portion of the earth, which is considered the highest (or most central) location in the world. That is why Zion is God's holy and great mountain that one day will fill the entire earth (Isa. 2:3).

Among the nations, God chose Israel for himself, meaning that he imparted additional revelation to the Jewish people. The phrase chevel nachalato (חֶבֶל נַחֲלָתוֹ), often translated as "his allotted heritage," literally means the "rope of his inheritance," which indicates the special bond between the LORD and Israel. Note that many Christian translations change the meaning of these verses by relying on the ancient Greek translation of the Torah (i.e., the Septuagint) over the Hebrew, often substituting "sons of gods" or "angels" for the Hebrew text "sons of Israel."

There are other gems in this portion, and I may add some later this week. For now, I am getting ready for Rosh Hashanah and thinking about the coming of our great King... Please listen with me for the sound of the great shofar that will soon call us home.


 


Parashat Ha'Azinu (האזינו)


 

[ The Torah portion for this coming Shabbat is parashat Ha'azinu, the last assigned reading in the annual cycle of Torah readings for the Jewish year (the final portion, Zot Ha-Berakhah, is only read on Simchat Torah.) The words of the later prophets, especially Jeremiah and Isaiah, may have been modeled after Moses' great song recorded in this chapter of Torah... ]

09.26.11 (Elul 28, 5771)  Every year near the time of Rosh Hashanah we read parashat Ha'azinu, the great prophetic song that Moses was commanded to teach the Jewish people before he died.  In the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), the song is written in a stylized two-column format with extra spaces. Each line of the shirah (song) is matched by a second, parallel unit (Talmud: Shabbat 103b).

 

The Ha'azinu reminds us that who we listen to ultimately decides our fate. It begins, "Give ear, O heavens (הַאֲזִינוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם), and I will speak, and let the earth hear (וְתִשְׁמַע הָאָרֶץ) the words of my mouth" (Deut. 32:1). The appeal to heaven and earth as "witnesses" links man's condition within the divinely decreed order of the universe. We are "bound" by the witness of heaven (special revelation) and earth (natural revelation), two entirely faithful testimonies of Reality. The song is didactic, intended to teach us something.  It begins quietly: "like gentle rain upon the tender grass, and like showers upon the herb...." The Spirit here appeals to the humble to drink in the message given from above.  Heed first the kol demamah dakkah, the "still small voice" (קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה) and receive the proclamation of the Name of the LORD and His greatness (Deut. 32:3, see also Exod. 34:6-7).  Understand His attributes (middot): the LORD is the Rock (הַצּוּר), his deeds are perfect, and all His ways are just.  He is the Faithful God (אֵל אֱמוּנָה), without iniquity, forever true and upright (צַדִּיק וְיָשָׁר הוּא) (Deut. 32:3-4).

The word ha'azinu (הַאֲזִינוּ) comes from verb azan (אָזַנ), as does the Hebrew word for "ear" (i.e., ozen: אזֶן). The Midrash Rabbah says that the ear (אזֶן) gives life to all the organs of the body.  How so? By listening (שׁמע, shema) to the Torah. This idea is repeated in the New Testament: "Faith comes from listening to the Word of God" (Rom. 10:17). The Word of God (דְּבַר־אֱלהִים) is our very life, chaverim.  Hearing and obeying are linked, and "hearing" the messages of this corrupt world can eventually make you into an enemy of God Himself (James 4:4). The world always speaks its message to members of its "crooked and twisted generation" (Deut. 32:5).


Shabbat Shuvah - שבת שובה

The Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shuvah - "The Sabbath of Return."  It is called "shuvah" because the Haftarah portion begins, Shuvah Yisrael ad Adonai Elohekha (שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל עַד יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ): "Return, O Israel, unto the LORD your God." When Ha'azinu is read during the High Holy Days (as it is this year), we always read the haftarah portion for Shabbat Shuvah:
 

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·hey·kha,
 ki  kha·shal·ta  ba·a·vo·ne·kha
ke·chu  im·ma·khem  de·va·rim
ve·shu·vu  el  Adonai,  im·ru  e·lav
kol  tis·sa  a·von  ve·kach-tov
u·ne·sha·le·mah  fa·rim  se·fa·tei·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:
"Completely forgive our iniquity; accept our penitential prayer,
that we may offer the praise of our lips as sacrificial bulls."
(Hosea 14:2-3)

 

The sages make the connection between Parashat Ha'azinu and the High Holidays: Ultimately God will vindicate his justice and mercy before heaven and earth by saving Israel from her enemies and atoning for all her sins. The song ends, "Cry out, O nations, with his people, for he will avenge his servants' blood; he will take vengeance against his enemies, and will atone (וְכִפֶּר) for his land and his people" (Deut. 32:43). Even though from the beginning of our history we have abandoned God and have been punished, our punshment always comes to an end and atonement is provided for the Jewish people. Therefore we must return to the LORD, who has makes atonement (kapparah) for us...


 


Simple Rosh Hashanah Seder Guide


 

09.25.11 (Elul 27, 5771)  Did you know that some people actually have two seders during the year: one in the spring (i.e., the Passover seder), and the other in the fall for Rosh Hashanah?  The Rosh Hashanah seder begins at least 18 minutes before sundown, just before the start of Tishri 1 (this year, Wednesday the 28th).  The main event consists of a special simcha (festive) meal, somewhat similar to a Friday evening Shabbat meal, with the addition of some special food, blessings, and listening to the shofar blast. The celebration begins with the lighting of candles (symbolizing the transition from profane to sacred time) and the special blessing thanking God for enabling us to reach this season (i.e., Shehecheyanu).


 

After starting the celebration, ritual "appetizers" called simanim (סִימָנִים) are often served.  These are symbolic foods used as an occasion to offer first blessings for the New Year.  We eat round challah to remind us that life is a circle (a cycle of seasons) and also to remind us of the Kingship (Crown) of God; we taste apples dipped in honey as a token of our wish for a sweet year, and so on. We also eat some specialized foods just for Rosh Hashanah. For example, we eat leeks, called karsi in Aramaic, as a play on the Hebrew word karat - to cut down - i.e., "may our enemies be cut down."  We also eat pomegranates to remind us of the sweetness of the Torah and to remember God's commandments, and so on.  Doing all this adds fun to the occasion and helps us sanctify the main meal.  After finishing dinner, we are ready for the climatic event of the evening: the sounding of the shofar!

To make it easier for you to participate, I have created an "Easy Rosh Hashanah Seder Guide" that includes step-by-step procedures for holding your own Rosh Hashanah home celebration. The new Seder includes English transliterations along with the Hebrew blessings, so now everyone can join in!  Celebrating Rosh Hashanah is both joyous and spiritually significant, especially from a prophetic perspective. You can download the free Seder Guide here. I hope you find this helpful, chaverim.


 




Apple Picking for Rosh Hashanah

09.25.11
(Elul 27, 5771)  Here are a few pictures we took for our annual apple picking event before Rosh Hashanah. The weather was particularly beautiful as we walked through the orchard this year:
 

Elul 5771 Apple Orchard

Left-to-right (top): 1. Family shot; 2. Irina; 3. Josiah; 4. Olga; 5. Mary Beth.
(bottom): 1. Judah; 2. another family shot; 3. apple tree branches; 4. Vadim; 4. Olga and Judah.

 

It is our family tradition to recite the following when we taste the apples and honey during our Rosh Hashanah simchah:
 

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ יהוה אֱלהֵינוּ
וֵאלהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ
שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה
בַּאֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אמן

ye·hi  ra·tzon  mil·fa·ne·kha,  Adonai  E·lo·hei·nu
ve·lo·hei  a·vo·tei·nu,
she·te·cha·desh  a·lei·nu  sha·nah  to·vah  u·me·tu·kah
ba·A·do·nei·nu  Ye·shu·a  ha·Ma·shi·ach  [a·men]

"May it be your will, LORD our God
and God of our fathers,
that you renew for us a good and sweet year
in our Lord Yeshua the Messiah." [Amen]


 

Yeshua our Messiah is the one who renews and sweetens our lives with His goodness and love, after all. Rosh Hashanah -- like all the moedim (appointed times) -- centers on Him...  He is the One who gives the teruah, the "shout of victory" for our salvation, and He will soon sound the heavenly shofar to call us before His glorious presence. It is our prayer that we all grow closer to Him during this coming year, chaverim.  Amen.


 



Shanah Tovah v'Shabbat Shalom!


 

09.23.11 (Elul 24, 5771)  "God will circumcise your heart" (Deut. 30:6). Circumcision involves the removal of the "outer" to reveal the inner (and more sensitive) part. The metaphor suggests "heart surgery" where the heart would be "opened up" to love God without blockage or obstruction. This is connected with the New Covenant (Jer. 31:30-32) when the Torah would be "written upon the heart" and become part of the inner life of the soul. The purpose of this is "so that you may live," i.e., experience rebirth and new life.

A changed heart leads to surrender to God's love which is filled with great peace. As Hudson Taylor once wrote: "I am no longer anxious about anything, as I realize that He is able to carry out His will for me. It does not matter where He places me, or how. That is for Him to consider, not me, for in the easiest positions He will give me grace, and in the most difficult ones His grace is sufficient." May God help us surrender to His Presence... "The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us" (A. Tozer).

Bonhoeffer once wrote: "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die," but I would add that he also calls a man to live! We must identify with his risen life as much as we do his death. He is alive - now - and calls out for you to come to Him and find rest for your weariness... "

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah! You help make our world sweeter as you walk with Yeshua... Stay strong and of good courage, the King is coming soon!
 




Messianic Blessing for Wine


 

09.23.11 (Elul 24, 5771)  Though followers of Yeshua can regard the traditional blessing over the wine (i.e., kiddush) as a prophetic of the resurrection of the Messiah as our first fruits, we must remember that Yeshua told his disciples: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.... 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 15:1,5). In light of this great metaphor Yeshua used to describe our relationship with him, a better blessing is to praise Yeshua as our "true vine."

You can download the blessing here.
 




"Table Talk" for Nitzavim-Vayelech


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: parashat Nitzavim ("You are standing") and parashat Vayeilech ("and he went"). ]

09.23.11 (Elul 24, 5771)  This week we have a "double portion" of Torah, which means that we will read two separate portions of the Torah for this coming Shabbat (i.e., Nitzavim and Vayelech). To make it easier to review and discuss these portions, I created a Table Talk guide for each portion. You can download the PDF file for Nitzavim here and the PDF for Vayelech here.  I hope you find these helpful, chaverim...

Note: Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, September 28th at sundown. We hope to go to an apple orchard this weekend to pick some apples for our celebration... Shalom for now!
 




Teshuvah and God's Love


 

[ The following continues the theme of the Season of Repentance... It is my hope that this will encourage you to "return to the LORD and listen to His Voice" (Deut. 30:2). ]

09.21.11 (Elul 22, 5771)  Repentance means changing how you understand yourself, and therefore it is intimately connected with how you understand God.  As A.W. Tozer once said, "What I believe about God is the most important thing about me." Understanding the goodness and glory of God leads to self-respect, a sense of dignity, and so on. This works the other way around, too. If you regard yourself as small, insignificant, and unworthy, you will tend to consider God that way, too. "According to your faith be it done unto you." As you see God, so you will see yourself; as you see yourself, so you will see God. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Mark 4:24).

Personal repentance implies encountering the revelation of God at "first hand." God does not love you at a distance, nor does he call you to embrace him at "second hand." Repentance, or teshuvah, is the "like for like" measure of God's love; it is your answer to God's question and call....

The message of the gospel requires that you regard yourself as worth dying for, that you are God's friend... "There is no greater love than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). God demands that you regard yourself as worth the sacrifice of his beloved son Yeshua in your place; he demands that you understand how dear you are to his heart. God sees something of such great value in you that he was willing to suffer and die to redeem it from loss... Just as the kingdom of God is a "pearl of great price," so you are a pearl of great price to God. What grieves and angers God is the refusal to believe that you are someone of infinite importance to him... Only God can rightfully make such a demand because He knows that loving other things more than Him leads to "disordered love," darkness, and eventual madness. We were made for God's love, but substituting finite things for this infinite need will never suffice to bring lasting healing to our souls...

Those who are "in the flesh" cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). We must turn away from regarding ourselves as mere "flesh" and understand that we are essentially spiritual beings created and redeemed by God (2 Cor. 5:16). We must give up the distinctions in the "world of basar" - the carnal world that is known through sensuous apprehension - and accept ourselves as "new creations" in the Messiah. It is "not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (Rom. 9:6-8).

The mere conviction of sin is not the same thing as repentance. We have to step beyond a troubled conscience and have our sin crucified by God's love and grace.  Grace is therefore essential to genuine repentance, since moral reformation is never enough. "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." We must be humbled so that we can receive. God gives us bitter experience of our inadequacy to call us to return to him. Only God can kill the power of sin within our hearts. Conviction of sin is not the end, but rather newness of life.

There is a place for godly sorrow, of course, and for genuine remorse over our sins. As we understand God's desire and love for us, we begin to realize that the essence of sin is the refusal of God's heart for us. The underlying issue with sin concerns the question of God's love. Simply abstaining from certain actions does not address the deepest need of the heart. It is not turning away from sin that matters as much as turning toward God. The death of sin is meant to lead us to the life of love.

God is both infinitely loving and infinitely just, and both of these "attributes" are inseparably a part of who he is. God is One. Nonetheless, the cross of Yeshua proves that "love is stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave; its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame, the very flame of the Lord" (Song. 8:6). It is at the cross that "love and truth have met, righteousness and peace have kissed" (Psalm 85:10). This implies that we must drop our defenses – even those supposed objections and pretenses voiced by our shame – and "accept that we are accepted." It is God's great love for you that leads you to repent and to turn to him. Allow yourself to be embraced by his "everlasting arms."
 

