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Don't trade your soul...


 

04.30.12 (Iyyar 8, 5772)    Knowing about God is not the same thing as personally trusting Him with your life... This is the distinction between emunah (אֱמוּנָה) and bittachon (בִּטָּחוֹן) I tried to explain last week. Theologians sometimes rationalize God so that we can hide from Him, perhaps because they are afraid to really trust Him and believe. Mere knowledge about God, however, can never substitute for passionate faith. If all we have is objective knowledge about God, then we are simply professors, since genuine faith wrestles through the pain, the ambiguity, the heartache - yet still holds on to God's love. "Though he slay me, yet I will hope in Him." Of course this does not mean that we are irrational in our faith, because passion is given by the Spirit of truth. "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing," just as true love needs no justification. This works the other way around, too. People who refuse to trust God are seeking ways to justify their spiritual mutiny.

Simply knowing about God can lead to a sense of "distance," to theological abstractions, to dogmas and creedal formulas. Often denominational differences are founded on such supposed "knowledge about" God, and therefore they are invariably based on ignorance, pretense, and self-righteousness. Besides the enmity caused by the game of theological one-upmanship, the split between the head and heart can lead people to seek for emotional satisfaction in things other than an authentic relationship with the Living God. Many of our more carnal sins center on the loss of hope for love. Because of our despair, we may return to the old comforts of the flesh, instead of pressing through the immediate desire to discover our longing for eternity, that is, for God's love... I wonder how many sins have been committed because people feel homesick for eternity.

Perhaps the greatest danger is for people to become so numb that they subsist in a state of indifference, no longer concerned about questions concerning their eternal destiny. Love then becomes "for other people" (not for them), and the connection between their desire and their deepest need becomes entirely severed. People lose heart and then feel powerless to change. And because they give up hope, they trade their eternal passion for vain trivialities; they become more concerned about television or the outcome of some sporting event than with their eternal souls... They become willing to traffic their souls for the sake of the world and its meretricious promises (Luke 9:25).

Chaverim, it is time to wake up: There is appearance, and there is reality; there is the significant, and there is the trivial; there is the good and there is the evil. Even the ancient philosopher Plato noted, "The struggle to be good or bad is important, indeed much more important than people think." It is astonishing that so many neglect the eternal questions and then pass into oblivion...
 

יֵשׁ דֶּרֶךְ יָשָׁר לִפְנֵי־אִישׁ
 וְאַחֲרִיתָהּ דַּרְכֵי־מָוֶת

yesh · de·rekh · ya·shar · lif·nei · ish
ve·a·ha·ri·tah · dar·khei · ma·vet

"There is a way that seems right to a man,
 but its end is the way to death."
(Prov. 16:25)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

This is a truly frightening possibility – that a man can become so self-deceived that he esteems the mere fantasy of his conceit to be true "righteousness" before heaven, and therefore he never bothers to undergo self-examination and to seriously question whether he may be mistaken. Alas, is it not a truism of human nature that people are inherently proud, full of themselves, and forever right in their own eyes? Everyone believes they are right, that they are justified, that they have a right to their own personal convictions and opinions -- which may be a sign of pride that will lead to a fall. Leaning on your own understanding is a recipe for spiritual disaster. This line of thinking enables the adulteress to ply her sin and then wipe her mouth, excusing herself in her own eyes (Prov. 30:20). Dreadful self-deception! And yet it is not only non-Christians who seek to excuse themselves by suppressing the voice of conscience; no - many professing Christians will be shocked to discover that they fooled themselves with their false piety and the charade of their faith: "On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"(Matt. 7:22-23).

Blaise Pascal once wrote: "I can feel nothing but compassion for those who sincerely lament their doubt, who regard it as the ultimate misfortune, and who, sparing no effort to escape from it, make their search their principal and most serious business. But as for those who spend their lives without a thought for this final end, I view differently. This negligence in the matter where they themselves, their eternity, their all are at stake, fills me more with irritation than pity: yea, it astounds and appalls me... (Pensees, 427).

Regarding the seriousness of life and our need for spiritual sobriety, Kierkegaard comments: "Listen to the cry of a woman in labor at the hour of giving birth - look at the dying man's struggle at his last extremity, and then tell me whether something that begins and ends thus could be intended for enjoyment." No, we are in a school here, and disciples are called learners. We have one opportunity to learn before our allotted time is up and then we will face our eternal judgment (Heb. 9:27).

Unfulfilled love in your heart is a disguised longing for eternity, for God's love... God loves you ahavat olam - with an everlasting love and perfect love - and therefore we find ourselves homesick for eternity. This longing is a hint, a call, for you to return home:
 

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 I have drawn you in my love."
(Jer. 31:3)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Note that the word translated "I have drawn you" comes from the Hebrew word mashakh (מָשַׁךְ), meaning to "seize" or "drag away" (the ancient Greek translation used the verb helko (ἕλκω) to express the same idea).  As Yeshua said, "No one is able to come to me unless he is "dragged away" (ἑλκύσῃ, same word) by the Father" (John 6:44). God's love, His chesed, woos us, takes us captive, and then leads us to the Savior...

Now, more than ever before we need to be sober, vigilant, and on guard from the enemy of our souls (1 Pet. 5:8). The evil one knows his time is short, and he is working with greater diabolical fervor to enslave and destroy souls. May God give us the power to tread on him, to confound his schemes, and to upend his designs for this world. May the LORD help us stand strong and to fight yet another day against the power of the lie. And most importantly, may the LORD show us His mercy, compassion, and love by helping each of us to earnestly, honestly, and truly trust in Him.... May He keep us from distractions, from lusts of various kinds, from exchanging the best for some finite good, and for settling to merely know about Him rather than to truly trust His heart... In Yeshua's Name: Amen.


Note: I should add that there is nothing wrong with appreciating some of the things of this world, though in comparison with knowing God, these things should be regarded as "dung" (σκύβαλα), that is, excrement. On the other hand, only those who die to this world really know how to love it, since they understand what the world really is, and it is impossible to truly love something that is not real.
 




Accepting True Freedom


 

04.30.12 (Iyyar 8, 5772)  "If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). The sages say, "Being free means that I am in the place I am supposed to be." In other words, freedom means surrendering, accepting, and yielding to God's path of blessing for you. This a place of great spiritual contentment where you are liberated from the slavery of fear and disappointment.  Yeshua lived in this freedom, since He completely yielded Himself to His father's daily care (John 5:19; 8:29; 14:10).

Surrendering yourself to God's care is also the means of finding self-acceptance. God knows all your sins and has paid for them upon the cross, and therefore His love for you is the basis for which you can properly forgive and accept yourself... A Yiddish proverb reads, "If I try to be someone else, who then will be like me?" When you die, God won't ask why you weren't more like Moses, Elijah, etc., but rather, why you weren't more like the person He recreated you to be. No one else can do the things you are called to do, and therefore God created you as a distinct individual who reflects His glory in a unique way... "To the one who conquers I will give a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). Those who trust Yeshua as their Savior can intellectually understand and emotionally trust that God is working all things together for good in their lives (Rom. 8:28).
 

כְּרַחֵם אָב עַל־בָּנִים
רִחַם יְהוָה עַל־יְרֵאָיו

ke·ra·chem ·  av  · al · ba·nim
ri·cham  · Adonai · al · ye·re·av

"As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him."
(Psalm 103:13)



 

May God help us "let not our hearts be troubled" because He has promised never to leave nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). As the old spiritual song goes, "He's got the whole world, in His hands... he's got you and me baby, in His hands..." May the LORD our Heavenly Father help us trust in Him. Amen.
 




Parashat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim


 

[ This week we have another "double portion" of Torah: Acharei Mot and Kedoshim (i.e., Leviticus 16:1-20:27). Please read the Torah portions to find your place here... ]

04.30.12 (Iyyar 8, 5772)    This week's Torah portion (Acharei Mot-Kedoshim) moves from the preceding instructions regarding ritual purity (tahora) to recall the earlier tragic incident of Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron who were killed when they offered "strange fire" upon the Altar of Incense during the dedication of the Tabernacle (Lev. 10:1-2). Because these priests came close to the Holy Place in an incorrect manner and were killed, the LORD further instructed Moses to tell Aaron that he should enter the Holy of Holies only in the prescribed manner once a year, during Yom Kippur (i.e., the "Day of Atonement").

On this solemn day, considered the holiest of the year, Aaron was instructed to perform special purification rituals which would atone for the sins of Israel. Unlike any other priestly functions performed throughout the year, part of the avodah of Yom Kippur was performed within the Kodesh Ha-kodashim (i.e., the Holy of Holies) itself, which the sages called avodat penim (the "inner" service). The other part of the service was called avodat chutz, the "outer service." During the "outer" parts of service, Aaron was required to wear the regular High Priestly garments, called bigdei zahav (the "golden garments," because they were made using gold threads), and during the "inner" part of the service he was required to wear four linen garments called bigdei lavan, the "white garments," instead.

At the start of the Yom Kippur avodah, Aaron was instructed to remove his "golden garments" and to immerse himself in a mikveh. Next he would clothe himself in the white linen garments (symbolizing humility), slaughter a bull for a personal sin offering, and collect its blood in a special basin (which he brought into the Holy Place). Aaron then went back to the courtyard, took a shovelful of embers from the Copper Altar, and returned to the Holy Place to gather some holy incense (ketoret) from the Golden Altar. After this, Aaron first approached the Holy of Holies and went past the veil (parochet) to enter the inner sanctuary, where he carefully burned two handfuls of ketoret to fill the chamber with thick smoke. He then left the Holy of Holies to bring the basin of blood from the sin offering and re-entered the inner chamber to sprinkle the blood once upward and then seven times downward before the kapporet (i.e., "Mercy Seat") of the Ark.


 

Two goats - similar in every respect - were selected earlier and were waiting in the courtyard of the Tabernacle. Aaron was instructed to "draw lots" to identify the purpose for each goat. One lot was inscribed "for the LORD" (לַיהוָה) and the other was inscribed "for Azazel" (לַעֲזָאזֵל). After the lottery, the goat designated "for the LORD" was slaughtered as sin offering on behalf of the people and its blood collected in a basin, whereas the goat "for Azazel" was marked with a red band around its horns and left at the gate of the courtyard. Later in the service, Aaron would confess the sins of the community of Israel over the this goat, which would then be "sent to Azazel" in the desert (Lev. 16:5-10; 21-22). For this reason, the other goat is called se'ir mishtale'ach - the "sent goat," which was translated into English as the "scapegoat" by William Tyndale....

After Aaron slaughtered the goat for the people's sin offering, he repeated the same procedure he had performed earlier for his personal sin offering. Aaron brought the blood of the goat "for the LORD" before the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies and sprinkled it once upward and then seven times downward before the kapporet. After doing this, Aaron combined the sacrificial blood of the goat and the bull into another basin and applied this mixture to the corners and top of the Golden Altar of Incense.

Later, the fat and entrails of both the bull and the goat were burned on the Copper Altar in the courtyard, though the hide and the flesh of both were taken out of the Tabernacle to be entirely burned outside the camp.

After purifying the Tabernacle, Aaron returned to the gate of the courtyard and laid both hands upon the head of the other goat (designated "for Azazel" [לַעֲזָאזֵל], a name that may refer either to the accusing angel or to a mountainous location) and confessed all of the sins and transgressions of the people. This "scapegoat" was not slaughtered, however, but was driven away into exile in the wilderness, carrying "all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited" (Lev. 16:22). Aaron next returned to the Tent, immersed himself in a mikveh, and changed back into "golden clothes." He then proceeded to offer two whole burnt offerings – one for himself and one for the people – to complete the purification process. After these sacrifices, Aaron underwent yet another mikveh, changed back into his white linen garments, and removed the censer of burnt incense from the Holy of Holies. Finally he changed back into his golden garments to finish his evening work as the High Priest. Aaron would offer the regular evening offerings, kindle the lamps of the Menorah, burn incense on the Golden Altar, and so on.

This elaborate ritual was ordained to be a decree (chok) for Israel, and the day of Yom Kippur was to be observed every year as a time of "affliction and mourning" for all the people. In three separate passages in the Torah, the people are told "the tenth day of the seventh month" (Tishri) is the Day of Atonement (יוֹם הַכִּפֻּרִים). It shall be a sacred occasion for you: you shall afflict your souls" (Lev. 16:29-34, 23:26-32, Num. 29:7-11).

The portion ends with further instructions about making sacrifices, including the prohibition against offering any animal sacrifices apart from the rites of the Tabernacle. The consumption of blood was explicitly forbidden, since blood was reserved for sacrificial purposes upon the altar. Finally, the portion presents a list of forbidden sexual relationships, concluding with the general prohibition against following the abhorrent practices of other nations.