מֵרָחוֹק יְהוָה נִרְאָה לִי
וְאַהֲבַת עוֹלָם אֲהַבְתִּיךְ
עַל־כֵּן מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ חָסֶד

me·ra·chok  Adonai  nir·ah  li
ve·a·ha·vat  o·lam  a·hav·tikh
al  ken  me·shakh·tikh  cha·sed

"The LORD appeared to me from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn you."
(Jer. 31:3)

 

Genuine repentance will entirely change you. It is an act of profound respect over what God has done on your behalf. You say, but I am a miserable wretch! Indeed that is so, but the consciousness of your wretched state is the heart's cry for love... God goes "outside the camp" to meet with you. He enters the leper colony to join you there, in your wretchedness, and even takes upon your fatal disease. He sees you in your desperate estate and joins you there. God enters into the dust of your death and says, "Live!"

But what about hell? If God so loves the world, how is it possible for someone to be sent to hell? In answer we must remember that God doesn't send people to hell, they choose to go there on their own... One of the greatest of sins is to forget who you really are, since that leads back to the hellish waste places of Egypt... God's redemption leads us to deliverance, freedom, and peace, but "a twisted heart does not discover good" (Prov. 17:20). Indeed, the idea of hell and God's wrath turns on the rejection of love. Hell is the state of soul that denies and refuses the truth of God's love. It is a terrible state of being both unwilling or unable to love and be loved.

Repentance means changing your thinking, turning around to face the truth, and returning to embrace God's love. It does not identify the whole person with sin, but rather regards all people as redeemable, worthy, and valuable to God. Conviction of sin is not the end, but rather the means to newness of life. God saved us so that we could be in a love relationship with Him. We must "choose life," and that means choosing to welcome God's love into your heart. The only sin that can keep you from God's everlasting love is the denial that his love is personally for you. You must forsake seeing yourself "in the flesh" and take hold of God's spirit, his passion, and his grace for your soul. You are worthy to be loved because God is worthy to make you so.

Repent and believe the good news.  God is love, and that love is for you.


 



Create for me a clean heart...


 

[ The following continues the theme of the Season of Repentance... It is my hope that this will encourage you to "return to the LORD and listen to His Voice" (Deut. 30:2). ]

09.21.11 (Elul 22, 5771)  When King David cried out to the Lord, "Create for me a clean heart, O God," he did not use the Hebrew word yatzar, which means to "fashion" or "form" something from pre-existing material, but instead used the word bara (בָּרָא), a verb exclusively used to refer to God's creation of the cosmos (Gen 1:1).
 

לֵב טָהוֹר בְּרָא־לִי אֱלהִים
וְרוּחַ נָכוֹן חַדֵּשׁ בְּקִרְבִּי

lev  ta·hor  be·ra·li  E·lo·him,
ve·ru·ach  na·khon  cha·desh  be·kir·bi

"Create for me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a resolute spirit within me"
(Psalm 55:10)

 

When David said, bera-li, "create for me," he was appealing to God's power to create yesh me'ayin (יֵשׁ מֵעַיִן), "out of nothing." David asked God for a miracle - for a heart of purity that was brought into being by God Himself.... He understood that no amount of reformation of his character would be enough, and instead appealed to that very power of God that alone could create "out of nothing." Such was the nature of the remedy required..

The heart (lev) is the inner person, the seat of the emotions, thought, and will. The Bible describes the heart of man as "desperately wicked" (Jer 17:9). Yeshua declared that the heart is the source of all our uncleanness, moral defilement, and perversity (Matt 15:19-20). As AW Tozer once said, "The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven't yet come to the end of themselves. We're still trying to give orders, and interfering with God's work within us."

The opposite of this defilement is a quality called tohora (טֳהָרָה), a word normally used to denote ritual purification and the consecration of things set apart for God by means of atoning blood (Lev 17:11). Such rituals were intended to instill an abiding awareness of the sanctity of God and our sinful condition before Him. A pure heart is one filled with the wonder and glory of God's love...

By means of the precious blood sacrifice of Yeshua on the cross for of our sins, God's wrath against our sin is satisfied, and He is able to create within us lev tahor, cleansed from our old nature's defilement and perversity. Because of Yeshua, we can truly have a heart that is re-created and sanctified in the image of God.
 




Rosh Hashanah and New Creation


 

[ Note that Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 28th at sundown this year.... ]

09.20.11 (Elul 21, 5771)  In Jewish thinking, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve, and therefore it may be regarded as their "birthday" of sorts. However, on the very day that Adam and Eve were created, they disobeyed God and were sent into exile from the orchard, and therefore Rosh Hashanah commemorates humanity's rebellion against God as well... As such, this holiday has an inherent ambivalence about it. On the one hand we rejoice over the gift of life and acknowledge God as our Creator and King (the sound of the shofar is intended to remember the coronation of God as our King), while on the other hand we tremble over God as our holy and righteous Judge. Consequently, in Jewish tradition Rosh Hashanah is associated with the Day of Judgment (יוֹם הַדִּין) when God decrees who will be "written in the Book of Life (סֵפֶר הַחַיִּים)" for another year of life. According to the sages, we can "affect" the divine decree by turning to God (i.e., teshuvah: תְּשׁוּבָה), by honestly accounting for our actions (i.e., cheshbon ha-nefesh: חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ), and performing acts that demonstrate penitence (such as making amends to others and giving charity). The notion that we can merit God's favor during this time is clearly expressed by Abraham Heschel, who wrote, "No word is God's final word. Judgment, far from being absolute, is conditional. A change in man's conduct brings about a change in God's judgment" (Heschel: The Prophets, 194).

The Scriptures clearly state that "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Heb. 9:27), and they further warn that on the Day of Judgment, anyone's name not written "in the Book of Life of the Lamb who was slain" (בְּסֵפֶר חַיֵּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ) will be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 13:8, 20:15). Indeed, Yeshua Himself is the none other than the Judge of mankind to whom every knee shall one day bow (Isa. 45:22-23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). Yeshua is the Judge of all the earth (John 5:22; 12:48; Acts 10:42, 17:31; 2 Thess. 1:7-10; Rev. 20:11-15), including the judge of all those who profess to obey Him (Rom. 14:12; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1; Matt. 7:22-23). As Messianic believers, we maintain that our personal "Judgment Day" has come and justice has been served through the sacrificial offering of Yeshua for our sins (2 Cor. 5:21). He is the perfect fulfillment of the Akedah of Isaac, and the sound of the shofar recalls the sacrifice of the promised seed.  However, even though we believe that we are made acceptable in God's sight solely by the finished work of the Messiah (Titus 3:5-6), we understand that we will one day face our own personal judgment. Even in glorious light of the cross, we all must give account for our lives (2 Cor. 5:10): "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; the fire will test (δοκιμάζω) what kind of work each has done" (1 Cor. 3:13). Yeshua is the Judge of all people, both for those who are trusting in Him and for those who spurn his salvation.
 

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

pe·nu  e·lai  vi·hiv·va·shu  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

"Turn to (face) 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. 45:22-23)

 

Let's return to the "birthday" of Adam and Eve and consider it in light of the birthday of Yeshua, that is, his advent as the "Son of Man," our "Second Adam," and the Savior of the world. Adam was a pattern of the one to come (Rom. 5:14). The Apostle Paul presents him as "the first man," adam ha-rishon (אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן), while he calls Yeshua "the second man," or adam ha-sheni (הָאָדָם הַשֵּׁנִי). Adam is regarded as "first" in the sense of temporality and legal succession as God's vice-regent for the physical order, whereas Yeshua is regarded as "second" in the sense of being the climactic expression of God's redemption of that lost regency in the advent and victory of the Messiah.

Adam was created by a direct act of God, not by any kind of "reincarnation": "Then the LORD God formed (יֵצֶר) the man of dust from the ground and breathed (נָפַח) into his nostrils the breath of life (i.e., nishmat chayim: נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), and the man became a living soul (i.e., nefesh chayah: נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה)."  The word yetzer ("formed") refers to something shaped, like pottery fashioned by the hand of a potter. Just as a potter purposes a shape before forming an object, so God intended the image of man. Regarding the impartation of the soul, the sages use the analogy of a glassblower who creates a glass vessel. Just as a glassblower blows into a tube to form a vessel from molten glass, so the "breath of God" (i.e., neshamah: נְשָׁמָה) becomes spirit (i.e. ruach: רוּחַ) to form the human soul (i.e., nefesh: נֶפֶשׁ). The Targum states that God breathed into Adam the ability to think and to speak. In other words, thought and speech are two primary characteristics of the image (tzelem) and likeness (demut) of God. The very first creative act of God, then, was to impart the divine "image" to mankind, which primarily involved giving people the ability to experience God's awesome transcendence, to reason, to use language, etc.

Adam was made "like" God, but his soul was created, that is, it was not eternal or preexisting. Only Yeshua is the "Word made flesh," the "image of the invisible God," and the "radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint (χαρακτήρ, 'character') of his nature" (Col. 1:15). All of creation is being constantly upheld by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3): "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). The miracle of the incarnation - the Absolute Paradox - is that the Creator Himself "emptied himself" by freely choosing to be clothed "in the likeness of sinful flesh" to become a sacrificial offering for our sin so that the righteousness of God could be fulfilled in us (Rom. 8:3-4). It is for this reason that the Word of God became flesh and "tabernacled" with us (Isa. 45:22-23; Phil. 2:6-7; John 1:1,14).

Both Adam, the first man of the earth, and Yeshua, the second man of heaven, were born sinless and in unhindered communion with God, and both were tested by God (Gen. 2:16-17; Matt. 4:1; Heb. 4:15). The first man failed the test, however, which led to the fatal disease of sin infecting his progeny (Rom. 3:23; 5:12-ff), whereas the second man passed the test which led to eternal healing and life to his progeny (1 Cor. 15:21-23; Rev. 2:7). Yeshua is called the "second man" in the sense that he was God's beginning for a recreated humanity, and through him humanity would be restored to the paradise of God. "The life was in Him, just as it was originally in the first Adam (John 5:26). Yeshua is called the "Son of Man" (בֶּן־הָאָדָם), the new High Priest of humanity, who comes "with the clouds of heaven" to offer up his life for our reconciliation with God (Isa. 53:5; 1 Pet. 3:18; Heb 2:9). Yeshua's sacrificial death destroyed the power of death and undid the curse that befell fallen human nature (Rev. 22:3). Just as Adam is the "federal head" of the (fallen) human race, so Yeshua is the "federal head" of a new creation of redeemed humanity (Eph. 5:23). Through Adam comes the transmission of physical human life (i.e., the "Adamic nature"), whereas through Yeshua comes the transmission of eternal life (i.e., the "new nature" given through divine inheritance). Yeshua is the "first fruits" from the dead - a new "type" of resurrected human life that is restored to heaven's fellowship. Adam was given dominion over creation (Gen. 1:26), whereas Yeshua is Adon ha-kol (אֲדוֹן הַכּל), the LORD over all (Acts 10:36).

If the title "Son of man" (בֶּן־הָאָדָם) reveals the continuity of humanity in Yeshua with the humanity represented by Adam, it also reveals the new step that humanity has gained in the victory mediated to us in the "Man, Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Tim. 2:5). The incarnation of Yeshua was intended to lift us up from the old, Adamic nature, to be partakers of the divine nature, and therefore Yeshua is called "the firstborn (הַבְּכוֹר) among many brethren" (Rom. 8:29). Yeshua is not only called the "Second Man," the founder and head of a new race, but also "the Last Adam" (i.e., adam ha-acharon: אָדָם הָאַחֲרוֹן) because there is no other man to succeed Him, and His victory is entirely sufficient for our everlasting deliverance.

Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor. 15:45-49). "For as in Adam all die, so also in Messiah shall all be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). The "new seed" of life given to us in Yeshua makes us into a "new creation" (בְּרִיאָה חֲדָשָׁה) that fully restores the defaced image of God within us: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven." We are "more than conquerors" (ὑπερνικῶμεν, lit. "hyper conquerors) through Him that loved us (Rom. 8:37).


 

Just as God produced a bride from the wound he made in the sleeping Adam (Gen. 2:22), so a spiritual bride was produced when Yeshua suffered the "sleep of death" for everyone upon the cross, as evidenced by his pierced side after his death (John 19:34). Just as Adam's dream was fulfilled in Eve, so Yeshua's is fulfilled in the "bride of Messiah," his called-out assembly that follow him (Eph. 5:27). Human beings by nature are all connected with the first Adam as the "legal head" of the human race and are thereby subject to the sentence of death that was pronounced on him; however, all who are connected with the Second Adam are given the free gift of God's righteousness, and "have passed from death to life" (Col. 1:14; Rom. 5:17; 1 John 3:14).

It is customary to partake of a new food item, usually a new fruit, during the Rosh Hashanah Seder, which symbolically can represent for us the first fruits of Yeshua and our new creation in Him. For example, when we say, "May it be your will, LORD our God and God of our fathers, that our merits be numerous as the seeds of a pomegranate," may we understand this to be in reference to the fruitfulness we now have in the new life our Messiah gives.

A lot more could be said on this subject, of course, but this will have to suffice for now.  Just as God opened Adam's eyes on the very first Rosh Hashanah, so our eyes will be opened when we are called up to obtain our inheritance in the Messiah during the time of the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16-17). This is the great teruah and sound of the shofar to come (1 Cor. 15:51-53). Meanwhile, "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah be with you" (Rom. 16:20).
 




Themes of the Season


 

[ Note that Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 28th at sundown this year.... ]

09.20.11 (Elul 21, 5771)  Just as a person's birthday represents their own personal "rosh hashanah," so it is with the birthday of humanity. Rosh Hashanah reminds us of Yom HaDin (יוֹם הַדִּין) - the coming Day of Judgment and the great Day of the LORD. Our Righteous King is coming soon. Are you living in conscious awareness that life in this world is a test, and that one day you will one day stand before God to give account for every detail of your life? Are you mindful of eternity and of the inevitability of your own personal judgment day? After all, we will all stand before the Throne of Judgment (kisei ha-din) to give account for our lives (2 Cor. 5:10): "Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is" (1 Cor. 3:13). God's grace is our hope, but this in no way negates God's moral truth, holiness, and perfect justice. Love and truth meet at the cross, but both love and truth are given their voice (Psalm 85:10).

The sages affirm, "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the corridor, that you may enter into the hall" (Avot 4:21), which implies that the great commandment is always dirshuni vichyu (דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ) - "Seek Me and live."
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב׃

dir·shu  Adonai  be·him·matz·o,  ke·ra·u·hu  bi·yo·to  ka·rov

"Seek the LORD while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6)

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The passage continues: "Let the wicked man forsake his way (i.e, derekh: דֶּרֶךְ), and the perverse man his thoughts (i.e., machshavah: מַחֲשָׁבָה); and let him return (i.e., shuv: שׁוּב) to the LORD, that He may have compassion (i.e., rachamim: רַחֲמִים) on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (i.e., selichah: סְלִיחָה)" (Isa. 55:7).

The way of return (teshuvah) is always a matter of the heart and will, and therefore the Holy Spirit always cries out: Choose Life! "For this commandment (of teshuvah) is not too hard (lit. "too wonderful") for you, neither is it far away. It is not in heaven...nor across the sea.... Rather, the word (הַדָּבָר) is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - so you can do it " (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13). As Yeshua said, "The kingdom of God is inside of you - ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν (Luke 17:21).
 

וּקְרָאתֶם אתִי וַהֲלַכְתֶּם
 וְהִתְפַּלַּלְתֶּם אֵלָי וְשָׁמַעְתִּי אֲלֵיכֶם
 וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם אתִי וּמְצָאתֶם
 כִּי תִדְרְשֻׁנִי בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶם

u·ke·ra·tem  o·ti  va·cha·lakh·tem,
ve·hit·pal·lal·tem  e·lai  ve·sha·ma·ti  a·ley·khem
u·vik·kash·tem  o·ti  u·me·tza·tem,
ki  tid·re·shu·ni  be·khol  le·vav·kem

"When you call out to me and you come
and pray to me, I will hear you.
You will seek me and find me,
when you search for me with all your heart."
(Jer. 29:12-13)

 

The real question is whether we genuine want to come to God in prayer, not whether God will listen to us... What is holding your heart back? In Hebrew teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) means an "answer" to a  to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question. It is a response to the call of God...

God's call for teshuvah is not empty or vain. It is not a "game" or a head trip. The way of return (teshuvah) is always a matter of the heart and will: "Choose Life!" "For this commandment (of teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven...nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13): .
 

כִּי כה אָמַר־יְהוָה בּוֹרֵא הַשָּׁמַיִם
 הוּא הָאֱלהִים יצֵר הָאָרֶץ וְעשָׂהּ הוּא כוֹנְנָהּ
 לא־תהוּ בְרָאָהּ לָשֶׁבֶת יְצָרָהּ
 אֲנִי יְהוָה וְאֵין עוֹד
 לא בַסֵּתֶר דִּבַּרְתִּי בִּמְקוֹם אֶרֶץ חשֶׁךְ
 לא אָמַרְתִּי לְזֶרַע יַעֲקב תּהוּ בַקְּשׁוּנִי
 אֲנִי יְהוָה דּבֵר צֶדֶק מַגִּיד מֵישָׁרִים

ki  kho  a·mar  Adonai  bo·rei  ha-sha·ma·yim
hu  ha-E·lo·him  yo·tzer  ha·a·retz  ve·o·sah,  hu  kho·ne·nah,
 lo  to·hu  ve·ra·ah,  la·she·vet  ye·tza·rah,
 a·ni  Adonai  ve·ein  od
 lo  vas·se·ter  di·bar·ti  bim·kom  e·retz  cho·shekh
lo  a·mar·ti  le·ze·ra  Ya·a·kov  to·hu  va·ke·shu·ni
a·ni  Adonai  do·ver  tze·dek,  mag·gid  me·sha·rim

For this is what the LORD says, the One who created the heavens -
He is God - the One who formed the earth and made it; he established it,
he did not create it to be vain, but formed it to be inhabited;
"I am the LORD and there is no other.
I have not spoken in secret, in some hidden place;
I did not tell Jacob's descendants, 'Seek me in vain!'
I am the LORD, the one who speaks righteousness and declares uprightness
(Isa. 45:18-19) 


The Hebrew name for Lamentations is Eichah (אֵיכָה), which could also be read as "where are you?" (i.e., ayekah: אַיֶּכָּה), which was God's first question to Adam after he broke covenant in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:9). Our heart's problem centers on the failure to ask where God is... The Hebrew word hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ) comes from the verb shuv (שׁוּב), "turn," from which the word teshuvah is likewise derived.  A cry of the heart for this season is to ask God to help us turn back to Him:
  

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

ha·shi·ve·nu  Adonai  e·ley·kha  ve·na·shu·vah,
cha·desh  ya·me·nu  ke·ke·dem

"Turn us back to yourself, O LORD, so that we may return to you;
renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

How many people today live in a state of self-imposed exile from the LORD? God uses our loneliness ("how lonely...") to search our hearts, asking each of us, ayekah – "Where are you?" "Why have you turned away from me and chosen a state of exile?" Our inner pain is meant to provoke us to seek His face. He awaits our only possible response, "Hashivenu!" -- an imperative (demand) for the grace to repent: "You return us (i.e., you cause us to return) so that we may be reunited with you and healed!"

God's Spirit is always calling for us to return to Him, to "seek God and live..." The one who ransomed us from death and offers us life in abundance is standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to respond to call (Rev. 3:20). During this season of teshuvah, may we all hear the Voice of Him who invites the brokenhearted to join him. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

ki  kho  a·mar  Adonai  le·veit  Yis·ra·el:
dir·shu·ni  vi·che·yu

For thus says the LORD to the house of Israel:
"Seek me and live"
 (Amos 5:4)

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Inexplicable Suffering...


 

09.19.11 (Elul 20, 5771)  "Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless" (Psalm 88:15).  Unless your theology can accommodate the darkness expressed in Psalm 88, you are liable to be overthrown through periods of depression and inexplicable pain....

Human reason aims to find a link between cause and effect, but Psalm 88, the Book of Job, the Book of Ecclesiastes, and innumerable other Scriptures leave the soul in a voiceless state of suffering when certain evils befall us... Recall how Aaron, the first High Priest, was told he could not grieve for the death of his two sons when the Mishkan was dedicated. There sometimes is no "because," no "cause" that is forthcoming. Sometimes we are left with wordless grief, consigned to a place of darkness and inner pain.

Alan Redpath once wrote, "When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible individual -- and crushes him" (The Making of a Man of God).  This seems to be the divine pattern. Certainly Yeshua understood what it felt like to have everything good ripped away from him, all human sympathy withdrawn, with nothing left but darkness and terror, tasting even the infinite loss of divine consolation. There is a "following" of the LORD even into the dust of death.

Sometimes suffering can be cognitive or emotional as well as physical. The presence of moral evil in the world -- including the prevalence of "war creators" and the innumerable ways human beings routinely harm one other -- can cause us to almost die of despair. This too must be part of our confession.

God is "big enough" to handle the vent of anger, the abyss of your sadness and grief; surely God knows that life in this world calls for the lament of the soul... May it please the LORD - the very Name and Meaning of all true love - to hear the anguish of our heart as a cry for his presence, for his comfort, and for heaven itself....

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The essence of divine revelation is the "Name" of God, which is the power of love... It was the love of God that put Yeshua on the cross, and the voice of that Name is best heard in the cry of God's own broken heart there. The Name of the LORD is the Reality and Meaning of all true love in the universe... 
 




Having a Brit of Heart...


 

[ Note that Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday, Sept. 28th at sundown this year.... ]

09.19.11 (Elul 20, 5771)  How do we prepare for Rosh Hashanah?  Traditionally we prepare through three types of turning: 1) turning to God (teshuvah); 2) turning to others we've harmed or offended (mechilah), and 3) turning to those in need (tzedakah). In all three cases we can genuinely return to God only by choosing to honestly embrace the truth about our lives. This is the path of true healing. As Kierkegaard once said, "The most common form of despair is not being who you are."

This week's Torah portion (Nitzavim) includes the verse: "The LORD your God will circumcise your heart ... so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live" (Deut. 30:6). This speaks about the miracle of teshuvah - returning to the LORD - by having the barriers around our heart removed by Him. Circumcision of the heart "opens up" the inner life, exposing tenderness and compassion toward God and others. God is tenderhearted to those who are in need, and a heart bound by His covenant will likewise be a heart of compassion....

An uncircumcised heart is naturally "hard hearted" and closed off toward others who need us. Selfishness, greed, "the flesh," etc., are contained within the heart's foreskin. This is the "natural" state of our souls.  The inward circumcision of the heart, however, touches the soul (neshamah) and "marks" the inner life with the covenant of God's grace. This is called the "circumcision made without hands" (Col. 2:11), a spiritual operation that occurs through our identification with Yeshua the Messiah.... This miracle of a changed heart is God's gift to us.  It is given to those who return to Him in humility and confession of their need for salvation from themselves (Lev. 26:40-42). As Kierkegaard also said, "God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners," by giving them new hearts!
 




Parashat Nitzavim-Vayeilech


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: parashat Nitzavim ("You are standing") and parashat Vayeilech ("and he went"). ]

09.19.11 (Elul 20, 5771)  Parashat Nitzavim is always read on the Shabbat immediately before Rosh Hashanah, and therefore it is the last portion read before the new Jewish year.  In many synagogues, the opening and concluding paragraphs of Nitzavim are also read during the Yom Kippur morning service.

The portion begins: "You are standing here today, all of you, before the LORD your God (אַתֶּם נִצָּבִים הַיּוֹם כֻּלְּכֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם) ... so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the LORD your God, which the LORD your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob" (Deut. 29:10-13). After this Moses went on to review Israel's history and prophetic future -- i.e., the great prophecy of the Diaspora and Return of the Jewish people -- he solemnly made appeal for us to turn to the LORD for life:
 

הַעִידתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם אֶת־הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֶת־הָאָרֶץ
הַחַיִּים וְהַמָּוֶת נָתַתִּי לְפָנֶיךָ הַבְּרָכָה וְהַקְּלָלָה
וּבָחַרְתָּ בַּחַיִּים לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה אַתָּה וְזַרְעֶךָ

ha·i·do·ti  va·khem  hai·yom  et  ha·sha·ma·yim  ve·et  ha·a·retz
ha·chai·yim  ve·ha·ma·vet  na·ta·ti  le·fa·ney·kha  ha·be·ra·khah  ve·ha·ke·la·lah
u·va·char·ta  ba·chai·yim,  le·ma·an  tich·yeh  at·tah  ve·zar·e·kha

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today,
that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.
Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.
(Deut. 30:19)



 

The way of return (teshuvah) is always a matter of the heart and will: "Choose Life!" "For this commandment (of teshuvah) is not hidden from you, and it is not far away. It is not in heaven...nor across the sea.... Rather, the matter is very near you - in your mouth and your heart - to do it" (Deut. 30:11-14; cp. Rom. 10:8-13). In the end of days (acharit hayamin), the LORD will remove the "partial hardening" of the Jewish people so that they will turn to Him with all their heart and soul (Deut. 30:6, Rom. 11:25-26).

But why this seemingly topsy-turvy process of national teshuvah? Why do the Jewish people have to go through this long period of suffering, tribulation, and scattering, only to be finally regathered one day in the future? Moses himself gives us the answer (as does the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans): "The secret things (ha-nistarot) belong to the LORD our God (הַנִּסְתָּרת לַיהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ), but the things that are revealed (ha-niglot) belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29). Part of the "secret things" undoubtedly concerns the mystery of Jewish suffering, since it is clear that God particularly afflicts those whom he loves through various means of testing, and indeed part of the meaning of being am segulah (a "select people") implies dealing with God - either by means of blessing or by curse (Heb. 10:31). In the end, however, God's plan for Israel will decisively demonstrate His wisdom, power, and glory, so much so that that Paul commented on ethnic Israel's future by exclaiming, "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways" (Rom. 11:33).

 

Perhaps you (like me) once learned Psalm 19:7 as, "The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul." The Hebrew text reads, תּוֹרַת יְהוָה תְּמִימָה מְשִׁיבַת נָפֶשׁ, and might better be translated as, "The instruction of the LORD is perfect, returning the soul." Giving heed to the Torah causes our souls to undergo teshuvah, the very theme of Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays....

Now more than ever, chaverim.  We must not put our trust in man or in this moribund world system (κοσμος). We are living in the "end of days." God's judgment has begun in earnest.  It is time for us to choose whether we will be shaken or if we will walk in the trust of the LORD God of Israel....

 




The Last Sabbath of the Year

Selichot Siddur
 

[ This coming Shabbat is the last of the Jewish year, many congregations will hold an additional late-night service to offer prayers for forgiveness in anticipation of the High Holidays... ]

09.18.11 (Elul 19, 5771)  The Hebrew word selichah (סְלִיחָה) means "excuse me!" in modern Hebrew, but in the Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner. Therfore we read in the Scriptures, "But with you there is forgiveness (selichah), that you may be feared" (Psalm 130:4):
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא

ki  im·me·kha  ha-se·li·chah  le·ma'an  tiv·va·rei

"But with you there is the forgiveness,
that you may be held in awe" (Psalm 130:4)



 

In Jewish tradition, the plural form of the word selichah is selichot (סְלִיחוֹת), a term that refers to additional penitential poems (פּיּוּטִים) and prayers recited throughout the "Forty Days Teshuvah" (many of these prayers may be found in a High Holiday Machzor or prayerbook). On the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah, many congregations hold a late-night "Selichot Service" to offer prayers for forgiveness in anticipation of the High Holidays. During this service, the chazzan (cantor) often dresses in a kittel (white burial shroud) and chants in a style similar to the liturgy for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
 




The Anniversary of Creation


 

[ Note that Elul 25 begins this coming Shabbat - Friday, Sept. 23rd at sundown... ]

09.18.11 (Elul 19, 5771)  Popular Judaism regards Rosh Hashanah as the date of the Creation of the universe by God (Talmud: Rosh Hashanah 27a), but the Midrash notes that it occurred six days earlier, on the 25th of Elul, when God created the Divine light by saying, "Let there be light" (Gen. 1:3-5). This is called ma'asei bereshit (מַעֲשֵׂה-בְּרִאשִׁית), the very first work of creation, which is the revelation of His Word: "And God said..." This year, the 25th of Elul occurs on Friday, September 23rd (at sundown).