Yom Kippur and the Gospel

Note:
For more about the relationship between Passover and Yom Kippur, see the article entitled, Yom Kippur and the Gospel.
 




One day at a time...


 

04.27.12 (Iyyar 5, 5772)  In the Gospel of Matthew we read these words of our LORD Yeshua the Messiah: "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt. 6:34). Kierkegaard comments: "If there is no next day for you, then all earthly care is annihilated. When the next day comes, it loses its enchantment and its disquieting insecurity. If there is no next day for you, then either you are dying or you are one who by dying to temporality has grasped the Eternal, either one who is actually dying or one who is really living... The one who rows a boat turns his back to the goal toward which he is working. So it is with the next day. When, with the help of the Eternal, a person lives absorbed in today, he turns his back to the next day. The more he is eternally absorbed in today, the more decisively he turns his back to the next day." Amen. May God help us live for Him today. Today is the day of salvation; today may we hear His voice.
 

שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה שִׁיר חָדָשׁ
שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה כָּל־הָאָרֶץ
 שִׁירוּ לַיהוָה בֲָּרכוּ שְׁמוֹ
 בַּשְּׂרוּ מִיּוֹם־לְיוֹם יְשׁוּעָתוֹ

shi·ru · ladonai · shir · cha·dash;
shi·ru · ladonai · kol ·ha·a·retz
shi·ru · ladonai · ba·ra·khu · she·mo;
ba·se·ru · mi·yom · le·yom · ye·shu·a·to

"Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!
Sing to the LORD, bless his Name; tell of his salvation from day to day."

(Psalm 96:1-2)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

It is the saddest thing of all if a human being goes through life without discovering his need for God. Therefore blessed indeed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 5:3). It is a "blessed fault" to understand our inner poverty, to know anguish of heart, and to be able to abide in God's salvation one day at a time....
 




Gossip and Chicken Feathers...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah (Tazria-Metzora)....  Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

04.27.12 (Iyyar 5, 5772)  According to the sages, the punishment for evil gossip, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה) was a spiritual malady called tzara'at, which could only be healed using spiritual methods. In midrashic literature, lashon hara is likened to idol worship and other grievous sins. Indeed, spreading an evil report about another person is likened to soul murder, since the shamed person's face turns white, as if blood was drained from their countenance. The sages call the gossiper hamotzi ra, "one who brings forth evil" (a play on the Hebrew word hametzora), and they often illustrate the danger of spreading evil reports through various folk tales, such as the following.
 

     A woman came to her rabbi to confess that she was addicted to gossiping and spreading rumors about her neighbors. She pleaded for his help. How could she change her ways? "Pluck a chicken," the rabbi said, "and scatter its feathers along the road from your home to the town square. Then return the way you came, gather the feathers in a basket, and bring them to me. When you have done this, I will give you my answer.

    The woman agreed to do this and the next day she returned, but lo! the basket was nearly empty. "Rabbi, " she said, I followed your instructions. I plucked the chicken and scattered its feathers, but when I returned the way I had come, the wind had scattered the feathers in all directions." She pointed to the basket: "These are all I could collect."

    Now you see, my dear child, the rabbi said sadly, "gossip is like those feathers; once it is scattered, it cannot be retrieved. It flies off in all directions, doing damage wherever it reaches. As our sages have said, 'What is spoken in Rome may kill in Syria' (Midrash Rabbah). The rabbi raised a finger to his lips, "When you hear gossip, practice silence." (Rossel: Essential Jewish Stories, 276)
     

People who enjoy gossiping about others are sometimes likened to a group of chickens that  flap their 'feathers,' squawking about, preening, and posturing. Often these people cluck out judgments regarding others in the "chicken coop," putting them down in a vain attempt to feel better about themselves, but in reality they are guilty of harming other people. King David likened them as "fiery beasts" with teeth as spears and arrows, and whose tongues are like sharp swords (Psalm 57:4).

Almighty God, the King of the Universe, has the right and authority to judge us all, though He bears our sins and instead offers us grace, love and forgiveness... In response, understand the need to sanctify your speech and to observe the practice of shemirat ha-lashon (שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן), guarding your words.. Whatever you say is echoed throughout eternity and will be reheard on the day of judgment (Matt. 12:36-37). Therefore, as you forgive, so you shall be forgiven; as you judge others, so shall you be judged...

Shabbat Shalom, chaverim. May the LORD interrupt whatever we are planning so that we can find our rest Him... And blessed be God for the LORD Yeshua, who is willing to touch lepers and make them whole. Amen.
 




O Blessed Fault...


 

04.27.12 (Iyyar 5, 5772)  "O LORD, is it possible to really change? There is so much of me that is in need of help, I know not where to begin. Not just my past, O God, but my present hour is haunted by frailty and failure. Is there any likelihood that tomorrow will find me stronger, more righteous, or more reconciled with you? No, for you won't love me any more that you do right now... Help me, then, to abide in your love, trusting that you will do within my heart what I am unable (or unwilling) to do for myself. And even if tomorrow I should repeat the same old sins, help me understand that you love me just the same, and that you will never give up on me; you will never repudiate me. Help me to know that your love is stronger than the sickness of my sin. Amen."
 

כִּי־פְשָׁעַי אֲנִי אֵדָע
 וְחַטָּאתִי נֶגְדִּי תָמִיד

ki · fe·sha·ai · a·ni · ei·da'
ve·cha·ta·ti · neg·di · ta·mid

"For I know my transgressions,
 and my sin is ever before me"
(Psalm 51:3)



 

O blessed fault - the dread sin that breaks my heart before the LORD... Were it not for anguish of heart, how would I have sought the solace and healing of my Savior? Sorrow was God's messenger to my need. The fault of my sin occasioned God's mercy and grace, "for where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Rom. 5:20). The law was given by Moses, but love and faithfulness (חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת) come through Yeshua our Messiah (John 1:17).
 

    In tears a man once confessed a sin to the Rabbi of Apt and told him how he atoned for it. The tzaddik laughed. The man went on to tell what more he intended doing to atone for his sin, and the rabbi kept on laughing. The man wanted to continue, but the laughter robbed him of the power to speak. He stared at the tzaddik in horror. And then his soul held its breath, and he heard a voice deep within. He realized how trivial all his fuss about atoning had been, and instead he turned to God...
     

Because Yeshua sacrificed Himself for our sins on the cross, the question no longer concerns what we must do to find atonement through religious rites or acts of penitence -- as if these might somehow assuage or propitiate God's disappointment over our sin. No, the remedy is far more profound and costly, and only God Himself could pay the price for our atonement. But because of Yeshua, we now may simply turn to God for the love and healing we so desperately need... This is the meaning of teshuvah. God has made the way for us to be received, loved, and accepted - despite the stain of our sins (Heb. 9:11-28). Jesus paid the penalty for your sins, and the only real question remains: Will you believe it? Will you accept that you are accepted by the love of God?

The Name YHVH means "God is Present" and near, as close as your heart. The LORD is near, even when you feel lost and far away. Turn away from any evil you have done: do not keep it in mind, but instead see it in light of the greater good of God's love, patience, and forgiveness for you... See your sin only in relation to the cross. Resolve today by the power and truth of God's very love to turn away from darkness to His marvelous light.
 




The Power of Forgiveness


 

04.26.12 (Iyyar 4, 5772)  In the Gates of Repentance it is written: ‎"I hereby forgive all who have hurt me, all who have wronged me, whether deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed. May no one be punished on my account. And as I forgive and pardon those who have wronged me, may those whom I have harmed forgive me, whether I acted deliberately or inadvertently, whether by word or by deed."  Amen...

Yeshua taught us to pray "forgive us as we forgive others," which implies that our forgiveness (of others) is the measure of our own forgiveness. In other words, as we forgive others, so we experience forgiveness ourselves... Forgiveness releases the hurt, the anger, and the disappointment so these feelings do not inwardly consume and exhaust our souls. And yet forgiveness must be self-directed, too, since refusing to forgive yourself denies or negates the forgiveness given from others. Forgiving yourself means admitting that you act just like other people, that you are human, and that you are in need of reconciliation too. We have to move on, past the shame, and to turn back to hope. As a Yiddish proverb puts it, "You are what you are, not what you were..."

It is written, "in many things we offend all," and therefore we must confess our sins one to another to find healing (James 5:16). However the practice of love overlooks a multitude of sins, and if we do not condemn those who offend us, then we will not need to forgive them for their offenses. Walking in God's love sets us free from the slavery of negative emotions such as resentment, bitterness, anger, unresolved grief, and so on.

I love this affirmation and prayer attributed to Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263-339 AD): "May I be the friend of that which is eternal and abides. May I never quarrel with those nearest me; and if I do, may we be reconciled quickly. May I never devise evil against anyone; and if any devise evil against me, may I escape uninjured and without any desire to hurt them. May I love, seek, and attain only that which is good. May I wish for the happiness of all and the misery of none. May I never rejoice in the ill-fortune of one who has wronged me. When I have done or said what is wrong, may I never wait for the rebuke of others, but always rebuke myself until I make amends."

"May I, to the extent of my ability, give all needful help to my friends and to all who are in want. May I never fail a friend in danger. When visiting those in grief, may I be able by gentle and healing words to soften their pain. May I respect myself. May I always keep tame that which rages within me. May I accustom myself to be gentle, and never be angry with people because of circumstances. May I never discuss who is wicked and what wicked things he has done, but know good men and follow their footsteps."
 




Faith of Skin Horse...


 

04.26.12 (Iyyar 4, 5772)  God gives us special graces, especially in light of the poignant passing of days, with our thwarted hopes, aching bones, and keenings of the heart for lasting deliverance. This gift of divine despondency helps us to "make contact" with the Real, the True, and the Abiding, the One who is so infinitely great that He is infinitely small at the same time...
 

    "Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become Real. It doesn't happen all at once. You become.  It takes a long time....  Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." (Margary Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit)
     

In light of the Velveteen Rabbit imagery, it is God Himself who is the Child who loves us into the state of reality...  Sometimes, in darker moments of the soul, the Spirit announces this to the heart of faith as "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" (Job 13:15), while at other times, we are able to hear the words of the wise Skin Horse as words meant for us...

May the LORD help us all share the faith of Skin Horse.
 




Shemirat Ha-Lashon - שְׁמִירַת הַלָּשׁוֹן


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah (Tazria-Metzora)....  Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

04.26.12 (Iyyar 4, 5772)  According to the sages, tzara'at ("leprosy") was a punishment for evil gossip, or "lashon hara" (לָשׁוֹן הָרָה). In midrashic literature, lashon hara is regarded as equal to idol worship, sexual immorality, and murder, and the one who indulges in it defiles his mouth so that even words of Torah and prayer are corrupted. "From the same mouth come blessing and cursing; brothers, these things ought not to be so" (James 3:10). The sages even go further: "Lashon Hara is worse than murder. One who murders, murders but one; however, one who speaks lashon hara kills three: the one who speaks it, the one who hears it, and the one of whom it is spoken." Lashon hara is likened to "emotional homicide" caused by publicly shaming another. According to the Talmud, the shamed person's face is drained of blood and turns white, and therefore humiliation is called halbanat panim, "whitening the face." Therefore the sages identify the metzora (i.e., leper) with hamotzi ra, "one who brings forth evil," and they stress shemirat ha-lashon, the "guarding of the tongue," as a cardinal virtue of the righteous.

The story is told of a peddler who used to travel throughout the land crying out, "Who wants to buy the elixir of life?" Huge crowds would draw around him. Rabbi Yannai was sitting and explaining Torah in his room and heard the peddler's calls. So he went to him and asked to purchase some of this elixir. The peddler responded, "Neither you nor people like you require what I have to sell." The rabbi pressed him so that the peddler went to him and took out a book of Psalms reading the verse: "Who is the man that desires life and wants to see good? Keep your tongue from evil!" Rabbi Yannai responded with amazement, "All my life I have read this verse and didn't understand how this was to be explained, until this peddler came and made it clear to me" (Midrash Rabbah). Before he met the peddler, the rabbi thought the verse referred solely to the reward in the world to come, but it never occurred to him that it referred to this life as well. Guarding the tongue promoted health and avoided those stresses that hasten death.

Yeshua the Messiah went well beyond these requirements and told us that whatever is spoken in this life is "echoed" throughout eternity and will be reheard upon the day of judgment: "I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless (ἀργὸν) word they utter, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). We are especially warned against making promises we might break: "Let what you say be simply 'Yes' or 'No'; anything more than this comes from evil" (Matt. 5:37). Therefore the Holy Spirit says through David: "What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit."
 