The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 38b) states that Adam and Eve were created six days later on Rosh Hashanah (i.e., Tishri 1). But how did the sages determine this date? By transposing the Hebrew letters of the very first word of the Hebrew Scriptures:

 

In other words, by rearranging the letters of the word bereshit ("in the beginning"), the phrase aleph b'Tishri ("on the 1st of Tishri") was formed, and therefore this date became associated with the anniversary of creation (or rather, the creation from Adam's perspective, i.e., the "sixth day").

According to Jewish tradition, this first "Friday" of creation was the first Rosh Hashanah, the "head of the year," since it represents the day that God began to rule as King of the Universe (i.e., melekh ha-olam: מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם). When Adam first opened his eyes and human consciousness was born, he immediately understood that the LORD created all things, including himself. According to midrash, Adam's first words were, יהוה מֶלֶךְ עוֹלָם וָעֶד / Adonai malakh olam va'ed: "The LORD is King for ever and ever" (Exod. 15:18). God then said, "Now the whole world will know that I am King," and He was very pleased. This was the "tov me'od" (טוֹב מְאד) moment of creation, when God saw all that He had made "and found it very good" (Gen. 1:31). The birthday of humanity is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe. Psalm 47 celebrates the Kingship of God that mentions the "shout" (teruah) and shofar blast of God's coronation:
 

עָלָה אֱלהִים בִּתְרוּעָה יהוה בְּקוֹל שׁוֹפָר

a·lah  E·lo·him  bit·ru·ah,  Adonai  be·kol  sho·far

"God has gone up with a shout (teruah),
the LORD with the sound of a trumpet (shofar).
Psalm 47:5 


 

The sound of the shofar is meant to awaken our consciousness that the LORD is King of the Universe. "Wake up from your (moral) sleep. You are asleep. Get up from your slumber. You are in a deep sleep. Search for your behavior. Become the best person you can. Remember God, the One Who created you" (Mishneh Torah). "How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound (teruah), O LORD; they walk in the light of Your Presence" (Psalm 89:15).

The Midrash also says that on this very first Rosh Hashanah (i.e, the day of humanity's creation) Adam and Eve committed the fatal sin by eating from the forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:
 

    They taught in the name of R' Eliezer: On the twenty-fifth day of Elul the world was created... On the day of Rosh Hashanah, during the first hour, it occurred to His thought [i.e., to create man]; in the second, He took council with the ministering angels; in the third, He gathered together his dust; in the fourth, He kneaded him; in the fifth, He shaped him; in the sixth, He completed his form; in the seventh, He breathed into him soul; in the eighth, He placed him in the Garden; in the ninth, he was commanded; in the tenth, he transgressed; in the eleventh, he was judged; and in the twelfth, he went free.
     

After the LORD judged Adam and Eve, He compassionately gave them the skin of a sacrificial lamb as their covering (Gen. 3:21). This First Sacrifice, offered by the Hand of God Himself, foreshadowed the coming Sacrifice of the Lamb of God who was slain "from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20). On the very first day of mankind's creation, then, the LORD initiated His plan of redemption and salvation through Yeshua (Jesus) as the Divine Light of the world (אוֹר הָעוֹלָם). For more on this, see the "Gospel in the Garden."

Midrash Bereshit includes the statement: "Great is teshuvah, for it preceded the Creation of the World, as it says, 'Before the mountains came into being, You reduced Man to nothingness, and said 'Return' (Psalm 90:2-3)."  This idea suggests that God created humanity with the intent of ultimately revealing Himself as Redeemer and Savior. Therefore we see the Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) slain "from the foundation of the world" (1 Pet. 1:20) restoring the kingdom that was prepared for those chosen to be redeemed "before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4, Matt. 25:34). The Book of Revelation likewise mentions the Book of Life of the Lamb that was slain (סֵפֶר חַיֵּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ) "from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8, 17:8).

 

The Akedat Yitzchak ("Binding of Isaac") is a major theme on Rosh Hashanah. According to Jewish tradition, God told Abraham that the ram's horn (shofar) should be blown on Rosh Hashanah to remind the people of the substitutionary sacrifice provided by the LORD Himself -- an echo of the First Sacrifice offered in Eden. How much more should we as believers in the greater sacrifice of Yeshua as our Lamb of God celebrate this day?


Postcript: The LORD God of Israel is a God of order. The appointed times (moedim) were not given to Israel in vain. As Samson Raphael Hirsch once wrote, "The catechism of the Jew is his calendar."  Round and round the calendar we go, waiting for God's revelation and will to be fulfilled in us.

 




The Power to Change...


 

09.16.11 (Elul 17, 5771)  The late Rabbi Israel Salanter, father of the Musar movement, once said, "When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world didn't change. So I decided to change my town, but my town didn't change. Then I resolved to change my family, but my family didn't change. Then I realized that I first had to change myself." I would add, "but then I realized that I couldn't change even myself, so I cried to the LORD for a new heart and He answered my plea..."

We can only truly change when we die and are brought back from the dead by the power of God. As Yeshua said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). We must be spiritually reborn, remade, transformed, "metamorphosed" by the grace and love and kindness of God. This is the miracle of genuine teshuvah (repentance).

Contrary to the laws of karma and worldly wisdom, God helps those who can't help themselves...  He delights to take the weak and broken and establish them with divine power, for the glory of His own Name. He confounds the mighty of this world with the "foolish" heart of faith. Blessed be His Name forever and ever...
 

כִּי־חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם
 וְלא־יָסִיר פָּנִים מִכֶּם אִם־תָּשׁוּבוּ אֵלָיו

ki  chan·nun  ve·ra·chum  Adonai  E·lo·he·khem
ve·lo  ya·sir  pa·nim  mi·kem,  im  ta·shu·vu  e·lav

"For the LORD your God is gracious (channun) and merciful (rachum)
 and will not turn away his face from you, if you return (shuv) to him."
2 Chron. 30:9 




 


Death with Messiah...


 

[ The following entry concerns offering of the first fruits and the curses of the law mentioned in this week's Torah reading (Ki Tavo). Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.16.11 (Elul 17, 5771)  Our faith affirms that Yeshua's death was "for you," that he died "in your place," that when he died, you died with him, and furthermore that when he rose from the dead, you also rose with him.... "For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Col. 3:3). But how are we to understand all this? What is the nature of this "life-for-life" (and death-for-death) exchange? How are we "identified" with Yeshua and His death and resurrection?

Recall that the climax of the giving of the Torah was the revelation of the mercy seat at the Tabernacle. It was on Sinai that Moses received the "pattern" of the heavenly altar of God. The purpose of the sacrifices was to draw us near (karov) to God, and the blood of sacrifice was the purifying agent that enabled the worshipper access to the Divine Presence. The sacrificial system enshrined the korban principle of "life-for-life" identity: God accepted the sacrificial substitute in place of the offender.

 

To overcome the alienation caused by sin and guilt, the worshipper would bring a defect-free animal (korban) to the entrance of the Mishkan and place both his hands on the animal's head, leaning on it to identify it with himself (Lev. 4:29). This act of "semikhah" (סְמִיכָה) did two things: First it spiritually transferred the person's sin to the sacrificial animal, and secondly it transferred the innocence of the animal back to the person. It was an "exchange" or "substitute," one life for another. Then, the offerer himself would slay the animal and confess that his sin caused the innocent victim to be slain in his place (Menachot 110a). In this way atonement with God was made possible...

We are told that we must "receive" Yeshua into our hearts, and that is certainly true, but we must also receive his death as well... This is the meaning of "taking up your cross." It is the death of Yeshua in your place that releases you from the curse of the law (which is death). By faith we "lay hands" on Yeshua and "lean into" his death, confessing our guilt and sin and identifying Yeshua's sacrifice as offered up for our sake... We accept that our sins are transferred in Yeshua's death, just as we accept that his righteousness is "imputed" or transferred back to us. This is the idea of our "justification," "just-if-i" never sinned... As it is written, "God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we would become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ) in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). We receive the "death benefits" of Yeshua, who has bequeathed to us the great inheritance of everlasting salvation and heaven itself... Our identification with Yeshua's death makes us free from the law, not in the sense that we are free to continue to sin, but rather free to live in the victory of Yeshua's resurrection life power.  "I have been crucified with the Messiah: It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Messiah died for no purpose" (Gal. 2:20-21).

 

As Oswald Chambers once wrote, "Get alone with Jesus and either tell Him that you do not want sin to die out in you - or else tell Him that at all costs you want to be identified with His death."

No longer "Under the Law"

The Apostle Paul used the analogy of the laws of marriage to help us understand our relationship with the law (Rom. 7:1-4). A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is still living, and during that time she is not free to form another attachment. If her husband dies, however, she is released from the terms of the ketubah (marriage contract) and may lawfully marry another. In this example, Paul states:

    1.  A woman is married to a man;
    2.  the man dies, and (therefore)
    3.  the woman is then free to marry another.
     

When Paul then explained how this case applies to our relationship with the law, however, he seems to have switched the terms of the analogy. He says:

    1.  You were under the law;
    2.  you died, and (therefore)
    3.  you are then free to marry another.
     

But just who died - you or the law? The analogy would seem to identify the believer with the woman and the law with her husband, but that would imply that the law died, something which Paul would never suggest (the law of God is not the cause of sin but rather the "messenger" of sin's presence; you cannot blame an x-ray machine for the detection of a tumor, after all). The main point, however, is that the death of one of the two parties in a contract absolves the terms of that contract and ends the obligation. You "died to the law" through the death of Yeshua for the sake of being in a new covenant with God - "so that we would belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God" (Rom. 7:4).

 

This is the "bikkurim" connection with this week's Torah portion. The whole point of the great Passover and the Exodus from Egypt was to bring us into our inheritance and make us fruitful before the LORD. The fruit of the Spirit (פְּרִי הָרוּחַ) is the result of a new union or relationship with God, a "new covenant" given "apart from the law" (Rom. 3:21). We now serve the LORD in a new way - by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by following legal ordinances or other rules (2 Cor. 3:6). "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18), that is, you are no longer in a "legal" relationship with God based on the terms of the Sinai covenant and its curses.... As Paul further wrote: "Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace" (Rom. 6:14). The grace and love of God is what enables us to fulfill the inner intent of the law by means of the invincible power of Yeshua's resurrection life.

Shabbat Shalom - no curse but grace for you all - in Yeshua!
 




Shabbat "Table Talk" for Ki Tavo


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.16.11 (Elul 17, 5771)  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 Ki Tavo. 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.
 

סוּר מֵרָע וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב
 בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ

sur  me·ra  va·a·seh  tov
ba·kesh  sha·lom  ve·ro·de·fei·hu

"Depart from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it"
Psalm 34:14 

 

This verse is indirectly related to this week's Torah portion (Ki Tavo). In the list of "blessings and curses" in this week's portion (Deut. 17:15-26), only the curses are mentioned... Some have said that the blessings are not explicitly mentioned to allude to the idea that the reward for obedience is not seen in this world but only in the world to come... Others have said that this follows the order of Psalm 34:14: "Turn away from evil and do good." When we turn away from the curse, in other words, we find God's blessing waiting for us...

This verse also fits the theme of this season: "Turning, turning, turning": we prepare for Rosh Hashanah through three types of turning: 1) turning to God (teshuvah); 2) turning to others we've harmed or offended (mechilah), and 3) turning to those in need (tzedakah). In all three cases we can genuinely return to God only by choosing to embrace the truth about our lives. "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news of God's salvation" (Mark 1:15).

Rosh Hashanah is coming soon (i.e., Wed., September 28th at sundown). Let me wish you an early "Shanah Tovah" in Yeshua our Savior, chaverim.
 




Curses of the Law...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.15.11 (Elul 16, 5771)  Our Torah portion this week includes Moses' seemingly endless description of terrible curses that would befall the Jewish people if they disobeyed the terms of the Sinai covenant (Deut. 28:15-68). In Jewish tradition this litany of curses is called the tochachah (תּוֹכָחָה), a word that means "rebuke" or "reproof." Reading the tochachah is difficult and painful, especially in light of all the persecution and tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people over the millennia...

There are actually two main tochachot ("rebukes") given to Israel in the Torah. The first is in found at the end of the Book of Leviticus (Lev. 26:14-46), and the second (and longer one) is found in this week's Torah portion (Deut. 28:15-68). The rebuke in Leviticus ends with some measure of hope: "Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn them, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God" (Lev. 26:44), while the rebuke in Ki Tavo intensifies and intensifies - without any sense of reprieve. Indeed this longer rebuke contains no less than 98 curses - exactly twice as many as the 49 curses listed in Leviticus. According to the sages, the earlier rebuke given in Leviticus foretold the destruction of the First Temple and the Babylonian exile, whereas the later rebuke given in Deuteronomy foretold the destruction of the Second Temple and the Roman exile (which continues to this day in the Diaspora). Ezra the Scribe decided that the curses in Leviticus were to be read just before Shavuot (i.e., the time of the giving of the Torah), while the curses in Deuteronomy were to be read just before Rosh Hashanah, "so that the year and its curses can conclude" (Megillah 31b).

The New Testament teaches that we can only escape the curses listed in the Sinai covenant by means of Yeshua, who died on the cross as a sacrificial substitute for us, the very "Lamb of God" who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). As it is written, "God made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we would become the righteousness of God (δικαιοσύνη θεοῦ) in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21).

It is the righteousness of God (דְקַת אֱלהִים) that saves us, after all, and not any righteousness we may merit (Titus 3:5-7). "Salvation is of the LORD." And just as the death of a spouse releases a married person from the terms of their marriage contract, so the death of the Messiah frees us from the marriage contract made at Sinai (Rom. 7:1-4). Consequently our relationship with law itself has radically changed. We are "not under the law, but under grace" - οὐ ἐστε ὑπὸ νόμον ἀλλ᾽ ὑπὸ χάριν (Rom. 6:14). Indeed, we are "released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code (Rom. 7:6). "For Messiah is the end of the law (τέλος νόμου) for righteousness to everyone who trusts in Him" (Rom. 10:4).

The Messiah delivered (ἐξαγοράζω) us from the curse (קְלָלָה) pronounced in the Torah by becoming cursed on our behalf; as it is written, 'Everyone who hangs from a stake comes under a curse' (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:23). Therefore we have a new and better covenant with Yeshua (Heb. 8:6), just as we have a new and better altar than that provided by the older sacrificial system of the Temple (Heb. 13:10).

People are still free to attempt to justify themselves according to the "everlasting" terms of the Sinai Covenant, but then they are liable to the provisions of punishment emphatically stated in that covenant (i.e., the curses listed in Deut. 28:15-68). The new covenant, on the other hand, operates according to the "law of the Spirit of Life" by the gracious agency of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:2), enabling us to obey the inner meaning of the Torah by the power and glory of God. We are no longer under the "law of sin and death."

It is the Messiah in you that makes all the difference (Col. 1:27). Only those who love the Messiah and His salvation can be truly Torah observant, and indeed, what value is there in the law apart from the Lawgiver Himself, the Messiah who is our rightful King?

Therefore James the Righteous quoted from our Torah portion (Deut. 27:26) and wrote that "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty for violating it all" (James 2:20). The Apostle Paul likewise quoted this verse when he wrote: "For all who rely on doing the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not keep on doing everything written in the book of the law" (Gal. 3:10, see also Rom. 4:15).

For Messianic Jews (and Christians), "Torah" now centers on Yeshua, who is the Word of God and the Voice that spoke from the midst of the cloud at Sinai... He is the High Priest of the New Covenant of God (Heb. 7:12), and we are Torah observant when we obey His voice by receiving His love and deliverance. Repent and believe the good news (Mark 1:15)... The "good" news (εὐαγγέλιον) can only be understood in light of the "bad news," namely, that we are the walking dead apart from a divine intervention so radical that it took the death of God to bring about its reality... The Holy Spirit will not lead genuine followers of Yeshua to violate the inner intent of the law but will uphold the heart of the Torah. Therefore Yeshua said, "If you love me, keep My commandments..." (John 14:15, 21).

The idea of tochachah ("rebuke") is not simply something just for ethnic Israel, of course, since the New Testament likewise warns us that God will punish those who likewise walk "carelessly" (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with Him. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as God's children? "My son, do not regard lightly (ὀλιγώρει) the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary by his reproof (תּוֹכֵחָה). For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and reproves every child whom he receives" (Heb. 12:5-6; Prov. 3:11-12).

Likewise, the Lord charged the assembly at Ephesus that they had let go of their first love. Yeshua therefore urged them: "Remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds (ἔργα) you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place – unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). Because God is never indifferent toward those who are trusting in His salvation, he will discipline and correct us to keep close to Him. He will afflict us with the "troubles of love."  "This too is for good," expressing the idea that all things – including various troubles in our lives – ultimately help us return to the Lord for healing and life (Rom. 8:28).

Therefore discipline and correction is directed toward exercising faith in Him. "For whatever is not of faith is sin" (Rom. 14:23; Heb. 11:6). "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent" (John 6:29). The question is not whether or not we have kept certain ordinances, but whether or not Yeshua truly lives within our heart, i.e., whether we submit to his reign - his Torah - in our lives. Whenever we revert back to the idea of "law" in the sense of self-justification or self-empowerment we will re-experience the "law of sin and death." When we move "past" the law of death by means of the cross, we experience resurrection power and life... This is the "law of the Spirit of Life" given in Yeshua... 

That is part of the inner meaning of the verse: "Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the LORD will bring upon you, until you are destroyed" (Deut. 28:61). The end is the destruction of the "principle of the flesh." As Yeshua said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24).
 




Saying Amen...


 

[ The following is related to our Torah portion this week (Ki Tavo), when the tribes were instructed to say "Amen" to the terms of the covenant in a special ceremony held in the valley between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, near Shechem... ]

09.14.11 (Elul 15, 5771)  The word "amen" (אָמֵן) comes from the verb aman (אָמַן), meaning to confirm, establish, or uphold. The word for "faith" (i.e., emunah: אֱמוּנָה) comes from the same root, as does the word for "truth" (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת). "Amen" is therefore an affirmation and confession of the truth: "Let it be so!" The Jewish sages say that "amen" serves as an declaration of the Kingship of God (often said quietly before the reciting the Shema) that may be understood as an acronym for the phrase El Melekh Ne'eman (אֵל מֶלֶךְ נֶאֱמָן), "God (אֵל) is a faithful (נֶאֱמָן) king (מֶלֶךְ)."
 

בָּרוּךְ־יְהוָה אֱלהֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
מִן־הָעוֹלָם וְעַד הָעוֹלָם
וְאָמַר כָּל־הָעָם אָמֵן הַלְלוּ־יָהּ

ba·rukh  Adonai  E·lo·hei  Yis·ra·el
min  ha·o·lam  ve·ad  ha·o·lam
ve·a·mar  kol  ha·am:  A·men.  Ha·le·lu  Yah

"Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, "Amen!" Give praise to the LORD!"
(Psalm 106:48)

 


 



Special Prayer Request


 

09.13.11 (Elul 14, 5771)  Please keep this ministry in your prayers.  I am constantly dealing with technical issues with this work as well as with hacker attacks against the web host. Recently I discovered that some people are surfing the internet posting hateful comments using my name (and this ministry) on various websites in an attempt to discredit this site. Please ask the LORD God of Israel to defend this ministry. Thank you, chaverim...
 




Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh


 

09.12.11 (Elul 13, 5771)  There is a midrash about a dialog between Adam and the LORD God after Adam's banishment from the Garden of Eden. Adam feared that all humans would later blame him for their mortality, but God replied, "Don't worry about the others. From now on each soul will be responsible for giving account of his or her life. Each person is required to write his or her own 'Book of Life.' On the Day of Judgment, I simply ratify what has been written." Now while this is a midrash, there is a lesson here for us to heed...

We are all on a spiritual journey, writing the "Book of our Life." To help us in the "writing" process, the Jewish sages decided that the month of Elul should be set aside as a season for cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ) - "making an account of the soul." This means that we engage in honest self-examination about our behavior.  We take time to review our lives from the previous year.  "How did I get to this place in my life?" "Where am I now?" "Am I where I should be?"  We engage in this process of self-examination with an aim to grow -- to let go of the pain of the past and move forward.

We must begin by asking God for courage and strength...  We must let go of the fear that we will discover the truth about who we really are -- about what we've done, what we've thought, about who we've allowed ourselves to become.  Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word).  We need to confess the truth if we are to be free from the pain of the past.  When King David wrote, "The LORD is my Light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? (Psalm 27:1), he implied that he should even be free of fear of himself and of his past....
  

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד

Adonai  o·ri  ve·yish·i,  mi·mi  i·ra?
Adonai  ma'oz-chay·yai,  mi·mi  ef·chad?

"The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1)

Hebrew Study Card
 


As has been noted by various Jewish sages, different sins require different types of confession. Sins against God (i.e., bein Adam la-Makom: בֵּין אָדָם לָמָקוֹם) require confession to God alone for the sake of obtaining divine forgiveness. Sins against others (i.e., bein Adam l'chavero: בֵּין אָדָם לְחֲבֵרוֹ) require that we personally acknowledge our harm to them and ask them for mechilah (מְחִילָה), forgiveness. Finally, sins against ourselves require that we admit that we have damaged our own lives and be willing to accept personal forgiveness.  "For those whom we have wronged (including ourselves), may we be forgiven..."

It is important in this process not to blame others for our sins, since the object here is to work on changing ourselves, not others.  As the Baal Shem Tov once said, "Sinners are like mirrors. When we see faults in others, we must understand that they only reflect the evil within ourselves." Of course this is not to say that you might not have been truly hurt by the actions and sins of others, but that is a matter of your own mechilah (forgiveness) to be given them if they come to you in teshuvah, not a matter of cheshbon hanefesh. The focus in this process is on our own sins -- and how we must respond to our own sinful condition. We cannot truly make amends with another if we are expecting a reciprocal act from them (e.g., "I've apologized to you, now it's your turn!")

Regarding self-forgiveness, it might be helpful to think about a sinful act you've repeatedly struggled with over the last year. Now imagine you are talking to a dear friend whom you deeply respect who is struggling this same way. How would you counsel him or her?  Your answer can be part of the process of your own self-examination, where you can look within yourself honestly yet without the intent of bringing shame or further pain to your life. After all, the goal here is teshuvah -- return to God -- but you are not likely to do this if you are in a state of self-loathing or "toxic shame."

Most Christians are familiar with the idea of self-examination before partaking of the elements of the Lord's Table (i.e., the commemoration of Yeshua's last Passover Seder that prefigured His sacrifice as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world). "Let a person examine himself first (δοκιμάζω - test for authenticity), and then he may eat of the bread and drink from the cup" (1 Cor. 11:28). Now while it is assuredly true that we should examine ourselves before this ritual act, self-examination and confession should be part of our everyday lives as followers of the Messiah.  The unexamined life -- especially as a Christian -- is not worth living, and the practice of suppressing the truth about our sinful condition can lead to self-deception and even death (1 Cor. 11:30). "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:7-8). "Therefore, confess (ἐξομολογέω, lit. 'confess out') your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (James 5:16).

Ultimately, confession of the truth is not optional for anyone. For the follower of the Messiah, such confession produces salvation: "for with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Rom. 10:10). But for those who refuse to undergo self-examination and confess the truth, there is the Lord's own reciprocal confession: "Then I will confess to them (ὁμολογσω ατοῖς), 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness' (Matt. 7:23).

There is a godly sorrow that works teshuvah within our hearts. This is a sorrow or a mourning (λύπη) -- not an exercise in self-contempt or false pride -- for the pain we have caused the LORD with our actions... "For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death" (2 Cor. 7:10). This kind of sorrow is ultimately healing, since it impels us to return to the source of Love and healing we so desperately need.  May God all bless us with such sorrow, the "gift of tears."

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Parashat Ki Tavo - כי־תבוא


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Tavo. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.12.11 (Elul 13, 5771)  The Torah reading for this coming Shabbat includes these words: "Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart (בְּשִׂמְחָה וּבְטוּב לֵבָב), because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything..." (Deut. 28:47-48). Joy is a prerequisite for serving the LORD, and true happiness is found in the grace He supplies us to do His will. Indeed, the Greek word for joy used in the New Testament (χαρα) is related to the word for grace (χαρις), so there is a profound connection between apprehending grace and experiencing joy (Phil. 4:4).

Sometimes, of course, it is difficult to express joy, especially when we feel oppressed or saddened.  The Scriptures never disavow our emotional states (read Psalm 13 or Psalm 88, for example), but an underlying note of grace is always sounded, even in painful moments and times. This is our consolation in suffering.... sorrowful yet ever rejoicing.

And this works the other way, too. Even in our most joyous occasions, such as the great simchah of a wedding, the "glass is shattered" to remind ourselves that our eternal joy is not yet fulfilled... We live in an "already-not-yet" state of existence. Our best moments are beset with shadows; our darkest are limned with hope of the new eternal day to come. As Paul said, "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom. 8:18). May that day dawn for us soon, chaverim...


 

Note: Rosh Hashanah begins in just two weeks! (i.e., Wed., September 28th at sundown). Please read the article on Elul for information about getting ready for this appointed time.
 




Personal Update...


 

09.08.11 (Elul 9, 5771)  I will be taking a break from writing for the next few days to spend some time with my family. I wish you a wonderful Shabbat -- full of peace and joy -- despite this evil world and its ongoing turmoil. We need not live in fear, since our God is in complete control of everything, and therefore we can rest secure in His care for our lives. May you stay strong in faith, with your heart fixed upon the reality and presence of Yeshua! Amen.
 

יְבָרֶכְךָ יְהוָה מִצִּיּוֹן
 עשֵׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ

ye·va·re·khe·kha  Adonai  mitz·tzi·yon,
o·seh  sha·ma·yim  va·a·retz

"May the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion"
(Psalm 134:3)



 



Teshuvah of the Heart...

Marc Chagall - Bride
 

[ The following entry continues the subject of teshuvah (repentance).  Please read this in connection with earlier entries for the month of Elul, below. ]

09.08.11 (Elul 9, 5771)  The month of Elul (אֱלוּל) is sometimes called "the month of love and compassion" (based on the acronym formed from אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי / "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine," Song 6:3). This poignant verse alludes to the mystery that God is our Heavenly Groom and we are His betrothed. God is the great Lover of our souls, and the greatest mitzvah of all is to keep faith in His covenant promise of love (Rom. 8:24). Our Beloved is Coming! Yeshua will soon be here, chaverim. Don't miss the Bridegroom's call! Return to the passion of your first love (Rev. 2:4).

 

Yeshua illustrated the idea of teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "returning to God") by telling the story of the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32). After squandering his father's inheritance, a wayward son decided to return home, full of shame and self-reproach. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him." The father then ordered a celebratory meal in honor of his lost son's homecoming. When his older brother objected, the father said, "We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found."