מִי־הָאִישׁ הֶחָפֵץ חַיִּים
 אהֵב יָמִים לִרְאוֹת טוֹב
נְצר לְשׁוֹנְךָ מֵרָע וּשְׂפָתֶיךָ מִדַּבֵּר מִרְמָה

mi · ha·ish · he·cha·fetz · chai·yim
o·hev · ya·mim · lir·ot · tov
ne·tzor · le·shon·kha · me·ra  · us·fa·te·kha · mi·da·ber · mir·mah

"What man is there who desires life
 and loves many days, that he may see good?
 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit"
(Psalm 34:12-13)



Hebrew Study Card 
 

The tongue also refers to our "self talk," or the inner monologue within us that reveals our heart's condition: "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34). If we are admonished to guard our lips, then for all the more reason we must guard our hearts (Prov. 4:23-24). If troubles presently beset you, learn to regard them as the "troubles of love" (i.e., yissurei ahavah: יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה), that is, challenges that God is using for your good. After all, your life itself is evidence of God's chesed, his gracious love, for you, and you believe that God works all things together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). Conversely, "Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue, guards his soul from troubles" (Prov. 21:23). "Death and life are in the hand of the tongue" (Prov. 18:21), and therefore refraining from evil talk not only prevents death but also adds to life.

When we speaking with deceit (or with guile), we speak with a "forked-tongue," saying one thing with the lips but intending something else within the heart. The inner and the outer are to be unified in our lives, and we are to be free of duplicity. Do not be a hypocrite who pretends to be something you are not (Prov. 3:9).

Guarding your tongue is evidence that you are truly fearing the LORD, since the passage is preceded with the statement: "Come, children, listen to me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD" (Psalm 34:11). Fearing the LORD means being filled with the wonder of the Divine Presence. The one who fears the LORD will "see good," that is, he will see the goodness of his surroundings in the light of God's Presence. Seeing the good in others, using ayin tovah (a good eye), is therefore the contrary of lashon hara, or slander. Our words should be used to upbuild, edify, and esteem others, not to tear them down. Lashon hara is evidence, then, of a critical spirit, an evil eye, and a suspicious heart. We must look to God for the miracle of seeing the truth of His goodness in all things.

Those who think it easy to control the tongue have likely never really tried to do so. "The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell" (James 3:5-6). Ultimately, controlling your tongue is a matter of controlling your inner thoughts, your heart, and your attitude (shemirat ha-lev). Therefore we are admonished to be "quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger," since the anger of man never works the righteousness of God (James 1:19). May the LORD our God help us always to speak with grace, "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6); and may we all "speak the truth in love to grow up in every way" (Eph. 4:15).
 




A Real Savior for Real Sinners...


 

04.25.12 (Iyyar 3, 5772)  Why do we pretend that we aren't incorrigible sinners in need of a miracle? Why do we have trouble admitting the truth about our great need? The Scriptures admonish: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness" (James 5:16). Notice that the prayer of the righteous is effective because it is grounded in reality. "Confession" (i.e., ὁμολογία) means forsaking pretense by accepting the truth about yourself; it means "saying the same thing" (ὁμολογέω) that reality reveals...  It has been said that we are only as sick as the secrets we keep. The LORD is called the God of Truth (אֵל אֱמֶת), and the Spirit of Truth (רוּחַ הָאֱמֶת) testifies to the honest of heart... God does not encounter fictional sinners, but only real and awful ones... He is not interested in the "outside of the cup" as much as what the cup contains, that is, with the inner recesses of heart. If you haven't discovered how difficult obedience is, then you've but trifled with the idea of obedience. The Savior is not merely a "helper" who enables us to "keep it together," but rather is the One who delivers us from the real, grievous, and most damnable of iniquities by means of the intervention of his Divine Power. The seriousness of our condition is measured by the seriousness of its cure - namely, by the sacrifice of God the Son upon the cross for our sins.
 

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 right spirit within me"
(Psalm 55:10)


Hebrew Study Card 
 

When King David cried out to the Lord, "Create in me a clean heart, O God," he did not use the Hebrew word yatzar (יָצַר), which means to "fashion" or "form" something from pre-existing material (Gen. 2:7), but he instead used the word bara (בָּרָא), a verb exclusively used in the Torah to refer to God's direct creation of the cosmos (Gen 1:1). In other words, King David understood that no amount of reformation of his character would be enough, and therefore he appealed to that very power of God that alone could create yesh me'ayin, or "out of nothing." Such was the nature of the remedy required.
 




Cleansing of the Leper...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah (Tazria-Metzora)....  Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

04.25.12 (Iyyar 3, 5772)  Although the priest needed to go "outside the camp" to examine a metzora (i.e., "leper"), the person still needed to "be brought" to the priest to meet him there (Lev. 14:2-3). In other words, the afflicted one was required to meet the priest "half-way," a principle of teshuvah (repentance) expressed in Hashivenu (הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ): "Return us to You, LORD, and we shall return" (Lam. 5:21). Like the prodigal son who returns home, God waits for us at the "edge" of the camp to meet us half-way.

The case of the metzora reveals that God sometimes disciplines his child with temporary "exile" so we can rediscover our need for His healing touch. God imparted the spiritual disease of tzara'at to "remind" us of our sin and need for atonement, and the purification ritual was meant to illustrate our need for spiritual rebirth. The gracious aim of affliction, then, is to "wake us from our slumbers" in order to reveal the way of life... As C.S. Lewis once said, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."
 

שׁוּבָה יְהוָה חַלְּצָה נַפְשִׁי
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי לְמַעַן חַסְדֶּךָ

shu·vah · Adonai · ha·le·tzah · naf·shi
ho·shi·ei·ni · le·ma·an · chas·de·kha

"Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love."
(Psalm 6:4)



Hebrew Study Card
 

A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are made fortunate..." Paradoxically, punishment from God may be a blessing in disguise, since there is no worse state in this life than to be untouched by need, suffering and testing; there is nothing more dreadful than to be forgotten or overlooked by God (Rom. 1:28). Being afflicted with "tzara'at" is a blessed state, since it reveals the nature of our lethal disease - and leads us back to the "edge of the camp" where God gives us healing....

Note: For more on this subject, see "Cleansing of the Leper."
 




Happy Birthday, Israel!


 

[ Yom Huledet Same'ach, Israel!  Happy 64th Birthday to the miraculous people of the miraculous promised land! May God make your numbers like the stars in heaven! ]

04.24.12 (Iyyar 2, 5772)  Tomorrow at sundown we celebrate Israel's Independence Day, called Yom Ha'atzma'ut (yohm ha-atz-ma-OOT) in Hebrew (יוֹם הָעַצְמָאוּת). The word atzma'ut (independence) comes from atzmi - "my bones" (i.e., etzem: עֶצֶם). The name reminds us of the God's glorious promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile (Ezek. 37:1-6). Son of man, can these bones live?

But why should Christians care about ethnic Israel?  After all, many Christian denominations advocate some version of "Replacement Theology" and regard the promises God made to the Jewish people as belonging exclusively to their church...  The existence of the modern State of Israel therefore evokes little thanks to God from these groups, and some of their ranks even regard Israel's revived presence on the world stage as an embarrassment to their typically "liberal" theology.  Hence we see the (remarkably bad) phenomena of so-called "Christian" church denominations that express anti-Israel sentiment, even asking their followers to divest investments in Israel on behalf of the "Palestinians," etc.

Briefly, we should care about Israel because the existence of Jewish people - and of the nation of Israel in particular - demonstrates that God is faithful to the covenant promises He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (e.g., Gen. 15:9-21). The perpetuity of the Jewish people - despite so much worldwide and satanic hatred over the millennia - is an awesome testimony of God's faithful love (Jer. 31:35-37). עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is a sign of the "sure mercies of David" (חַסְדֵי דָוִד הַנֶּאֱמָנִים) that are revealed in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah (Isa. 55:1-6). Moreover, the New Covenant itself, as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah, explicitly promises the perpetuity of the Jewish people thoughout the ages (Jer. 31:31-37):
 

    Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD (יהוה), when I will make a new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law (תּוֹרָה) within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

    Thus says the LORD (יהוה), who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar– the LORD of hosts (יהוה צְבָאוֹת) is his name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) cease from being a nation (גּוֹי) before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel (זֶרַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) for all that they have done, declares the LORD. – Jer. 31:35-36
     

According to this theologically critical passage, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" -- i.e., zera Yisrael -- is in effect.  Indeed, in the world to come, heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12). Note well that this is the only occurrence in the entire Tanakh (i.e., "Old Testament") that the New Covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned... It is a foundational passage of Scripture for those who claim to be followers of the Jewish Messiah.

In this connection, let me ask you a simple question.  If the King of the Jews is our hope and lives inside our hearts by faith, and if the King of the Jews calls Jerusalem the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt 5:35), then it only makes sense that we would heed King David's admonition to "ask for the peace of Jerusalem..."
 

שַׁאֲלוּ שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלָםִ יִשְׁלָיוּ אהֲבָיִךְ

sha·a·lu · she·lom ·  ye·ru·sha·la·yim, · yish·la·yu  · o·ha·va·yikh

"Ask for the well-being of Jerusalem;
May those who love you be at peace" (Psalm 122:6).


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King David was a great prophet. Note that the phrase "sha'alu shalom Yerushalayim" actually reveals truth about our Savior Yeshua the Messiah.  The word sha'alu actually means "ask" (as in ask a sheilah, a question).  Shalom is a Name of Yeshua, since He indeed is Sar Shalom (the Prince of Peace).  The word Jerusalem means "teaching of peace" (the "Jeru" at the  beginning of the word comes from the same root as the word Torah, which means teaching), so the phrase could be construed as "ask about the Prince of Peace and His Teaching." Yeshua is indeed the rightful King of Jerusalem who is coming soon to reign over all the earth.  מָרַן אֲתָא יְשׁוּעַ / Maranatha Yeshua! "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done" (Rev. 22:12).

Postscript: All the blessings Christians enjoy ultimately come from the root of God's covenants with Israel... Yeshua our Savior was born the King of the Jews, and plainly said salvation is "from the Jews" (Matt. 2:2; 27:11; John 4:22). The Apostle Paul clearly warned those who think the church has "replaced" Israel: "Remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18). This doctine is so foundational that it may be righly said that how you think about Israel will affect every other area of your theology. For more on this subject, see the article, "Is Christianity Anti-Jewish?"
 




The Leper Messiah...


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah (Tazria-Metzora)....  Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

04.24.12 (Iyyar 2, 5772)  "The Messiah -- what is his name?... The sages say, the Leper Scholar..." (Sanhedrin 98b). But how was it that Yeshua was able to touch the metzora ("leper") and yet remain clean himself (Matt 8:1-4)? Only because He is the LORD (יהוה), the true Healer. Just as Yeshua spoke with greater authority than Moses (Matt. 5:21-48), so He was able to do what Moses (and those under the Levitical system of worship) could not do -- namely, reach down in compassion and take away the uncleanness from our lives.... Yeshua's blood creates the "waters of separation" (מֵי נִדָּה). He is the fulfillment of the "Red Heifer" sacrifice. Only Yeshua enters the "leper colony" of humanity and takes away our tzara'at (sin) by becoming ish machovot (אישׁ מַכְאבוֹת), a leper Himself, the Just for the Unjust, that He might make us acceptable before the LORD.
 

כִּי־אַתָּה אֲדנָי טוֹב וְסַלָּח
 וְרַב־חֶסֶד לְכָל־קרְאֶיךָ

ki · at·tah · Adonai · tov · ve·sal·lach
ve·rav · che·sed · le·khol · ko·re·e·kha

"For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
 abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you."
(Psalm 86:5)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Just as a body can become sick with illness, so can the soul: "I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal my soul (רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי), for I have sinned against you!'" (Psalm 41:4). If you feel your sins biting you, and your heart is wavering and beginning to tremble, take your place on the outside of the camp, where the lepers are standing, for they are the ones for whom the Gospel is intended.... Yeshua enters the leper colony to touch the leper. He seeks and saves the lost.  The message of God's love and forgiveness is received only by those who understand how much they need it, to the self-confessed lepers of the soul... The gospel is sure remedy for the sick, not the healthy; it is for the sinner, not the saint. For those who accept Yeshua as their Redeemer, sin is turned right through the pain He bore on the cross, and forgiveness is a matter of sheer grace, not merit. There is joy in heaven for one sinner who turns to God in repentance, and this implies that every time you go to the LORD in your brokenness, in the truth of your need for Him, He will receive you with divine happiness.

Note: For more on this subject, see the article, "The Leper Messiah."
 




Shadows and Reality...


 

04.23.12 (Iyyar 1, 5772)  Sometimes we seem to forget that we are not home yet... Socrates said that philosophy, when done correctly, was "practice for death," since the passing shadows of this world pointed to unchanging good, our true end. Likewise Yeshua our Messiah taught us to take up the cross and die daily (Luke 9:23).

It is difficult for us to die, to let go, however, because we are attached to this world, and we often abide under the worldly illusion that we will live forever, that tomorrow will resemble today, and that heaven can wait... History is littered with crumbling monuments offered to the idols of this world. The Scriptures are clear, however: "The present form (τὸ σχῆμα) of this world is passing away" (1 Cor. 7:31), and the heart of faith seeks a city whose Designer and Builder is God Himself (Heb. 11:10). "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day... For the things that are seen are turning to dust, but the things that are unseen endure forever (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Because of our sin, creation was made "subject to vanity," though God has overcome the dust of death by giving us an unshakable hope (Rom. 8:20).
 

אָדָם לַהֶבֶל דָּמָה
 יָמָיו כְּצֵל עוֹבֵר

a·dam · la·he·vel · da·mah
ya·mav · ke·tzel · o·ver

"Man is like a breath;
 his days are like a passing shadow."
(Psalm 144:4)



 

The truth that hakol over (הַכּל עוֹבֵר), "everything passes" like a shadow, should help us keep our perspective regarding the various moments of testing we all face in this life. As Nachman of Breslov once said, "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge, and the important thing is never to be afraid" (כָּל־הָעוֹלָם כֻּלּוֹ גֶּשֶׁר צַר מְאד וְהָעִקָּר לא לְפַחֵד כְּלָל). Yeshua is the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He has overcome the world and its vanities. He calls out to us in the storm saying, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). When Peter answered the call and attempted to walk across the stormy waters, he lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt (lit., think twice)?"
 




Sufficient unto the day...


 

04.23.12 (Iyyar 1, 5772)  Who among us has not experienced loss? While we cannot escape suffering in this life, God can give us heart to face the struggle... "You shall love the LORD thy God will all thy heart – particularly while you are in the midst of bewilderment, testing, and affliction. As the prophet Job once exclaimed, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the Name of the LORD be blessed." 
 

יְהוָה נָתַן וַיהוָה לָקָח
 יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָך

Adonai · na·tan · vadonai · la·kach
ye·hi · shem · Adonai · me·vo·rakh

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the Name of the LORD be blessed."
(Job 1:21)



Hebrew Study Card
 

We had nothing when we were born into this world, and all that we now have was given to us by hashgacha pratit - the providential plan of God. As the LORD graciously gave, so He has the prerogative to take away. Pain, suffering, and even death itself surely do not come by accident but are rather part of the inscrutable will of God, who works all things together for the good of creation. Gam zu l'tova – this too is "for the good," even if the good is not revealed in the moment.  Job refused to blame God for his troubles, but instead he understood that whatever God does (or allows) must itself good, and there is no reason to doubt this, even if in the present there is tribulation – indeed, even the throes of death. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17). As it is written, lo yimna-tov laholekhim be'tamim (לא יִמְנַע־טוֹב לַהלְכִים בְּתָמִים), "no good thing does he withhold from those who walk in completeness" (Psalm 84:11), and you are made complete (תָּמִים) because of the finished work of Messiah on your behalf.  Do not be afraid of His providence: no good thing will the LORD withhold from you....

When Paul wrote, "in everything give thanks" (1 Thess 5:18), surely he understood the prospect of real suffering. It is through "much tribulation" that we enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). We do not ask God to insulate us from all troubles, but rather to be given the courage to carry on despite the troubles. Hence one of our standard prayers in the tradition is: בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יהוה הַנּוֹתֵּן לַיָּעֵף כּחַ/ barukh attah Adonai ha'noten lai'ya'ef koach: "Blessed are You, LORD, who gives strength to the weak."

We cannot escape suffering in this life, but God gives us heart to face the struggle. Each day contains the opportunity to serve God even in the midst of trouble (Matt. 6:34). We cannot control much of what happens to us in this life, so our task is to sanctify time and trust that God will see to our true needs.  Taking refuge in God means personally trusting in His goodness for your soul, despite circumstances that might tempt you to lose heart.
 

שָׁמְרָה נַפְשִׁי וְהַצִּילֵנִי
 אַל־אֵבוֹשׁ כִּי־חָסִיתִי בָךְ

sha·me·rah · naf·shi · ve·hatz·tzi·lei·ni
al · e·vosh · ki · cha·si·ti · vakh

"Guard my soul and deliver me!
Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in you"
(Psalm 25:20)



Hebrew Study Card
 

al evosh, ki chasiti vakh - "Let me not be ashamed, for I take refuge in You" - I am trusting in your mercy, your goodness, your forgiveness... The sages liken this to a man who was found wandering about at night, whom the city wardens sought to arrest. The man shouted out to them: "Leave me be: I am the son of the king's daughter!" The next day they brought the man before the king and told him the story. When the king asked him why he had lied, the man said, "When I saw they wanted to arrest me, to save myself I said I was your grandson." The king then turned to the wardens and said, "Let him alone. I do not want him to be humiliated for having put his trust in me." The point of this mashal (parable) is that if an earthly king can deliver someone based on such trust, how much more shall the Lord, who delivers us with the salvation procured at the expense of His dear Son?

In this life we must learn to trust and let go... It is said in Rabbi Meir's name: "With clenched fists we enter this world, as if to say, 'the whole world is mine to acquire'; with hands wide open we leave the world, as though to say, 'I have acquired nothing in this world.'" As the Apostle Paul earlier had said, ‎"for we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" (1 Tim. 6:7). Let us then live each day for what is eternally significant, letting go of what needs to be let go, so that we are made ready to come before the Divine Presence. May God "grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference." May He renew a steadfast spirit within you and keep you from bitterness and despair, chaverim.

Note: Our consolation in suffering, given by God, is intended to bring solace to others (2 Cor. 1:3-4). As Kierkegaard once wrote, "What is a poet? An unhappy man who in his heart harbors a deep anguish, but whose lips are so fashioned that the moans and cries which pass over them are transformed into ravishing music. His fate is like that of the unfortunate victims whom the tyrant Phalaris imprisoned in a brazen bull, and slowly tortured over a steady fire; their cries could not reach the tyrant's ears so as to strike terror into his heart; when they reached his ears they sounded like sweet music. And men crowd around the poet and say to him, "Sing for us soon again" - which is as much as to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul, but may your lips be fashioned as before; for the cries would only distress us, but the music, the music, is delightful" (Either/Or). Often it is the secret wound that gives movement to the spaces between the words, and that movement is what ministers to others. At any rate, we trust that God will redeem our troubles and help us be a blessing to those around us.
 




Israeli Independence Day
Wed. - Thur. April 25th-26th, 2012


 

[ Yom Huledet Same'ach, Israel!  Happy 64th Birthday to the miraculous people of the miraculous promised land! ]

04.23.12 (Iyyar 1, 5772)  After the Jewish people had suffered for nearly 2,000 years of exile as foretold by both Moses (Lev. 26:38, 44; Deut. 28:64-64) and the Hebrew prophets (Isa. 43:5-6; Jer. 30:11; Joel 3:2; Ezek. 36:8-10; Hos. 9:1-10, etc.), Israel was miraculously reborn as a nation in their ancient homeland on May 14, 1948 (Iyyar 5, 5708). Today Jews across the world celebrate Iyyar 5 as Israel Independence Day.

The word atzma'i (עַצְמָאִי) means "independent" in Hebrew; and atzmaut (עַצְמָאוּת) means independence, from atzmi - "my bones" (עֶצֶם). Hence the "Day of Independence" is called Yom Ha'atzmaut in Hebrew. The name reminds us of God's promise to revive the "dry bones" (עֲצָמוֹת) of Israel by bringing the Jewish people back from their long exile:
 

הִנָּבֵא עַל־הָעֲצָמוֹת הָאֵלֶּה וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם
 הָעֲצָמוֹת הַיְבֵשׁוֹת שִׁמְעוּ דְּבַר־יְהוָה
 כּה אָמַר אֲדנָי יהוה לָעֲצָמוֹת הָאֵלֶּה
 הִנֵּה אֲנִי מֵבִיא בָכֶם רוּחַ וִחְיִיתֶם

hin·na·vei · al · ha·a·tza·mot · ha·el·leh · ve·a·mar·ta · a·ley·hem:
ha·a·tza·mot · ha·ye·ve·shot · shim·u · de·var · Adonai;
ko · a·mar · Adonai · E·lo·him · la·a·tza·mot · ha·el·leh
hin·neh · a·ni · me·vi · va·khem · ru·ach · vich·yi·tem

"Prophesy over these bones, and say to them,
 O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.
 Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones:
 Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live"
(Ezek. 37:4-5)

 

"So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel (כָּל־בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל). Behold, they say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel (אַדְמַת יִשְׂרָאֵל). And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live (וְנָתַתִּי רוּחִי בָכֶם וִחְיִיתֶם), and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD" (Ezek. 37:10-17).

עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" The nation of Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Celebrating Israel's independence acknowledges God's loyal love for us all...

 

Note:  In 1951 the Israeli Knesset established the day immediately before Israel's Independence Day as Israel's Memorial Day (i.e. Iyyar 4). In practical terms, then, both holidays are combined and linked on the calendar (Iyyar 4-5), though their starting date can be postponed or begun early, depending on whether there is a conflict with the weekly Sabbath day. For instance, this year the two holidays will start a day earlier (i.e., Iyyar 3rd) because Iyyar 5th is the Sabbath. For best results, always check a good Jewish calendar.
 




Parashat Tazria-Metzora


 

[ The following is related to this week's Torah (Tazria-Metzora)....  Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

04.22.12 (Nisan 30, 5772)   This week we have a "double portion" of Torah: Tazria and Metzora.  According to traditional Jewish commentators, this section of Scripture primarily concerns the relationship between the sin of lashon hara ("the evil tongue") and the divinely imparted affliction of tzara'at, sometimes (inaccurately) translated as "leprosy."

I used to think lashon hara concerned cases of obvious abuse of the tongue, for example, slandering another person or using profanity. Now while these are certainly cases of lashon hara, the concept is larger than that, and includes saying something bad about another person even if it happens to be true. In other words, lashon hara is gossip, spreading evil (even if true) reports, or expressing a negative or critical spirit about others. Such behavior is explicitly forbidden in Lev. 19:16.

The penalty for lashon hara was tzara'at, a skin condition that could only be diagnosed by a kohen (priest), not a doctor. In other words, it was a spiritual malady that required spiritual discernment to treat. If someone was diagnosed with tzara'at, they were forced to leave society and undergo a period of mourning and teshuvah (repentance).

In traditional Jewish thinking, lashon hara is one of the worst of sins, and God is said to punish those who speak such with middah-keneged-middah -- "measure for measure" justice. Since spreading evil reports divided others and caused isolation and loneliness, the metzora shall be afflicted (with tzuris, troubles) and separated from the fellowship of Israel.  Indeed, some of the sages point out that the word metzora (one afflicted with tzara'at) is related to the phrase, motzi ra (one who speaks evil), and thereby conclude that evil speech is the principal cause of the disease itself. Obviously we should flee from the sin of lashon hara! May God help each of us to always "speak the truth in love" (Eph 4:15, 25).

Yeshua told us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34), and further warned us about the unthinking use of our words: "But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall account for in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified, and by you words you shall be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37). Note, however, that this does not mean that we are excused from making righteous judgments (John 7:24). Sometimes it is the mark of a coward to refrain from speaking the truth.  As Albert Einstein once said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."  We must "speak the truth in love," even if that means sometimes offending those who wish to excuse or overlook evil behavior...

A midrash states that when the children of Israel first heard the laws of tzara'at, they despaired and became very afraid. Moses reassured them by telling them that tzara'at was a sign from God that they were indeed a holy nation, since it is His way of encouraging them to do teshuvah in order to be in fellowship with Him.  Likewise God sometimes disciplines us for our sins (Heb 12:7-8) for the purpose of granting us the gift of teshuvah (2 Cor. 7:10). We must therefore strive to make our conversation and the inmost intent of our hearts "captive to the obedience of the Mashiach," blessed be He (Matt. 5:37; Eph. 4:29; Col. 3:8; 2 Cor. 10:5; 1 Tim 4:2; etc.).