 

This parable reveals that teshuvah ultimately means returning (shuv) to the compassionate arms of your Heavenly Father... God sees you while you are still "a long way off" (Rom. 5:8). He runs to you with affection when you first begin to turn your heart toward Him.  Indeed, God's compassion is so great that He willingly embraces the shame of your sins and then adorns you with "a fine robe, a ring, and sandals." Your Heavenly Father even slaughters the "fattened calf" (Yeshua) so that a meal that celebrates your life may be served.... 

Why did Yeshua come? He was like the father in the parable who was actively looking for his lost son... He came to "seek and save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Yeshua likened Himself to a shepherd who left his flock to search for one lost sheep, and after finding it, laid the sheep on his shoulders rejoicing (Luke 15:3-7). He also likened Himself to a woman who lost a coin but diligently searched for it. After she found it, she called together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the lost coin!' (Luke 15:8-10).


 

Another image of how God "seeks and saves the lost" is revealed in the metaphor the strong man who rescues hostages. We were held captive by the power of the evil one, but God willingly left the glories of heaven to ransom us from captivity. "He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him" (Isa. 59:16). God then sent His Son to save the world from satan's power (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). This is the good news of God's salvation: "The Spirit of the Lord God (רוּחַ אֲדנָי יהוה) is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me (מָשַׁח יהוה) to bring news for the poor (לְבַשֵּׂר עֲנָוִים); he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted (נִשְׁבְּרֵי־לֵב), to proclaim to the captives, liberty (לִשְׁבוּיִם דְּרוֹר), and to the bound ones, release from their chains; to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor" (Isa. 61:1-2; Luke 4:18).

The Strong Man rescued us using a power that evil one could never comprehend, namely, the power of sacrificial love. Yeshua plundered the "strong man's house" through the greater strength of God (Matt. 12:29). This is a power that evil cannot overcome. Yeshua emptied Himself (κενόω) by being clothed in human flesh to die for our sins on a cross (Isa. 53:2-5; Phil. 2:7). In a sense God's "teshuvah" is the Life of His Son, since He turned to us, "looked upon our lowly estate," and saved us from the hand of the oppressor of our souls... In all things - even in teshuvah - Yeshua has the preeminence (Col. 1:8).

What good is teshuvah without genuine hope?  If we expect to be rejected or disapproved by God, it's unlikely we will take the first step toward "returning" to Him. Or if we believe we are conditionally accepted, we will "return" in a state of self-justification, like the older son in Yeshua's parable of the prodigal son. In that case we would need to keep a checklist within our minds of all the commandments we've kept. We would reckon our obedience as virtue or merit, and, if we felt any qualms about our service, we would feel obliged to perform extra mitzvot to allay our sense of guilt. Teshuvah would essentially mean preparing a legal defense, arguing that on the basis of our merits we should be accepted before God's Presence.  Ultimately such "repentance" amounts to a demand that we be declared righteous, lovable, worthy, etc.

Yeshua's first words of public ministry were "Repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). The word "repent" is metanao (μετανοέω), meaning "change your thinking," and the word "gospel" means "good news" (i.e., εὐαγγέλιον, from , εὖ- "good," and ἄγγελος, "message"). We could translate the verse as: "Change your thinking and believe the message of God's good will toward you." The good news is that we are to be set free from the curse of the law and the futile efforts of seeking self-justification before Heaven... We no longer need to live in fear of God's conditional acceptance of us (and therefore of our conditional worth).  As the Apostle Paul later preached: "Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).

The Jews had known about repentance (teshuvah) for a long time, of course. They understood the rituals and mitzvot that were required to "keep the law," and they even devised legal formulas for "making your defense" before the Almighty (i.e., the Kol Nidre service recited before Yom Kippur: "We exonerate ourselves for failing to keep our word...").  If Moses and the law could have saved us, we wouldn't need to be "declared righteous by God's grace through the redemption in Yeshua" (Rom. 3:24). We wouldn't need the Cross!  All we'd need to do is work harder at repentance, perform additional mitzvot, earn merit before Heaven, and so on.  But clearly Yeshua meant something other than this when He made the call to "repent."

The repentance Yeshua preached was inextricably connected with the "good news" that He (alone) is God's answer to the problem of our sin. Yeshua was born to die as the divinely appointed Sin-bearer of the world (Heb. 10:5-7). He came to earth and emptied himself (κένωσις) of His regal glory and power in order to be the High Priest (הַכּהֵן הַגָּדוֹל) after the order of Malki-Tzedek (מַלְכִּי־צֶדֶק) and the Mediator of the New Covenant (Heb. 5:6; 9:15; Psalm 110:4; 1 Tim. 2:5). He came to Jerusalem (Moriah) for the explicit purpose of suffering, dying, and being raised from the dead (Matt. 16:21; Luke 9:22). Yeshua died not only for our forgiveness, but also to deliver us from "the law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת), i.e., the power that sin holds in our lives. He died to set us free so that we could become the beloved children of God (בְּנֵי אֱלהִים). Yeshua surely was not calling people to become followers of the scribes and Pharisees, who were blind guides and hypocrites (Matt. 23:13-36). He did not want people to become slaves to rituals or religion (1 Cor. 7:23). No, He called people to follow Him: "Take up your cross and follow Me." Turn your thinking around!  Die to your religion. Be comforted because there is good news from heaven! God's unconditional acceptance is given to those who trust in the righteousness of Yeshua in place of any self-righteousness that might be gained by performing the "works of the law" (Gal. 2:16, Titus 3:5). Yeshua is "the goal of the law for righteouness" for all who believe (Rom. 10:4-13). Wow. Now that's a message that requires a profound "change of mind" for a "Torah observant" Jew to accept. Dying to the religious project of attaining self-righteousness is to admit the need for radical deliverance from the law itself.

Yeshua's message of salvation was rejected by the religious establishment of His day, just as it is likewise rejected by all other "karma-based" religions and philosophies that believe that "good deeds" are sufficent to earn you a place in heaven... After all, the religious Jews assumed they already understood the requirements for repentance and the means for finding "atonement" with God through the rituals and practices surrounding the High Holidays.  Their religion was essentially a meritocracy based on the performance of "good works" (מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים) that were thought to impart "zechut" and righteousness to the soul.  But Yeshua explained to those "who trusted in themselves that they were righteous" that a person is not justified on the basis of their supposed good deeds or merits, but entirely by appealing to God's compassion and mercy. It was the "despised" tax collector - not the "self-righteous" Pharisee - that left the Temple justified:
 

    Two men went up to the Temple to pray; one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and I give tithes of all that I possess (Amen).'  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner (Amen).'


     

    I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for everyone that exalts himself shall be humbled; but he that humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:10-14).
     

During this season of teshuvah, we must always remember that the LORD is "for us" and not against us. He died while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). He is the Loving Strong Man who rescued us forever.  Nothing can now separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:31-39). We are literally saved in this hope (Rom. 8:24). May it please the LORD to make us all like Abraham, who "did not misjudge (διακρίνω) the promise of God through unbelief, but was strong in faith, giving glory to God, because he was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised" (Rom. 4:20-21). Abraham "rejoiced to see Yeshua's day" and believed: אֱלהִים יִרְאֶה־לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה / Elohim yireh-lo haseh - "God Himself will provide a lamb" (Gen. 22:8; John 8:56).


 




Why then the Law?


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.07.11 (Elul 8, 5771)  As I was reading the list of disturbing laws regarding sexual violence, slavery, battery, divorce, etc., in this week's Torah portion, I was again reminded of the Apostle Paul's statement that the law is good only if is used "lawfully," that is, in the negative sense of restraining evil:

    Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully (νομίμως), understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the good news (εὐαγγέλιον) of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted" (1 Tim. 1:8-11)
     

In another place Paul stated that the law "added" or was "set forth" (προστίθημι) to reveal the nature of sin (Gal. 3:19; Rom. 3:20) and thereby to function as a "ministry of condemnation" (2 Cor. 3:7) until the Messiah would come. It was a "schoolmaster" or "tutor" (παιδαγωγός) meant to lead us to the Messiah and His Kingdom rule (Gal. 3:23-26). In short, the law reveals our need for a Savior, which is the heart of the message of salvation. Because of Yeshua, we given a new spiritual nature and a God-given power to walk in love and thereby we fulfill (and transcend) the law and its requirements. We are no longer slaves, but children of God.

It is the Holy Spirit that gives us life and who breathes the true and inner meaning of Torah into our hearts. "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law" (Gal. 5:18). That is, you are no longer to be constrained by either legalism or lawlessness, since "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is power" to please God. The Spirit sets us free from the seduction of both legalism and debauchery (Gal. 3:1-2; Eph. 5:18). When we are led by the Spirit, we rely upon God's provision to walk in a way that pleases Him. On the other hand, when we rely on the "flesh," we are operating under the principle of our own (in)ability to please God, which invariably leads to pride (legalism) or profligacy (anti-legalism) - and sometimes to both. Therefore we see that role of the "law" is often connected with the "flesh," but the role of the Spirit is connected with life and power.

Of course "walking in the Spirit" (i.e., trusting in God's salvation) does not lead to lawlessness but rather fulfills the righteousness of the law in us through faith (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16). Christians live under the "law of liberty" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵרוּת), though this obviously does not mean the supposed "freedom" to become enslaved to sin again (Gal. 5:13; 1 Pet. 2:16). On the contrary, the law of liberty implies that we are made free from the "law of sin and death" (i.e., the futile principle of self-justification) in order to serve God in newness of life.  As the Apostle James uses this term, it is the power to act on the truth that has been given to you.  We are to be "doers" of the Word, and not hearers only, since faith without works is dead and leads to self-deception (lit., "reasoning around" the truth, i.e., παραλογίζομαι, from παρά, "around, beside" and λογίζομαι, "to reason").  Only those who follow through and live their faith will be blessed in their actions (James 1:25). This mirrors Yeshua's statement, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17). This is the "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ). We are no longer enslaved to the power of sin but have a new principle of life that leads us to true freedom.  After all, true freedom doesn't mean doing whatever you want, but rather means the power to choose contrary to the demands of your lower nature. We "put off" the old self and "put on" the new (Eph. 4:22-24). It is the divinely imparted "new nature" that gives us the power to "put to death" the old self by reckoning it crucified with Messiah (Gal. 2:19-20). Obedience to this Torah leads to further revelation, just as disobedience to it leads to further darkness (Matt. 13:12). Yeshua is only the "Author of Eternal Salvation" for those who heed and obey Him (Heb. 5:9). "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).

Nonetheless, the question remains as to why God revealed the laws at Sinai and how we are to understand them in our lives today. Moreover, since our Torah reading this week contains more legal commandments than any other Torah portion, it is natural that we should revisit the our relationship with the lawcode of Moses during this time... In light of the salvation given in Yeshua, what is our relationship to the law? What is the goal or "end" of the Law that the Apostle Paul discussed in his letters? To continue exploring this subject, click here...
 




Thoughts about Repentance

Jeremiah Weeps - Chagall detail
 

[ The month of Elul is traditionally the "Season of Repentance," a time when we prepare for the High Holidays. The following entry is a bit "technical," but it's important to get our language right when we consider the important issue of what constitutes repentance. ]

09.06.11 (Elul 7, 5771)  The theme of the Jewish High Holidays is teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning back (shuv) to God. The root of this verb occurs nearly 1,000 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and first occurs when God told Adam he would "return to the earth" (Gen. 3:19). In spiritual terms, shuv may be regarded as a practical turning away from evil and a turning toward the good, though Jewish thinking regards turning to God as the means by which we turn away from evil. This act of turning has the power to redirect a person's destiny. It effects the whole life of the soul.  As Abraham Heschel wrote, "No word is God's final word. Judgment, far from being absolute, is conditional. A change in man's conduct brings about a change in God's judgment" (Heschel: The Prophets, 194). In the ancient Greek translation of the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Septuagint, or LXX), shuv is translated using the word strepho (στρέφω), which means to turn around, or to turn back to God. 

Teshuvah
 

A related word in Hebrew is nacham (נָחַם), which is often associated with the emotion of regret (in the old King James Version of the Bible, nacham is sometimes confusingly translated using the word "repent"). Some linguists suggest that the root idea of the verb pictures God "taking a deep breath" (or even sighing) as way of expressing regret or feeling compassion in response to an offense by others.  Thus we read, "And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth (וַיִּנָּחֶם יְהוָה כִּי־עָשָׂה אֶת־הָאָדָם בָּאָרֶץ), and it grieved him to his heart" (Gen. 6:6). Speaking anthropomorphically, God "consoled himself" (nacham also means to comfort) by changing his thinking and plan. God's "regret" was His "answer" or response to the sinful choices of human beings.

Since it is absurd to say that God needs to repent from sin or that He morally regrets His actions, the meaning of nacham must be qualified when it is applied to man. Regret over sin is a state of sorrow that belongs exclusively to morally free human beings. Therefore the prophet Job uttered, "I abhor myself and repent (נחם) in dust and ashes" (Job 42:6). In the ancient Greek translation of the Scriptures, the word nacham was usually translated using the word metanoia (μετάνοια) or sometimes μεταμέλομαι.  Metanoia is a compound word that comes from 'μετα' (after, with) and 'νοεω' (to think), which means "changing your thinking," (though it also can mean "going beyond (meta) your thinking" to access the realm of your heart).  In other words, the word implies that how we think will affect how we make decisions (judgments), and therefore repentance means acknowledging that we are cognitively mistaken about the nature of reality (i.e., there is a divinely sanctioned moral order, and we are guilty of violating that order and in a state of profound alienation until we are divinely reconciled). Our change of mind - if genuine - inevitably will lead to a change of heart.

Wenzel Hollar detail
 

(As an aside, this implies that there is an "ethic of belief," or a moral imperative to believe the truth and reject error in the realm of the spiritual. God has wired us to be rational beings with a moral conscience and an intuitive perception of His reality. He also has revealed himself with "many proofs" (πολλοῖς τεκμηρίοις) that demonstrate the victory of His salvation (Acts 1:3). The greatest mitzvah is exercising faith in God's redemptive love as revealed in the Messiah Yeshua. The LORD is always "calling" to out to you to respond to His Presence...)