In the Brit Chadashah, we read how Yeshua healed various "lepers" and even touched them (Matt. 8:2-3, Mark 1:40-41). But how could He do this without Himself becoming tamei (unclean)? Ah, this is a good sheilah (question), but it is directly answered when we apprehend that Yeshua is none other than YHVH who came in the flesh. For remember, it was the prerogative of the LORD God of Israel to "touch" those afflicted with tzara'at and heal them based on their teshuvah, and in like measure, Yeshua entered the "leper colony" of humanity to heal those who cried out to Him.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His love reaches down to those who are afflicted and oppressed on account of their uncleanness. If you call upon Him, He will likewise touch you and restore you to fellowship with God. Blessed be His Name forever.

One final note of hope: Many of us are in various states of denial regarding our own sinful condition and need for deliverance, which can be illustrated by the case of the metzora and its progression in the life of the afflicted. 

A doctor friend of mine once reminded me that tzara'at was an infectious condition.  As long as the affliction was spreading across the body, the person was metzora and therefore tamei (unclean), but if the tzara'at (finally) covered the person from head to toe, he was to be considered "clean" (Lev. 13:12-13). In other words, in some cases the metzora needed to be entirely covered with their affliction before they were set free, and this further reminds me of our need to be fully identified with the death of Yeshua in order to experience the resurrection life! It is only by understanding how radical the need for our deliverance that Yeshua's healing touch can be manifest.
 




What do you (really) want?


 

04.20.12 (Nisan 28, 5772)   If you were to ask God for just one thing, what would it be? Personal happiness? A peaceful family life? Physical or emotional health? Money to relieve your financial distress? Personal power and respect? Romance or a satisfying love life? Honestly, what is the ruling passion of your life? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What are you really seeking? What gives you hope in life? King David gives his answer:
 

אַחַת שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת־יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ
 שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית־יְהוָה כָּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי
 לַחֲזוֹת בְּנֹעַם־יְהוָה וּלְבַקֵּר בְּהֵיכָלו

a·chat · sha·al·ti · me·et · Adonai, · o·tah · a·va·kesh
shiv·ti · be·vet · Adonai · kol · ye·mei · chai·yai
la·cha·zot · be·no·am · Adonai · u·le·va·ker · be·he·kha·lo

"One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after:
 that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
 to envision the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his Temple."
(Psalm 27:4)

Hebrew Study Card
 

In this verse, King David says, "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek." Notice immediately that David asked for one thing – not many things.  He did not come with a litany of requests. He was not double minded, wanting and hating the good. As Kierkegaard said, "purity of the heart is to will one thing." David sought the best he could find. He wanted the "pearl of great price."

The verb translated "I will seek" (avakesh) comes from the verb bakash meaning "to desire." The noun form, bakashah, means a request (in modern Hebrew the word bevakasha means "as you wish" or "you're welcome").  The verse could therefore be read as, "The one thing I ask from the Lord is that which I will desire."

This is a prayer for surrender. "Lord, I pray to you not as I understand You, but as You understand Yourself..." The "one thing" that David wanted above all else was to know the Lord - to "behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His Temple." This is what we need. We need eyes of wonder; we need eyes that are open to the glory and Presence of God - in everything.

Desire itself is a "neutral" thing, of course. "The flesh lusts against the spirit, and spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17). Most of us desire things that do not ultimately satisfy us. This is the "default" mode. We settle for trifles. We yield to petty desires that do not quench the eternal thirst within us.  We cheat ourselves of the eternal for the sake of temporal. Kierkegaard calls such boredom the root of all evil. It is the "spirit" of the flesh - the inner restlessness that leads to discontent.

Having spiritual desire is a great gift from heaven, because through it we first realize what we really want and need. Our eye becomes "single" (Luke 11:34). The mark of spirituality (ruchaniyut) is wonder and contentment. The "beauty of the Lord" is to be filled with glory and peace. If we consciously delight ourselves in the Lord, He has promised to give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4). Seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33).

David understood that seeking God required "all the days of my life" (כָּל־יְמֵי חַיַּי) – as preparation for eternity. This life (olam hazeh) is a likened to a shadowy corridor leading to the world to come. David wanted to dwell (יָשַׁב) or to abide before the Divine Presence all his days, so that he would be prepared for his promotion to come.

So again, if you were to ask God for just one thing, what would it be?
 




Know Him in all your ways...


 

04.19.12 (Nisan 27, 5772)  The Hebrew word emunah (אֱמוּנָה), often rendered as "faith" in many English translations, comes from the root word aman (אָמַן), which means to rest securely or rely upon (and from which we get the word "amen"). The root word occurs for the first time in the Torah in connection with Abraham: "And he believed (וְהֶאֱמִן) the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness" (Gen. 15:6). Abraham was declared tzaddik (righteous) because he believed and understood that the LORD would fulfill His promise to him to become the father of a multitude, despite his old age.  Abraham's faith was cognitive in the sense that he knew the character of God and relied upon God's promise.

If emunah describes the cognitive dimension of faith, the word bittachon (בִּטָּחוֹן) describes its emotional dimension. The word bittachon comes from a root word (בָּטָח) that means to trust, "to lean upon," to feel safe and secure. Bittachon describes emotional acceptance of the goodness of the LORD. Some of the sages have said that while emunah represents a state of understanding (בִּינָה) that God is intimately involved in all the events of the universe, bittachon means personally trusting in God in every situation for your good.... Rabbi Bechaya put the distinction this way: "Everyone who trusts has faith, but not everyone with faith trusts." Bittachon is an intuitive awareness of the personal love of God for your life, coupled with complete trust that He cares for you (Rom. 8:28). It is an expectation that the love of God is for you, too.
 

בְּטַח אֶל־יְהוָה בְּכָל־לִבֶּךָ
וְאֶל־בִּינָתְךָ אַל־תִּשָּׁעֵן
בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶיךָ דָעֵהוּ וְהוּא יְיַשֵּׁר ארְחתֶיךָ

be·tach · el · Adonai · be·khol · lib·be·kha
ve'el · bi·na·te·kha · al · tish·a·en
be·khol · de·ra·khe·kha · da·ei·hu · ve·hu · ye·ya·sher · or·cho·te·kha

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
Know Him in all your ways, and He will straighten your paths."
(Prov. 3:5-6)



Hebrew Study Card
 

"In all your ways know Him," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31). As King David stated, "I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). Likewise you must consciously make up your mind that you are standing before your Creator and King: da lifnei mi attah omed, "know before Whom you stand." If you are trusting God bekhol libekha, with all your being -- with an undivided heart -- without ambivalence or double-mindedness, then have confidence that you are doing God's will (1 John 5:15). "All your deeds should be done le'shem shamayim (לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם) - for the sake of heaven" (Pirke Avot 2:17). The Malbim comments that the phrase "know Him in all your ways" uses the word derakhim (דֶּרֶכִים), a word used to refer to general ways of knowing God through His revealed character (e.g., generosity, kindness, humility, etc.), while the phrase, "he will make your paths straight" uses the word orekhim (אוֹרְחוֹת), a word that suggests particular application in daily life. Trusting in the LORD brings inner light from the Holy Spirit wherein the our way is made "yashar" (upright), the same word used in names "Jeshurun" and "Yisrael."

Note: Though we are to know the LORD in all our ways, both cognitively and emotionally, surely it is possible for someone to have emunah but not bittachon, head but not heart. This is the case of the mere "professor" of faith who does not know the LORD existentially within his or her heart. Theologians and philosophers can "understand" that God exists, they can "assent" that He (alone) is the Creator of the universe who acts in justice, they can even claim that the Scriptures are true, and yet they can be in a state of profound spiritual darkness (James 2:19). "The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still." On the other hand, it is also possible to have bittachon without emunah, that is, heart without head... This is the case of a gullible soul that is willing to accept any "wind of doctrine" even if it clearly contradicts the truth of the Scriptures. For example, people who stress the "sweetness and light" of God are often offended at the prospect of God's judgment for sin, or those who chase after spiritual gifts or seek manifestations of the spirit are often misled by charlatans...  To be balanced, we need both emunah and bittachon - we need doctrine with affection, head with heart, "spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24). For more on this subject, see the article "Emunah and Bittachon."
 




Cowardice of the Crowd


 

[ Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," is observed on Nisan 27, which this year runs from sundown on Wed. April 18th until sundown Thur. 19th... ]

04.19.12
(Nisan 27, 5772)  Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," marks Israel's day of commemoration for the approximately six million Jews, including over a million children, who perished as a result of the actions carried out by Nazi Germany and its accomplices. It was inaugurated in 1953 and is annually observed on the 27th day of the month of Nisan, just a few days after Passover Week in the spring. In stark contrast to the celebration of freedom commemorated during Passover, Yom HaShoah marks a very difficult time when we revisit specters of absolute evil and again ask haunting questions about the power and presence of malevolence in our world. Often we are left speechless over the cruelty and depravity of human beings. It all seems so inexplicable, so needlessly horrible, so senseless and so vile...  We may feel powerless, despondent, or full of indignation, but still we ask ourselves, how could this have happened?

Simply put, the Holocaust was the result of cowardice and self-deception... The systematic, institutionalized, and "politically correct" murder of the Jewish people was made possible solely because people forfeited their God-given responsibility to live as authentic individuals by surrendering their will to "the crowd." Giving up your identity to join a gang inevitably leads to fragmentation of the soul, potentially inviting in a "legion of demons." Regardless of whether it's a gang of thugs running an inner city neighborhood, or the pressure to keep quiet over ethical misconduct at your place of work, or the desire to feel "approved" as a good citizen of the state, or even the pressure to conform to a particular religious group, in either case, "losing yourself" in the midst of the crowd is an evasion, a cop-out, and a desecration of the image of God within you. Indeed following the crowd is a form of slavery where you surrender your freedom for the sake of a supposed sense of security... You become self-deceived because you no longer "own" yourself but became the ward of "another." Becoming a member of a crowd makes you into a copy or similitude, a shadow rather than a person of substance.

Popular leaders know how to work and bribe the crowd - whether they are big business leaders, professional politicians, or leaders of large religious organizations. Often they have the charisma that appeals to human vanity and oratory to "tickle the ears" of those who hear them speak. Politicians and "community organizers" understand how the crowd marginalizes the individual, how the voice of reason and conscience are suppressed, thereby eradicating the conviction and character of the solitary individual. Therefore the true prophet is always "a voice crying in the wilderness," an outsider to the crowd, always in collision with the world and its devices. The crowd-pleaser, on the other hand, carefully crafts his words for the applause of the mob. The crowd-pleaser is a flatterer and therefore the very antithesis of the prophet.  Politicians and demagogues are masters at appealing to the gut instincts and lusts of a crowd, and therefore they are inveterate liars. They entice subgroups to follow their directives, to form self-regulating gangs, and to reward those who unquestioningly accept their "group-think." Leaders of the crowd invariably "see past" the individual and regard only numbers, general popularity, special interests, and the abstract role of "the people" in general. This also occurs in various church settings, too, where the approval of the crowd is more important that the needs of individual people. Indeed, it is often the case that the larger the church group, the more bureaucratic its portrayal of a personal Savior; likewise, the more the church becomes like a bureaucracy, the more it obscures the ability of the individual to be touched by the Spirit of God. Many churches today follow their pastors for the same reasons the world follows its leaders. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Every cult of personality that emphasizes the distinguished qualities, virtues, and talents of another person, even though these be of an altogether spiritual nature, is worldly and has no place in the Christian community; indeed, it poisons the Christian community... Where there is a crowd there is a hunger for a crowd identity and the lust to have a worldly king over them who will give them that identity" (Life Together).
 

הִכָּנְסוּ דֶּרֶךְ הַפֶּתַח הַצַּר
 כִּי רָחָב הַפֶּתַח
 וּמְרֻוַּחַת הַדֶּרֶךְ הַמּוֹלִיכָה לַאֲבַדּוֹן
 וְרַבִּים הַהוֹלְכִים בָּה

hi·kan·su · de·rekh · ha·pe·tach · ha·tzar
ki · ra·chav·  ha·pe·tach
u'me·ru·va·chat · ha·de·rekh · ha·mo·li·chah · la'a·va·don
ve·rab·bim · ha·ho·le·khim · bah

"Enter by the narrow gate.
For the gate is wide
and the way is easy that leads to destruction,
and those who enter by it are many."
(Matt. 7:14)

 

Notice that Yeshua said the path to heaven is narrow. It is not "the great highway" that crowds of people tread. Few go there, and even those few individuals who tread the way do so in solitude, misunderstood and often rejected by others. Ultimately the "strait gate" (στενῆς πύλης) is Yeshua Himself, who is ha'sha'ar (הַשַּׁעַר), the gateway to the Kingdom (John 10:7). The narrow gate is small, humble, and therefore inconspicuous to the adulterous crowd that seeks only "signs and wonders." The gate is narrow, and few there be that find it. "If any man will open the door, I will come into him..." The sages ask, "Why is the world to come created with the letter Yod? (the least of the alphabet)? Because "the righteous which are in it are few."  The gate is narrow because we are laden with pride and need to divest ourselves of our self-will to enter through... We must come to the end of our own agenda to enter the way of God's salvation.

Likewise the Apostle Paul wrote, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" (1 Cor. 9:24). This is not a race in competition with others as much as it is a race for you to become an individual before God, since only "one" receives the prize. The prize is for all who run the race, but only those who run as individuals before God may obtain it... Just as an earthly race indicates perseverance and individual stamina, so each of us must be earnest in our race to God.

It is the fear of man that drives many of us to say and think in ways that are self-deceptive and sinful. By assigning for ourselves labels, by aligning ourselves with certain doctrines or ideologies, by engaging in certain formulaic rituals, etc., we hope to rid ourselves of the dread that we are eternally responsible for our own personal decisions. "Group-think" and accepting the propaganda of mass media are tools used by social engineers to enslave you. The devil's logic is always that of mediation, compromise, consensus, synthesis. How many of us are willing to sell our very souls for the creature comforts vainly promised by this world and its princes? How many of us have the resolute faith to turn away from the will of the crowd and face ourselves?

The Holy Spirit speaks to individuals, as if your singular soul was the chief end of God's creation. God's words are never directed to the crowd. As Kierkegaard notes: "The truth can neither be communicated nor be received without being before the eyes of God, nor without God's help, nor without God being involved as the middle term (mediator), since God is the truth. It can therefore only be communicated by and received by "the single individual" in contrast to the abstract, the fantastic, impersonal, "the crowd" - "the public," which excludes God as the middle term - since the personal God cannot be the middle term in an impersonal relation. Honoring every individual human is the fear of God and the love of "the neighbor..." Yet never have I read in the Holy Scriptures this command: "You shall love the crowd;" even less: "You shall recognize in the crowd the court of last resort in relation to the "truth." It is clear that to love the crowd is the way to all sorts of temporal and worldly advantage, yet it is untruth; for the crowd is untruth" (That Solitary Individual).

We must never forget what happened to the Jewish people under Hitler.  The Holocaust was made possible because people timidly refused to stand apart from the group to serve as bold witnesses of the truth. And the great risk of our age is the revival of political fascism that attempts to again control, disarm, and violate people's freedom all for the supposed greater good of the "state." We must remember that silence in the face of evil is itself evil: "First they came for the communists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me" (Martin Niemöller).

There are instances when we must be willing to sacrifice our lives rather than to violate a commandment of Torah, such as being forced to murder someone upon pain of death. In other words, it is better to undergo kiddush Hashem (die as a martyr) than to commit certain sins, such as murder, incest, or being forced to renounce our faith. In these cases the sages say yehareg ve'al ya'avor (יֵהָרֵג וְאַל יַעֲבוֹר), "be killed rather than transgress." May the LORD God of Israel help each of us to "remember and never forget" that we must  personally stand for the truth - even should that mean kiddush Hashem for us. Amen.
 




Beginning at the beginning...


 

04.18.12 (Nisan 26, 5772)  It's been quipped that self-righteous people are those who know the Bible's commandments, decrees, and judgments, and can "fake" observance better than those who don't.... Are you uptight about laws, rituals, and rule-following behaviors? Do you squint the eye when you see people act in ways that you disapprove? God wants your heart, chaverim. Obey the first commandment - to love the LORD your God with all your heart - before you go about trying to correct others.
 

כִּי חֶסֶד חָפַצְתִּי וְלא־זָבַח
 וְדַעַת אֱלהִים מֵעלוֹת

ki · che·sed · cha·fatz·ti · ve·lo · za·vach
 ve'da·at · E·lo·him · me·o·lot

"For I desire faithful love and not sacrifice;
and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings."
(Hosea 6:6)

Hebrew Study Card
 

The heart is what needs cure: "The devil is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still" (Tozer). "The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand we are obliged to act accordingly. Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. Herein lies the real place of 'Christian' scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church's prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close" (Kierkegaard). It is not those parts of the Bible that we don't understand that should bother us, but rather the parts that we do understand! Faith is the real work of our lives - living, breathing, eating, drinking the truth.... We get caught up in doctrinal matters, when the real concern is our heart of faith. "It is so hard to obey because it is so hard to believe..." Let's quit the pretense, and put away the religious charades. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is well known that only a drunk can help a drunk. The same is true for sinners: only sinners can really help sinners. Formal religions often do not help, since they are structured on the assumption that there is an "in group" and an "out group," and, should the religious elite forget that we all sick and in need of healing, they are nothing but blind guides who will lead people right into the ditch.

We must always remember that knowledge should serve the greater aim of love. Beware of people who want to "fix" your theology without taking the time to know your heart... Beware of those who want to correct you with a few words "in the love of Jesus" that serve as the darts thrown from the enemy.  You can no more understand a person's theology through an isolated statement or comment than you can understand their heart based on an isolated episode in their life. You have to take the time to understand things in context, and just because you do not understand does not make the other person beholden to you... The first duty of love is to listen to another... Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath (James 1:19).
 




Seeing with the Good Eye


 

04.18.12 (Nisan 26, 5772)  It is written, "Love covers a multitude of sins" (Prov. 10:12), which means that love always uses the "good eye" (עַיִן טוֹבָה) to behold the best in others -- hiding their defects and esteeming them in hope...  The Scriptures declare "the one with a good eye will be blessed" (Prov. 22:9).
 

שִׂנְאָה תְּעוֹרֵר מְדָנִים
וְעַל כָּל־פְּשָׁעִים תְּכַסֶּה אַהֲבָה

sin·ah · te·o·reir · me·da·nim
ve·al · kol · pe·sha·im · te·kha·seh · a·ha·vah

"Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers a multitude of sins."
(Prov. 10:12)

 

Note that this verse states that hatred seeks contention and strife. The Hebrew word medanim comes from the root word din (דִן), meaning to judge, as in a court of law. Hatred looks with ill-will at the transgressions of others and prosecutes at the bar of judgment for conviction. When we hate or mistrust others, we accuse them before the bar of justice but excuse them before seat of mercy.

Love, on the other hand, seeks to "cover" the transgressions of others. The Hebrew word tekhaseh comes from the root kasa (כָּסָה), meaning to conceal or hide something entirely from view, like the flood waters that "covered" the whole earth (Gen. 7:19) or the Shekhinah cloud that covered the Tabernacle (Num. 9:15). When we love others, we lose sight of that which leads us into accusation.

The ultimate "covering of love" comes from the Lord Himself, who sacrificed His only Son so that our transgressions and sins would not be charged against us (Rom. 4:7-8). God's love overlooks our misdeeds and sees us as a reconciled and redeemed people. Since God forgives us, we likewise ought to forgive others for whom Yeshua our Savior willingly shed His blood.... 

Of course, not all hatred is bad, since the Scriptures command us to hate evil (Psalm 21:5, 139:21-22, etc.). However, the hatred, aversion, and malice that men habitually express for their fellow man demonstrates the radical depravity of the human condition. May God Himself spare us... Indeed, Yeshua our Messiah taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, thereby promoting the message of God's "covering love" for a fallen and hurting world (Luke 6:27-35).

To be able to truly love others requires a miracle on the order of splitting the sea or raising the dead, but God has promised to put a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ) and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) within us (see Ezek. 36:26). The world system seeks to enslave and paralyze people through fear, but God's Spirit enables us to overcome the world and its deception by demonstrating love and good will toward others.

Can we go wrong in this approach?  After all, by turning a blind eye to the faults of others are we not making ourselves vulnerable to abuse or exploitation? Shouldn't we test other people's heart and their motives? Perhaps we should, though I would rather be found guilty of loving too much - of giving the benefit of the doubt to another - than to be found guilty of withholding love in cautionary prudence.... Practicing the good eye "builds up" the other person by prophetically envisioning their healing and redemption.  In this connection, Kierkegaard wrote: "It is always in my power, if I am one who loves, to chose the most lenient explanation. If, then, this more lenient or mitigating explanation explains what others light-mindedly, hastily, harshly, hardheartedly, enviously, maliciously, in short, unlovingly explain summarily as guilt, if the mitigating explanation explains this in another way, it removes now one and now another guilt, and in this way reduces the multitude of sins or hides it." (Works of Love)
 




Panim El Panim...


 

04.17.12 (Nisan 25, 5772)  Do you harbor a secret dread of being invisible - of being unseen, unacknowledged, overlooked?  How much does that drive what you do and say, and how you might relate to others?  Take comfort that your Heavenly Father sees when the sparrow falls; he arrays the flower in its hidden valley; and he calls each star by name. More importantly, the Lord sees you and understands your struggle... As we look to Him, we will be seen -- and our dread of being invisible, irrelevant, and insignificant will itself vanish.
 

הָרפֵא לִשְׁבוּרֵי לֵב
 וּמְחַבֵּשׁ לְעַצְּבוֹתָם
 מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים
 לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא

ha-ro·fei · lish·vu·rei ·lev
u'me·cha·besh · le'atz·tze·vo·tam
mo·neh · mis·par · la·ko·kha·vim
le·khu·lam · she·mot · yik·ra

"He is the healer of the brokenhearted
 and the One who binds up their sorrows.
 He counts the number of the stars,
 to all of them He assigns names."
(Psalm 147:3-4)

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It is tragic that the great need of the soul -- to be seen and acknowledged as worthy by God -- can create fear and dread within the heart... Faith requires us to courageously press through the fear of being seen by God to take hold of the assurance that He loves us -- despite the fact that we are seen by Him... Many people resist coming to God because they are afraid of being seen by Him; we must encourage them to persevere and boldly pass through the veil to take hold of the love of God that overcomes His judgment.

Choose to fight (ἀγωνίζομαι - "agonize," "struggle") another day, chaverim... Do not yield to despair or to fear. Press on and keep fighting the "good fight" of faith (1 Tim. 6:12). You infinitely matter to heaven; your life has great value; you are significant and you are truly loved by our Heavenly Father... There is a "future and a hope" reserved for you (Jer. 29:11); there is "a white stone, and on that stone will be written a new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it" (Rev. 2:17). This promise is given to the "one who conquers" (Τῷ νικῶντι) because of the love and grace of our God. Indeed, by faith we are made "more than conquerors" (lit. "hyper conquerors," ὑπερνικῶμεν) through the Messiah and his love for us (Rom. 8:37).

God has promised: "I will give you a new heart (לֵב חָדָשׁ), and a new spirit (רוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה) I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone (לֵב הָאֶבֶן) from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 36:26). Receive God's promise for your soul, since His love alone is what you really need... Ask Him for the promise of His Comfort today.
 




Three-in-One Aleph


 

04.17.12 (Nisan 25, 5772)  According to the mystics of the Jewish tradition, the entire cosmos is said to be created from the 22 consonants of the Hebrew Alphabet, called otiyot yesod (אוֹתְיּוֹת יְסוֹד), or "foundational letters." Through the otiyot yesod God formed substance out of chaos and brought forth existence from nonexistence. In other words, the entire universe is created and sustained by divine language (the Word of God).

The Talmud says "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b). The New Testament had earlier said the same thing: "All things were created by Him (i.e., Yeshua), and for Him" and in Him all things consist (συνεστηκεν, lit. "stick together") (Col. 1:16-17). Yeshua our Messiah is called devar Elohim (דְּבַר אֱלהִים), the Word of God, who upholds the created order by the Word of His power. It is the Messiah Yeshua alone Who is the true yesod (foundation) of life itself. Every holy utterance can be traced back to Him, and He is the Source and Origin of all that is good, lasting, and righteous. "For from him and through him and to him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). Indeed, "He is the zohar of His glory," that is, the radiance of the glory of God Himself, who "upholds all things by the word of His power" (Heb. 1:3). Since He is the Aleph and the Tav (אָלֶף וְתָו), the First and the Last, we can see that the otiyot will all reveal something about Him (Rev. 22:13). Indeed, the Hebrew word for "letter" is ot (אוֹת), which can also mean "sign" or "wonder." Each letter of the alphabet, then, contains signs that point to wonderful truths about our LORD.

The structure and sequence of the Hebrew alphabet itself is part of God's revelation to us. As demonstrated by the various acrostic sections of Scripture (e.g., Psalm 119, Prov. 31, Lamentations, etc.), God designed the Hebrew alphabet in a particular order. Indeed, the first letter of the alphabet is the letter Aleph (א), which represents the number 1. As a silent letter, Aleph is preeminent in its order and alludes to the ineffable mysteries of the oneness of God (Col. 1:18). Indeed, the word aluph (derived from the very name of this letter) means "Master" or "Lord."