The New Testament seems to follow the LXX by using the Greek verb metanao (μετανοέω) to express the Hebrew idea of nacham (i.e., regret or repentance), and it uses the verb strepho (στρέφω) to express the practical idea of shuv (i.e., turning to God and away from evil). Metanao means expressing regret and remorse over the bankruptcy of our personal philosophy of how the world should be run. We surrender to God's truth, forsake the selfish demands of the ego, and "let God be God."  Strepho, on the other hand, is a literal or metaphorical turning. When applied to God, it means turning all of your "heart, soul, and strength" back to Him. Indeed, the LXX exclusively uses this word to translate the Hebrew word shuv (שׁוּב), from which we get the word teshuvah. For example, "If you return, O Israel" is אִם־תָּשׁוּב יִשְׂרָאֵל in the original Hebrew, but is translated as ἐὰν ἐπιστραφῇ Ισραηλ in the LXX (Jer. 4:1). Likewise, "Return, O Israel" is שׁוּבָה יִשְׂרָאֵל in the Hebrew but is translated as in the ἐπιστράφητι Ισραηλ in the LXX (Hos. 14:2). In a sense, we can say that nacham/metanao concerns the past (regret), whereas shuv/strepho concerns the present...

Traditional Christian theology tends to regard God in Greek, rather than Hebrew, terms. Historically speaking, most Christian theologians relied on the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures rather than the original Hebrew to develop their theology. Indeed, the word "theology" itself is Greek (not Hebrew) and refers to the "study of God" (θεός + λόγος), implying that God is an "object" that could be looked at, "analyzed," and known as a "thing" or divine "substance." To the ancient Greeks, the idea of God is disclosed through a process of intellectual abstraction -- through "negative theology" (i.e., denying predicates of human language to the divine), and so on. The danger of regarding "repentance" as simply "changing your thinking" is that this can lead to intellectualism that is devoid of inward, heart transformation.  Hence Evangelical Christianity has spawned an entire generation of those who accept "easy believism" and who tend to regard "repentance" as intellectual assent to the truths of the Gospel message (or to some creedal formula).  Of course correct doctrine is vitally important, but it is emptiness if it is not passionately lived in one's experience.  Ultimately, Christian truth is existential rather than academic. Yeshua's passion in the garden is greater than all the most profound thoughts of theology ever penned by the world's greatest theologians...

The general problem with repentance -- whether we regard it as a change of thinking or as a practical call to return to God - is that most people refuse to do it. In fact, no one can repent unless he or she is given the means to do so from heaven (John 6:44). We are born rebels who naturally hate God and His authority (Rom. 8:7). You can argue until you are "blue in face" with a sinner who needs to repent, but unless he or she is truly touched by God, the best possible outcome will be halfhearted resolutions and an incomplete reformation (Luke 11:24-26). Most parents who have children that have turned away from the LORD to embrace a sinful lifestyle know this to be true.... In this connection, repentance is analogous to spiritual rebirth that comes from God's direct intervention. Like genuine faith, the profound change in direction from the principle of self-centeredness to God-centeredness is a miracle from God.

While it is important that we "regret our thinking" (μετανοέω) and embrace the authority of God as the first principle in all our reasoning (λόγος ), it is equally important that we exercise our wills by turning to the LORD (στρέφω) through acts of repentance (e.g., prayer, confession, turning away from sinful practices, offering tzedakah, and so on). According to Jewish tradition, genuine teshuvah involves four basic steps:

Four Steps of Teshuvah:

  1. Forsake the sin (Prov. 28:13).  "Sincere repentance is demonstrated when the same temptation to sin, under the same conditions, is resolutely resisted" (Talmud Yoma 86b). Note that according to traditional Jewish views, the atonement is of no avail without repentance (Midrash Sifra). [shuv/strepho]
  2. Regret the breach in your relationship with God and others (Psalm 51). [nacham/metanoia]
  3. Confess the truth and make amends with those we have harmed (Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:9; James 5:16, Matt. 5:23-4). Note that we must ask for mechilah (forgiveness from others) before receiving selichah (forgiveness from God). [shuv/strepho]
  4. Accept your forgiveness and move forward with the LORD through faith (Phil. 3:13-14; 1 John 1:9). Be comforted by the Presence of the LORD in your life: Nachumu: "Comfort ye my people" (Isa. 40:1). [nacham/metanoia].
     

Finally, it needs to be said that authentic repentance is a lifestyle, not a "one time deal." We never get past it. Although there is certainly spiritual progress as we walk in grace, all genuine progress comes through ongoing teshuvah. We may repent from a certain action at a given point in time, but that does not mean that no longer need to do teshuvah. Teshuvah is perpetual and timeless, since it corresponds to our spiritual rather than our temporal lives (i.e., chayei olam rather than chayei sha'ah). Indeed, a true penitent is called baal teshuvah (בַּעַל תְשׁוּבָה), a "master of returning," who is always turning away from self and toward God. We never get beyond the call to "repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15). That is why the season of teshuvah is always timely. The message of Elul and the High Holidays is meant to be carried over throughout the rest of the year.

Teshuvah and confession go hand in hand. Confession (ὁμολογία) means bringing yourself naked before the Divine Light to agree with the truth about who you are. Indeed, the word homologeo literally means "saying the same thing" - from ὁμός (same) and λόγος (word).  In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah, or a question.  God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer. Teshuvah is one of the great gifts God gives each of us – the ability to turn back to Him and seek healing for our brokenness. May we turn to Him now!

 


 



Out of the depths I cry out...


 

09.05.11 (Elul 6, 5771)  There are times when we might wrestle with feelings of depression that are very painful, and it might even feel as if we are being "swallowed up" in darkness and despair...  King David gives words to this inward groaning of heartache in Psalm 130, "Out of the depths I cry out to You, O LORD" (you can read a brief commentary on this psalm here). It is reassuring to know that God understands the voice of our pain, and that he has the kindness and power to help us -- even as He graciously walks us through the "dark night of the soul." 
 

מַה־תִּשְׁתּוֹחֲחִי נַפְשִׁי וּמַה־תֶּהֱמִי עָלָי
הוֹחִילִי לֵאלהִים כִּי־עוֹד אוֹדֶנּוּ
יְשׁוּעת פָּנַי וֵאלהָי

mah  tish·to·cha·chi  naf·shi,  u·mah  te·che·mi  alai?
ho·chi·li  le·lo·him  ki  od  o·de·nu
ye·shu·ot  pa·nai  ve·lo·hai

"Why are you depressed, O my soul? Why are you upset?
Keep hope in God! For I will again give thanks
to my God for his deliverance"
(Psalm 42:5,11)



Shalom chaverim.... Keep pressing on.  The day will soon dawn and the morning star will arise within your heart (2 Pet. 1:19; Luke 1:78).


 



Parashat Ki Teitzei - כי־תצא


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Ki Teitzei. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.04.11 (Elul 5, 5771)  In last week's Torah reading (Shoftim), Moses defined an extensive system of justice for the Israelites and pointed to the coming Messiah who would be the rightful King of Israel. In this week's portion, Moses returns to the immediate concern of the conquest of the Promised Land by providing a number of specific laws and instructions to be enforced regarding civil life in Israel.

Jewish tradition identifies no less than 74 of the Torah's 613 commandments in Ki Teitzei (the most of all the Torah portions), covering a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, the humane treatment of animals, fair labor practices, and honest economic transactions. Some of the specific topics mentioned in this week's portion include the treatment of females captured in war, the inheritance rights for firstborn sons, the case of the "rebellious son" who was to be put to death, and the law regarding the treatment of a body of someone who had been executed. 

Of particular interest to us is the statement that a man who was executed and "hanged on a tree" (עַל־עֵץ) is under the curse of God (Deut. 21:22-23). According to the Talmud (Nezakim: Sanhedrin 6:4:3), the Great Sanhedrin (סַנְהֶדְרִין גְדוֹלָה) decided that "a man must be hanged with his face towards the spectators" upon a wooden stake, with his arms slung over a horizontal beam. It should be noted that while this is technically not the same thing as the gruesome practice of Roman crucifixion, the reasoning based on this verse was apparently used to justify the execution of Yeshua (Mark 15:9-15; John 19:5-7; 15). The exposed body was required to be buried before sundown to keep the land from being defiled. Besides the shame and degradation of this manner of death, the one so executed would be unable to fall to their knees as a final act of repentance before God, thereby implying that they were under the irrevocable curse of God (קִלְלַת אֱלהִים).

In this connection, we should note that Yeshua was falsely charged with blasphemy before the corrupt Sanhedrin of His day (Matt. 26:65; Mark 14:64; John 10:33) - an offence that was punishable by stoning (Lev. 24:11-16). However, since the Imperial Roman government then exercised legal hegemony over the region of Palestine, all capital cases were required to be submitted to the Roman proconsul for adjudication, and therefore we understand why the Jewish court remanded Yeshua and brought him to be interrogated by Pontius Pilate. Because Roman law was indifferent to cases concerning Jewish religious practices (i.e., charges of blasphemy), however, the priests further slandered Yeshua by illegitimately switching the original charge of blasphemy to that of sedition against Rome. The Sanhedrin undoubtedly rationalized their duplicity because the Torah allowed for an offender to impaled or "hung on a tree" (Num. 25:4), and since they were unable to do carry out this judgment because of Roman rule in the area, they needed Pilate to condemn him to death by crucifixion (Matt. 27:31; Mark 15:13-4; Luke 23:21; John 19:6,15). Note that crucifixion is mentioned elsewhere in the Talmud (Nashim: Yevamot 120b) regarding whether a widow can remarry if her husband had been crucified, as well as by the Jewish historian Josephus. The Talmud furthermore alludes to the death of Yeshua where Yeshua is said to have been crucified on "eve of Passover" (Nezekin: Sanhedrin 43a).

The apostles of Yeshua understood the connection between this provision in the Torah and the salvation of the LORD as a way of explaining how the substitutionary death of Yeshua satisfied God's wrath for sin on our behalf (there was no way to impute sin without also imputing its penalty). Therefore the Apostle Paul wrote, "The Messiah redeemed us from the curse of the law (קִלְלַת הַתּוֹרָה) by becoming a curse (קְלָלָה) for us - for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree" (Gal. 3:13). The Apostle Peter also had this in mind when he wrote: "The God of our fathers raised Yeshua, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree" (Acts 5:30; cp. Acts 10:39-40); and, "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" (1 Peter 2:24). And of course the prophet Isaiah foretold of the sacrfice of the "Suffering Servant" centuries before the advent of Yeshua:
 

וְהוּא מְחלָל מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ מְדֻכָּא מֵעֲוֹנתֵינוּ
מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ

ve·hu  me·cho·lal  mi·pe·sha·e·nu,  me·du·ka  me·a·vo·no·tey·nu,
mu·sar  she·lo·me·nu  a·lav,  u·va·cha·vu·ra·to  nir·pa-la·nu

"But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities,
the correction of our peace was upon him, and by his wound we are healed"
(Isa. 53:5)


There can be no remission of sin without the shedding of blood (Lev. 17:11, Heb. 9:22), and the sacrificial death of Yeshua as the "Lamb of God" was intended not only to cleanse us from sin (to remove the curse), but also to fully satisfy God's justice and holiness (impute God's blessing and grace). The cross is the place where Yeshua became sin for us - the One who knew no sin - that we might be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Just before Yeshua died, he said something of tremendous significance. Eyewitnesses to his crucifixion wrote, "When he had received the drink, Yeshua said, 'It is finished.' With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (John 19:30; Matt. 27:50). In Koine Greek, this final statement is recorded as a single word: tetelestai (Τετέλεσται). In Hebrew, Yeshua might have uttered, "nishlam" (נִשְׁלָם) or perhaps "kullah" (כּוּלָּה).

Tetelestai
 

In Greek, the word tetelestai (Τετέλεσται) is an "indicative perfect passive" form of the verb teleo (τελέω) which implies that something has been completed with an enduring effect or state. The verb comes from telos (τέλος), a noun meaning a goal or purpose. Telos is the word Paul used when he wrote: "For Messiah is the end of the law (τέλος νόμου) for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom 10:4).

Tetelestai was the cry of victory to the Father. "I have finished the work you gave me to do." What was that work? To establish the new covenant (brit chadashah) between God and man by offering up His life as the atoning sacrifice for humanity's sins (Heb. 1:3, 10:12). The priesthood of Yeshua is said to be after the "order of Malki-Tzedek," based on a direct oath from God, that predates the operation of the Levitical priesthood (for more information about the role of Yeshua as our High Priest, see the article "Yom Kippur and the Gospel"). Yeshua was the only Tzaddik who ever completely walked out the truth of Torah. He expressed its inner meaning perfectly and embodied its truth in full.  The Akedah of Yeshua (i.e., His crucifixion at Moriah) was the altar where the justice and chesed (love) of the Father fully met. If God were not just, Yeshua did not need to die; and if God were not loving, He would not have given up His Son as a ransom for our sin. Justice and mercy kiss.

The Torah (i.e., law) is holy, just and good (Rom. 7:12), but those seeking righteousness based on it's demands will discover the tragic fact that it is powerless to impart righteousness and life (2 Cor. 3:7-18). It is sin within the human heart that condemns people - not the law! The crucifixion of Yeshua condemned sin in the flesh (again, not the law) and now the righteousness of God is imparted to those who embrace Yeshua by faith (Rom. 8:3-4). Enabled by the Holy Spirit, with the law now written upon our hearts (Jer. 31:31-3; Heb. 8:10-11), we are empowered to fulfill the requirements of the law based on a new covenant relationship with God (Gal. 2:16, 3:2). We no longer seek righteousness by means of maintaining ritualistic or other ordinances (Rom. 4:5, Gal. 2:16) but by receiving the free gift of Messiah's righteousness imputed to us through our trust (Eph. 2:8-9). Because of Yeshua's victory, we do not strive for acceptance before the Father, we abide within it, chaverim (John 15:4).