In the classical Hebrew script, Aleph is constructed as a "three-in-one" letter formed by two Yods (י), one to the upper right and the other to the lower left, that are joined by a diagonal or slanted letter Vav (ו). The two Yods represent two hands (Yod means hand), and the slanted Vav pictures a wounded Man: one hand rises toward heaven while the other reaches down to earth. The total of the three letters hidden within the Aleph is 26 (i.e., Yod+Yod+ Vav), which is the same value as the Name YHVH (יהוה). The first letter, then, of the Name Elohim (אלהים), "God," represents Yeshua, the LORD of Compassion who breaths upon us the breath of life (Gen. 2:7; John 20:22).

Note: For more information, see the letter Aleph pages.
 




Trusting His Heart...


 

04.16.12 (Nisan 24, 5772)  If you can't detect God's hand in your circumstances, then trust His heart... Gam zu l'tovah (גַּם זוּ לְטוֹבָה): "This too is for the good." Whenever I am confused about life (which is often), I try to remember what God said to Moses after the tragic sin of the Golden Calf: "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my Name, 'The LORD' (יהוה). And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy" (Exod. 33:19). God's character does not change: the LORD is the same "yesterday, today, and forever." The meaning of the Name, however, cannot be known apart from understanding the heart's need:
 

יְהוָה יְהוָה אֵל רַחוּם וְחַנּוּן
 אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם וְרַב־חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת

Adonai  Adonai  El  Ra·chum  ve·chan·nun
e·rekh  ap·pa·yim  ve·rav  che·sed  ve·e·met

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

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Earlier God had revealed to Moses that the Name YHVH (יהוה) means: "He is Present" (i.e., the word is a play on the Hebrew verb hayah [הָיָה], "to be"), and therefore God is "always there" (Exod. 3:14). The great I AM (אֶהְיֶה) means God stands outside of the constraints of time, "one day is as a thousand years" and "a thousand years as one day" before Him (2 Pet. 3:8). Just as a thousand years is but "a watch in the night" (Psalm 90:4), so one day is as a thousand years. God's Spirit broods over all things and sustains the entire universe. God is "necessary being," the Source of Life, and foundation for all other existence. God's creative love and power sustain all things in creation...

Now while the idea that God is the Source of all life in the universe is surely important, it is not entirely comforting, especially in light of man's guilt and anxiety over death. After all, we do not stand before the "god of the philosophers," but rather the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The meaning of the Name YHVH - that He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and truth, and so on - therefore presents additional revelation in face of man's inherent brokenness and spiritual need. Some things in life are only known in the passion of faith... things like love, beauty, honor, and so on. The Name of the LORD as the Compassionate One is only known in humility, when all human pretense is stripped away and the inner life is laid bare in its desperate need. The Name YHVH is God's response to the heart's cry for deliverance, for compassion, for mercy....

What is God like - what is His heart - is the first question, and how we answer that will determine how we deal with all the other questions that come up in theology... What do you feel inside when you stare up at the ceiling before you go to bed? In light of the ambiguity and heartaches of life we might wonder if God is there for us. Does God care? Is He angry at me? Does He really love me? This is the raw place of faith, where we live in the midst of our questions.  The Name YHVH means "He is present," even when we are unconscious of His Presence in the hour of our greatest need.

The legalist is actually enslaved to the idea of God's conditional acceptance: "If you obey, then you belong." There is still some faith that the right religious scruples, the affirmation of a particular creed, and the practice of certain rituals will gain us access to His heart. The message of the cross scandalizes the religious because it boldly states, "if you believe, then you belong." As Kierkegaard rightly observed, "And this is the simple truth - that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce." For Kierkegaard, religious rituals devoid of a sense of crisis within the heart are little more than a sham. "I think of the times I tried to use him to make my life secure, and undisturbed, and painless. Also the times I was enslaved by fear of him, and by the need to protect myself against him through rites and circumstances" (de Mello). Ritualistic behavior is a tawdry substitute for trusting that His heart is forever present for you.
 




Yom HaShoah - יוֹם הַשּׁוֹאָה


 

[ Yom HaShoah, or "Holocaust Remembrance Day," begins Wed., April 18th this year... ]

04.16.12 (Nisan 24, 5772)  Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, takes place on the 27th of Nisan, which this year begins Wednesday, April 18th (at sundown) and runs until after sundown the following day. Shoah is the Hebrew word for "disaster" and is another name used to refer to the European Holocaust, when six million Jews - including one and a half million children - were systematically murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

Yom HaShoah was established as a national holiday by the Israeli Knesset on August 19, 1953, though at first there were many rabbis who objected to its establishment because Tishah B'Av already commemorated the multiple tragedies of the Jewish people. These rabbis further reasoned that were it not for the exile caused by the destruction of the Second Temple (commemorated during Tishah B'Av), the European Holocaust itself would not have occurred, and therefore an additional holiday was superfluous. Nevertheless, the emotional pain of the Holocaust was so great that the objection of the rabbis was rejected by the people, and the only question left was when Yom HaShoah should be observed. Many people called for a Nisan 15 date, since that marked the time of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but since Nisan 15 marks the second day of Passover, it was rejected. After various dates were suggested, the date of Nisan 27 was finally accepted -- after Passover Week but still during the time of the uprising in Warsaw.

Despite being universally recognized as a holiday by Jews around the world, there is no official liturgy to observe Yom HaShoah... In Israel, during the morning of Nisan 27, a siren sounds, all activity stops, and people stand in honor of those who died. Memorials and vigils are observed, often with a candle lighting ceremony in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. Many hold name-reading ceremonies to memorialize those who were murdered.

The Shoah forces us to deal with the moral problem of evil in the world - that is, how could an all-loving and all-powerful God permit the rise of Nazi Germany and the murder of the Jewish people? Post-Holocaust theology is a difficult subject, and we must be careful to tread softly and with due reverence... But it is imperative that we never forget what happened to the Jewish people, just as we must always be vigilant for political power that seeks to impose fascist control or that seeks to "scapegoat" other people for political purposes... Tragically, the underying spirit of Nazi ideology is still operational in this twisted world, as evidenced by the spurious idea of "homeland security" and other police state tactics that are now routinely used to terrorize / control people living in the United States.
 




Parashat Shemini - פרשת שמיני


 

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

04.15.12 (Nisan 23, 5772)  This week's Torah reading, Shemini ("eighth"), continues the account of the seven-day ordination ceremony for the priests that was given earlier in Parashat Tzav. During each of the "seven days of consecration" Moses served as the first High Priest of Israel by offering various sacrifices and training the new priests regarding their duties. On the eighth day (i.e., Nisan 1), however, God commissioned Aaron and his sons to officially begin their responsibilities as Israel's priests. The portion first describes the ceremonies performed to consecrate the altar. Now instead of Moses functioning as the High Priest, Aaron brought the various offerings, including sin offerings and whole burnt offerings for himself and for the elders of Israel. Aaron and his sons then offered additional sacrifices on behalf of the people as well.

After completing the sequence of offerings, Aaron blessed the people with Birkat Kohanim (i.e., the priestly blessing). However, the Glory of the LORD did not appear, and there was no Divine Fire (Shekhinah) that consumed the sacrifices. This was an anxious moment for the people, since it was unclear whether the LORD had accepted Aaron's offerings and therefore had forgiven Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf.  Moses and Aaron then went into the Holy Place of the Mishkan and interceded, and after they came out to bless the people again, the Glory of the LORD appeared and the holy fire (in the form of a lion) consumed the offerings on the altar. When all the people saw it, they rejoiced and shouted and fell on their faces (Lev. 9:22-24).

The portion continues with the tragic account of the death of Aaron's two oldest sons, Nadab and Abihu. When they entered the Holy Place with an unuathorized incense offering (i.e., "strange fire," or esh zarah: אֵשׁ זָרָה), "fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD" (Lev. 10:1-2). Aaron remained silent as his sons' bodies were removed by their cousins, and Moses warned Aaron and his two remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, not to mourn for their brothers. The description of the "strange fire" has puzzled some commentators, though the context seems to link their death with the prohibition against drinking alcohol that immediately follows the narrative (i.e., the LORD spoke directly to Aaron at this time, saying, "Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations" (Lev. 10:8-9)). Other commentators suggest Nadab and Abihu brought an additional (i.e., "strange") sacrifice and their death was intended to warn future priests never to deviate from God's explicit instructions for offering korbanot.

Moses then instructed Aaron and his two remaining sons that they were to required eat their portion of the sin offering made on behalf of the people within the Holy Place of the tent. When he "diligently searched" and discovered that the sacrifice had been consumed on the altar, he was angry, though Aaron responded that it would be unsuitable to partake of the offering after the death of his sons, and Moses held his peace (Lev. 10:16-20). Some of the sages note that the Hebrew text used to describe Moses' search (i.e., darosh darash: דָּרשׁ דָּרַשׁ, lit. "searching, he searched") marks the exact midpoint of the words in the written Torah scroll (Lev. 10:16). The midrash (Leviticus Rabbah) states that after Moses realized his error, he came before the elders of Israel and acknowledged that Aaron was right when he refused to eat.  It is interesting that the midpoint of the Torah records the confession of Moses' mistake...

The Torah portion ends with a list of which animals, birds, fish and insects are permitted or forbidden as food, providing the framework for Jewish dietary law (i.e., kashrut: כַּשְׁרוּת). The Israelites were permitted to eat any mammal that both has a split hoof and chews its cud (Lev. 11:3). Both characteristics were required for the mammal to be regarded as kosher, and examples of animals that fail to meet these two qualifying attributes are given (e.g., the camel, the badger, the hare, and the pig). Likewise, only fish that have both scales and fins were to be regarded as kosher. A list of acceptable (i.e., non-predatory) birds was given, along with the commandment not to eat any insects unless they have a pair of jointed legs used for leaping.

All "scavenger type" creatures such as rats, mice, lizards, etc., are particularly forbidden, and anything touches their carcasses will be made unclean (טָמֵא). If one of these creatures falls into any earthenware vessel, all its contents will be unclean, and the vessel must be destroyed. Any such creature is to be regarded as a detested thing, or an "abomination" (i.e., sheketz: שֶׁקֶץ, from שׁ- ["that"] and קֵץ ["end"]).

It should be noted that many kosher laws are regarded as "chukkim," or laws for which God gave no rational explanation. They are to obeyed from a sense of trust and loyalty, not because they "make sense" to us... Nonetheless, some of the sages have attempted to discover reasons for these laws. For instance, some have said they were intended to promote hygiene or biological cleanliness in the camp. Others have said that they were designed to sensitize our hearts. If we must take away life in order to sustain our own, we should be conscious of the sacrifice and and humane in the way we do it... Others have said that the laws were intended to keep us from becoming "mindless eaters" who indiscriminately consume food. Still others have said certain food types were permitted by God because of inherent properties associated with that life form. For instance, kosher mammals and birds are non-predators and their consumption is intended to remind us of our need to be peace loving and community directed.

The Torah states that various dietary laws were intended to sanctify the Israelites by separating them for holiness: "For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy (וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי)... For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:44-45). The realm of the holy was to be applied to the daily and routine sustenance of life. You are "to distinguish (לְהַבְדִּיל) between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten" (Lev. 11:47). In other words, since eating is necessarily a sacrificial act, there is a connection between holiness and what goes in (and out) of our mouths. Whenever we eat food, we incorporate other life as a means of nourishment for our own. Physical food temporarily sustains our physical life, but after it is digested we find ourselves in need of it once again. Just as God has designed the human body so that it requires ongoing sacrifice to live, so he has designed the human spirit to require lechem ha-chayim, the "Bread of Life" in order to live (Deut. 8:3).
 

כִּי אֲנִי יְהוָה הַמַּעֲלֶה אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
לִהְית לָכֶם לֵאלהִים וִהְיִיתֶם קְדשִׁים כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אָנִי

ki  a·ni  Adonai  ha·ma·a·leh  et·khem  me·e·retz  mitz·ra·yim,
lih·yot  la·khem  lei·lo·him,  vih·yi·tem  ke·do·shim,  ki  ka·dosh  a·ni

"For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt
to be your God.  You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."
(Lev. 11:45)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

 




Nachamu, Nachamu Ami...


 

04.13.12 (Nisan 21, 5772)  The English verb "comfort" literally means "to give strength" (from com- ["with"] and fortis ["strong"]), an idea similarly expressed by the verb "encourage," to "put heart within" the soul. In Hebrew, the word courage is expressed by the phrase ometz lev (אמֶץ לֵב), "strong of heart," denoting an inner quality of the will rather than of the intellect. Ometz lev means having an inner resolve, a passion, and a direction. The sages say "the mind is the eye whereas the heart is the feet." Yeshua told us that the Holy Spirit, whom He called the Parakletos (παράκλητος, "the One called alongside") was given to direct those who are trusting in Him...