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

Because Yeshua became our "serpent" upon the cross, all those who have been bitten by snake and poisoned by the venom of sin may be delivered. Just as the image made in the likeness of the destroying snake was lifted up for Israel's healing, so the One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Rom. 8:3) was to be lifted up as the Healer of the world.  Likewise with the other pictures of our Savior as the "leper Messiah," as the "red heifer" who purifies from death, as the "scapegoat" sacrifice who sends our sins into exile, and so on. Yeshua is Adonai Tzidkenu - the LORD our Righteousness. Blessed be His Name forever and ever...


 


The Call for Teshuvah


 

09.02.11 (Elul 2, 5771) The theme of month of Elul is teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה), a word often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning back (shuv) to God. In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah, or a question.  God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer. Teshuvah is one of the greatest of gifts that God gives each of us, since through it we are able to turn back to the LORD and seek healing for our brokenness.
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב׃
יַעֲזב רָשָׁע דַּרְכּוֹ וְאִישׁ אָוֶן מַחְשְׁבתָיו
וְיָשׁב אֶל־יְהוָה וִירַחֲמֵהוּ
וְאֶל־אֱלהֵינוּ כִּי־יַרְבֶּה לִסְלוֹחַ׃

dir·shu  Adonai  be·him·matz·o,  ke·ra·u·hu  bi·yo·to  ka·rov
ya·a·zo  ra·sha  dar·ko,  ve·ish  a·ven  mach·she·vo·tav
ve·ya·shov  el  Adonai  vi·rach·a·mei·hu
ve·el  E·lo·hei·nu  ki  yar·beh  lish·lo·ah

"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near.
Let the wicked man forsake his way, and the perverse man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."



 

Let these words reach down to your heart, chaverim: "Seek the LORD (i.e., dirshu Adonai: דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה) while he may be found; call upon him while he is near (i.e., karov: קָרוֹב); Let the wicked man (i.e., rasha: רָשָׁע) forsake his way (i.e, derekh: דֶּרֶךְ), and the perverse man (i.e., ish aven: אִישׁ אָוֶן) his thoughts (i.e., machshavah: מַחֲשָׁבָה); and let him return (i.e., shuv: שׁוּב) to the LORD, that He may have compassion (i.e., rachamim: רַחֲמִים) on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon (i.e., selichah: סְלִיחָה)" (Isa. 55:6-7).

The Hebrew word selichah (סְלִיחָה) means "excuse me!" in colloquial Hebrew, but in the Scriptures it refers exclusively to God's offer of pardon and forgiveness of the repentant sinner.  In Psalm 130:4 we read, "But with you there is forgiveness (selichah), that you may be held in awe."
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ הַסְּלִיחָה לְמַעַן תִּוָּרֵא

ki  im·me·kha  ha-se·li·chah  le·ma'an  tiv·va·rei

"But with you there is the forgiveness,
that you may be held in awe" (Psalm 130:4)



 

The following verse says, "I hope in the LORD (i.e., kiviti Adonai: קִוִּיתִי יְהוָה), my soul does hope, and in his word I await" (Psalm 130:5). "O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love (i.e., chesed: חֶסֶד), and with him is abundant redemption."

Psalm 27 is also traditionally read during the month of Elul. "The LORD is my light, and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?" (Psalm 27:1). The message of teshuvah is also sounded: "Hope to the LORD (קַוֵּה אֶל־יְהוָה); be strong and strengthen your heart; and (again) hope to the LORD" (Psalm 27:14). There can be no turning to God without genuine hope (תִּקְוָה)... Shabbat Shalom to all you fellow "captives of hope" in our Messiah Yeshua. Stay strong - chazak - and above all else, guard your heart, for from it are the "issues of life." May Yeshua our King be lifted up, exalted, honored, extolled, magnified, and glorified always. Amen.

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No Fear Before God's Enemies...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.02.11 (Elul 2, 5771)  Our Torah portion this week commands never to be fearful in battle against God's enemies (Deut. 20:1). We must display courage, put our trust in God and his purposes, and overcome any dread of defeat.  As the Haftarah for this week reminds us, a person who is afraid is regarded as someone who has forgotten God: "It is I, I who comforts you (אָנכִי אָנכִי הוּא מְנַחֶמְכֶם); who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, of the son of man who is made like grass, and have forgotten the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth?" (Isa. 51:12-13). We must always remember that "the LORD your God is the One who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies, to give you the victory":
 

כִּי יְהוָה אֱלהֵיכֶם הַהלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם
לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם־איְבֵיכֶם
לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם

ki  Adonai  E·lo·he·khem  ha·ho·lekh  im·me·khem
le·hil·la·hem  la·khem  im  oy·ve·khem
le·ho·shi·a  et·khem

"For the LORD your God is the One who goes with you (ha-holekh imekhem)
to fight for you (lehilachem lakhem) against your enemies (im oyvekem),
to give you the victory (lehoshi'ah etkhem)."



 

We are commanded to "put on the whole armor of God" (Eph. 6:11-13), the "armor of light" (Rom. 13:12), and to fight the good fight of faith, "by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left..." (2 Cor 6:7). "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey the Messiah" (2 Cor. 10:4-5). There is no fear in God's love, chaverim, and we can therefore trust that God will work all things together for our good in this world - even our battles with the powers of darkness in this age.... Share in suffering as a good soldier of the Messiah, Yeshua (2 Tim. 2:3).
 

אֵלֶּה בָרֶכֶב וְאֵלֶּה בַסּוּסִים
וַאֲנַחְנוּ בְּשֵׁם־יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ נַזְכִּיר

e·leh  va·re·kheh  ve·e·leh  vas·su·sim
va·a·nach·nu  be·shem  Adonai  E·lo·hei·nu  naz·kir

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God"
(Psalm 20:7)



 

The Scriptures declare: Migdal oz shem Adonai (מִגְדַּל־עז שֵׁם יְהוָה), "the Name of the LORD is a strong tower," bo yarutz tzaddik ve'nisgav (בּוֹ־יָרוּץ צַדִּיק וְנִשְׂגָּב), "the righteous one runs to it and will be set securely on high (Prov. 18:10). Talk back to the devil and refuse to be intimidated. Refute his lies with God's truth. We are "hyper conquerors" through the victory of Yeshua our Lord!

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New Shabbat "Table Talk" for Shoftim


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.02.11 (Elul 2, 5771)  Our Torah portion this week continues Moses' farewell address to Israel just before they entered the land of Canaan. It begins with the commandment that the people of Israel should appoint righteous judges (i.e., shoftim: שׁפְטִים) and officers (i.e., shoterim: שׁוֹטְרִים) so that justice would be enforced throughout the promised land.

To make it a little easier to discuss some topics, I created a new Shabbat "Table Talk" guide for parashat Shoftim. The guide includes a brief summary of the Torah reading, a set of questions (with answers), and some additional topics for discussion. 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.

Note: This portion of Scripture is so rich that it needed ten pages to write the Table Talk for this week - and I could have easily written more! Don't miss some of the fascinating discussion this portion invites! Shalom chaverim.


 



Justice and Judgment...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.01.11 (Elul 1, 5771)  Our Torah portion this week includes a resounding call for justice to be practiced in the land: "tzedek, tzedek tirdof" (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall purse" (Deut. 16:20):
 

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר־יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ נתֵן לָךְ

tze·dek  tze·dek  tir·dof,  le·ma·an  tich·yeh  ve·ya·rash·ta  et-ha·a·retz,
a·sher  Adonai  E·lo·he·kha  no·ten  lakh

"Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land
that the LORD your God is giving you."


Hebrew Study Card
 

The word tzedek means "righteousness" and involves the duty to adhere to moral truth. Woe to a people who calls good evil and evil good; but even more woe to a people who have corrupt judges and a perverse legal system. The sages believed that the fortunes of Israel depended upon the upright behavior of its judges. They interpret the opening verse of the book of Ruth, "... in the days when judges ruled (שְׁפט הַשּׁפְטִים) there was a famine in the land" (Ruth 1:1) to mean that the judges were themselves judged - and this is why the famine was decreed. "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?"

The commandment to appoint judges and officers titten lekha (תּתֶּן־לְךָ), "for you" (Deut. 16:18) implied that no judge or officer was to be regarded as "above the law" but was to serve as an agent of God to deliver the oppressed from the oppressor. The same may be said of a king of Israel, who during his reign, was commanded to write for himself a letter-perfect copy of the Torah under the direct supervision of the Levitical priests (Deut. 17:18-19). The scroll was to always be with him and the king was to read and study it every day of his life. The sages say that when King David wrote, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8), he was referring to the scroll of Torah which he kept tied to his arm.

A king must be humble in his service to the people: "Then he will not exalt himself above his fellow citizens or turn from the commandments to the right or left, and he and his descendants will enjoy many years ruling over his kingdom in Israel" (Deut. 17:20). A king without reverence before the LORD and true humility is a usurper who will ultimately suffer karet judgment from heaven. As the LORD said, "Those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed" [lit. 'cursed'] (1 Sam. 2:30).
 

עֲשׂה צְדָקָה וּמִשְׁפָּט
נִבְחָר לַיהוָה מִזָּבַח

a·soh  tze·da·kah  u·mish·pat
niv·char  la-Adonai  miz·za·vach

"To do righteousness and justice
is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice"
(Prov. 21:3)
 



 



Walking in Righteousness...


 

[ The following entry concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Shoftim.  Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

09.01.11 (Elul 1, 5771)  R' Eliezer said that when justice is done on earth, heaven suspends judgment and does not exact punishment; but when there is no justice, heaven sits in judgment and sends down punishment...  Likewise Pirke Avot states, "The sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice perverted, and because of those who misinterpret the Torah" (Avot 5:8). The world is in the perilous state it is today because it categorically disregards God's command to pursue justice and truth, especially for those who are downtrodden. Because of this, "justice is far from us, and righteousness does not overtake us; we hope for light, and behold, darkness, and for brightness, but we walk in gloom" (Isa. 59:9). The day of God's reckoning draws near (Psalm 2:2-12).
 

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ
אֲשֶׁר־יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ נתֵן לָךְ

tze·dek  tze·dek  tir·dof,  le·ma·an  tich·yeh  ve·ya·rash·ta  et-ha·a·retz,
a·sher  Adonai  E·lo·he·kha  no·ten  lakh

"Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land
that the LORD your God is giving you." (Deut 16:20)


Hebrew Study Card
 

The Hebrew word tzedek means "righteousness" or "justice" and is one of the fundamental attributes of the LORD God of Israel. Almighty God is called the LORD our Righteousness (יהוה צִדְקֵנוּ), the Righteous God (אֱלהִים צַדִּיק), the Righteous Judge (שׁוֹפֵט צַדִּיק), and so on. The righteousness of God implies that we who are created in His image have a corresponding duty to exercise righteousness in our daily lives. An act of tzedakah (charity) is therefore regarded as an moral obligation rather than as gemilut chasadim (i.e., act of benevolence).  The prophet Isaiah wrote: "The work of tzedakah shall be peace (מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם)" and added that "the service of righteousness (וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה) shall be quietness and security forever (Isa. 32:17).

Practicing righteousness is not optional for the follower of Yeshua, the King of Righteousness (מֶלֶךְ הַצְּדָקָה). Tzedek, tzedek tirdof (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף), "justice, justice, you shall pursue," is a message for Christians. "If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness (πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην) has been born of him" (1 John 2:29). "Doing" and "being" are united in the Hebraic mindset...There is no "being" righteous apart from the fruits of righteousness. As Yeshua said, "You shall know them by their fruits..."
 

You cannot have the Cross without the Torah,
and you cannot have the Torah without the Cross... God is One.


Note: While we are not justified by "works of righteousness" (Titus 3:5-6), we nonetheless will evidence righteousness as a result of the miracle of regeneration. Indeed, faith in the efficacy of the cross of Yeshua (i.e., God's salvation) implies acknowledging the righteousness of God... In other words, you cannot have the cross without the Torah, and you cannot have the Torah without the cross... Faith in God's righteousness transcends the weakness of the law (caused by human frailty, not by the character of the law itself) by imparting a new principle (or law) called the law of the Spirit of Life in Yeshua the Messiah (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ): "For the law of the Spirit of life in the Messiah Yeshua has set you free from the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2). The "law of sin and death" (תּוֹרַת הַחֵטְא וְהַמָּוֶת) is the principle of the "flesh" that we remain subject to until we come to completely trust in the righteousness that only God gives us through Yeshua our Savior.... Then the miracle occurs.
 

    "Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה), and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, "The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?"

    Now Joshua was standing before the Angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the Angel said to those who were standing before him, "Remove the filthy garments from him." And to him he said, "Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments." And I said, "Let them put a clean turban on his head." So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments.

    And the Angel of the LORD (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) was standing by. And the Angel of the LORD solemnly assured Joshua, "Thus says the LORD of hosts (יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת): If you will walk in my ways and keep my charge, then you shall rule my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you the right of access among those who are standing here. Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch (צֶמַח). For behold, on the stone (הָאֶבֶן) that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day." (Zech 3:1-9)
     

Notice the order of this amazing vision. First Joshua (Yehoshua ben Yehotzadak) was cleansed from his iniquity and clothed in God's righteousness, and then he was commanded to walk in the LORD's ways and to keep God's charge. This undoubtedly prefigured the grace of Tzemach Tzaddik (צֶמַח צַדִּיק), the Righteous Branch to come, who would likewise take away our sin and clothe us with God's righteousness. We are given the Holy Spirit to enable us to respond to God's love and to obey Him as dear children (Eph. 5:1-2). The LORD is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and He calls each of us to walk in holiness before Him (Lev. 20:7; 1 Pet. 1:15-16).





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