Surely our great need today is to have heart, strength, resolution, and earnest conviction in order to walk boldly through these darkened days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). As C.S. Lewis once said, "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." Without courage, people become "men without chests," heartless clones of real men who are essentially cowards because they have no passion to live for the truth...

A great verse of Scripture from the New Testament speaks to our need: "Blessed be the God and Father of Yeshua the Messiah our LORD, the Father of mercies (אַב הָרַחֲמִים) and the God of all comfort (אֱלהֵי כָּל נֶחָמָה), who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Cor. 1:3-4):
 

בָּרוּךְ הָאֱלהִים אֲבִי אֲדנֵינוּ יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ
 אַב הָרַחֲמִים וֵאלהֵי כָּל נֶחָמָה
 הַמְנַחֵם אתָנוּ בְּכָל צָרוֹתֵינוּ
 בְּאפֶן שֶׁנּוּכַל לְנַחֵם אֶת הַלְּחוּצִים בְּכָל צָרָה שֶׁהִיא
 בַּנֶחָמָה שֶׁנֻּחַמְנוּ אָנוּ מֵאֵת אֱלהִים

ba·rukh · ha·E·lo·him · a·vi · a·do·nei·nu · Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach
av · ha·ra·cha·mim · ve·lo·hei · kol · ne·cha·mah
ha·me·na·chem · o·ta·nu · be·khol · tza·ro·tei·nu
be·o·fen · she·nu·khal · le·na·chem · et · ha·le·chu·tzim · be·khol · tza·rah · she·hi
ba·ne·cha·mah · she·nu·cham·nu · a·nu · me·et · E·lo·him

"Blessed be the God and Father of Yeshua the Messiah our LORD,
the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort
 who comforts us in all our afflictions,
 so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction
with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

(2 Cor. 1:3-4)


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Εὐλογητὸς ὁ θεὸς καὶ πατὴρ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν ᾽Ιησοῦ Χριστοῦ,
ὁ πατὴρ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν καὶ θεὸς πάσης παρακλήσεως,
ὁ παρακαλῶν ἡμᾶς ἐπὶ πάσῃ τῇ θλίψει ἡμῶν
εἰς τὸ δύνασθαι ἡμᾶς παρακαλεῖν τοὺς ἐν πάσῃ θλίψει
διὰ τῆς παρακλήσεως ἧς παρακαλούμεθα αὐτοὶ ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ.
 


Consider these wonderful titles for the LORD -- the Father of Mercies (אַב הָרַחֲמִים) and the God of all Comfort (אֱלהֵי כָּל נֶחָמָה). The Greek expression for Av Harachamim (i.e., ὁ πατὴρ τῶν οἰκτιρμῶν) may be rendered as "the Father of Compassion," expressing God's pity or sympathy for our struggles (Psalm 103:13). The Greek word translated "comfort" is paraklesis (παράκλησις), from the verb parakaleo (παρακαλέω), meaning to "call alongside" (from para- [παρά], "beside" + kaleo [καλέω], "to invite"). God calls us to come before Him to obtain His strength for our troubles (Heb. 4:16). As I have mentioned elsewhere, God alone gives engkratea (ἐγκράτεια), "inner strength" (from εν-, "in" + κράτος, "strength" or "power") through the working of the Holy Spirit, and therefore it is nothing less than the life of Yeshua within the heart that provides us with strength and courage. "I can do all things through the Messiah who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13; Eph. 3:16).

Our verse states that God imparts strength to us in every tribulation (θλῖψις), that is, whenever we are under intense pressure, oppression, and distress... The Greek text literally states that God strengthens us for the purpose of imparting strength to others who undergo similar tribulation... We are not alone in our suffering, and indeed the law of Messiah is to bear one another's burdens.  God permits testing in our lives so that we might express the consolation (παραμυθία) of the Holy Spirit to others who are in similar need.  Righteous suffering takes on the pain of others and bears it in their place. It is patient, kind, and provides healing for that which is broken. Indeed, the righteous suffering of the tzaddikim "fills up what is lacking in Messiah's afflictions for the sake of the church" (Col. 1:24), and manifests the resurrection life of Adonai Tzidkeinu, the Lord our Righteousness...

Among legalists, the most profound of illusions is that people "can do this," that is, we can "follow Yeshua" by our own efforts, by an act of will, through our own strength... We think that we are extended grace "to enter in," but after this we are left to our own devices and must generate our own sense of commitment... No. As A.W. Pink once said, "The great mistake made by people is hoping to discover in themselves that which is found in Christ alone..." As I've said before, there is not one gospel message for the sinner and another for the saint. We will always need the life-giving gospel message, which is the word of deliverance spoken now - today - to sinners like us.

Many people get the message of the cross backwards, and I am afraid this is especially true of so-called Messianic believers. "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Gal. 3:3) The message of law is "if you behave, then you belong," which induces an alternating sense of entitlement and despair. The message of the cross is, "if you believe, then you belong." Believe what? In God's love for you - that you are made accepted and worthy because of that love... This takes courage, as Paul Tillich once said: "The courage to be is the courage to accept oneself as accepted in spite of being unacceptable." Paradoxically, by truly accepting that you are accepted - by personally receiving the love of God for your soul - you will find your heart hungering for obedience, and the true intent of the Torah will be written upon your heart.. But note carefully that the Torah will be written upon the broken heart, not the heart of stone... The gospel message is for sinners, not for the self-righteous or for those who think they can "do this thing."

Shabbat Shalom, and may we all find shalem v'ometz lev (wholeness and courage) through Yeshua's life lived out within us... Amen.
 




Passover and Shir HaShirim...


 

[ The following entry provides a few thoughts about the Song of Solomon, which is traditionally read for the Sabbath of Passover.... ]

04.13.12 (Nisan 21, 5772)  During the Shabbat of Passover week it is customary to read the ancient "love song" of King Solomon called Shir Ha-Shirim (שִׁיר הַשִּׁירִים), or the "Song of Songs."  In Jewish tradition, since Passover marks the time when our "romance" with God officially began, the sages chose this song to celebrate God's love for his people. And since Passover is also called Chag Ha-Aviv, the festival of spring, the Song is also associated with creativity and hope associated with springtime (Song 2:11-12). 

The Song is usually interpreted as an allegory of the love affair between God and His  people. The Beloved (representing God) therefore says, "As a lily among the thorns, so is my love for you among among the daughters;" and the maiden (representing God's people) replies, "Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste" (Song 2:2-3). The Jewish scholar Maimonides argued that the song was intended to teach about ahavat HaShem (אַהֲבַת יהוה), the love of God. The Talmud reports that Rabbi Akiva argued for the inclusion of Song in the canon of the Hebrew Bible by saying that if all the other Books of the Bible are considered to be regarded as "Kedoshim" (holy), then Shir Ha-Shirim must be considered "Kodesh Kodoshim," the Holiest of the Holy (Megillah 7a). Akiva is reported to have further said, "The whole world attained its supreme value only on the day when the Song of Songs was given to Israel" (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5). Rashi agrees and therefore states that all the references to King Solomon (שְׁלמה) in the song refer to the LORD, the King of the Universe who creates peace (שָׁלוֹם) in His high places. Soren Kierkegaard likens the Song to a parable about the disguise of love, the tender passion that is hidden so as to elevate the identity of the beloved.
 

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי
הָרעֶה בַּשׁוֹשַׁנִּים

a·ni · le·do·di · ve·do·di · li
ha·ro·eh · ba·sho·sha·nim

"I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies.

(Song 6:3)


 


Note: For more on this subject, see Passover and Shir HaShirim.
 




The Bread of His Affliction...


 

[ The following is related to the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which runs concurrently with the eight days of Passover...  ]

04.12.12 (Nisan 20, 5772)  The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who trust in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Baruch HaShem: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12).  Likewise, the Scriptures also reveal that the offering of the Firstfruits -- "the Waving of the Omer" -- is a picture of the resurrection of the Messiah -- as well as our own future resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23; Rom. 8:23; James 1:18). These associations are gloriously stated in the New Testament and are alluded to in the Jewish Scriptures. That said, what about the role of matzah and the "Feast of Unleavened Bread"? How are we to understand this as a fulfillment of Yeshua's ministry?

In Jewish tradition, of course, the eating of unleavened bread commemorates the original Exodus from Egypt. Since there wasn't enough time for the dough to rise when the Jews fled, the LORD memorialized the event with the commandment to eat only unleavened bread for seven days: "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread (i.e., matzah), the bread of affliction (לֶחֶם ענִי), for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste -- that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt" (Deut. 16:3).

To fulfill this commandment, we prepare for Passover by removing all traces of chametz (leaven) from our homes. Leaven (i.e., yeast) produces fermentation, especially in bread dough, and is the result of natural processes of decay. We therefore vacuum the house, wipe down cupboards, and physically remove all bread stuffs from our dwelling places. This is in obedience to the commandment to "remove all leaven from our dwellings" (Exod. 12:5, 13:7, Deut. 16:4). On the night before Passover, we perform a ceremony called "bedikat chametz," and symbolically remove the last vestiges of bread crumbs from our homes.

So what's the problem with leaven? Again, it is a symbol of death and decay.  The "rise of dough" is only possible by means of the natural processes of decay. In other words, were it not for the curse of death (i.e., the Fall of Adam and Eve), there could be no leavened bread. The sages identify leaven with the yetzer hara (יֵצֶר הָרָה), the evil impulse within us. When we purge the leaven from our homes, we are sanctifying ourselves by removing corrupting influences from our lives.



But what is the connection with Yeshua?  First, unleavened bread is a picture of His holiness, purity and sinlessness.  His life and sacrifice was "unleavened" -- without the taint of the curse of death, and therefore he was considered "a lamb without spot or blemish" for the ultimate Passover sacrifice (1 Pet. 1:19). Moreover, after He was buried, Yeshua did not suffer the natural process of corruption (i.e., decomposition of the body). His body did not "return to dust" -- the very curse given to Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:19; Psalm 16:10). As the Second Adam (Adam haSheni), His death "killed the power of death" by putting away sin through the sacrifice of himself (Heb. 9:26).

Some have suggested that Paul's comment that followers of Messiah should "purge out the old leaven" (1 Cor. 5:7-8) means that we are to live in purity and separation from the corrupting influence of sin in our lives.  Since we are made "unleavened" (pure) by the sacrifice of Yeshua, our lives should reflect holiness and devotion to the LORD. We must strive to "lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us" in order to be unhindered in our walk with God.

While this is certainly one application, I think it is equally important to recall that unleavened bread is called the "bread of affliction" (i.e., lechem oni, literally, "bread of humiliation" or "bread of humility"). Does this mean that we are supposed to flagellate ourselves in repentance?  Are we to seek was to humiliate ourselves? No, partaking of this bread means humbly identifying with the suffering and afflictions that Yeshua performed on your behalf... As the prophet Isaiah wrote about the Messiah, our Suffering Servant:
 

אָכֵן חֳלָיֵנוּ הוּא נָשָׂא וּמַכְאבֵינוּ סְבָלָם
וַאֲנַחְנוּ חֲשַׁבְנֻהוּ נָגוּעַ מֻכֵּה אֱלהִים וּמְעֻנֶּה
וְהוּא מְחלָל מִפְּשָׁעֵנוּ מְדֻכָּא מֵעֲוֹנתֵינוּ
מוּסַר שְׁלוֹמֵנוּ עָלָיו וּבַחֲבֻרָתוֹ נִרְפָּא־לָנוּ

a·khen · cho·la·yei·nu · hu · na·sa;  u·makh·o·vei·nu · se·va·lam
va·a·nach·nu · cha·shav·nu·hu · na·gu·a;  mu·keh · E·lo·him · u·me·u·neh
ve·hu · me·chol·lal · mi·pe·sha·ei·nu; me·du·kah · me·a·vo·no·tei·nu
mu·sar · she·lo·mei·nu · a·lav; u·va·cha·vu·ra·to · nir·pa · la·nu

"Surely he has taken up our sicknesses and has carried our sorrowful pains;
yet we regarded him as stricken, beaten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our perversions;
upon him was the correction that brought our peace, and by his blows we are healed.



Isaiah 53:4-5
 

Notice that the word translated "blow" (i.e., חַבּוּרָה, "wound" or "stripe") comes from the same root as the word "friend" (חָבֵר), and therefore we can read this as "in His friendship we are healed." Yeshua gave up His life for us so that we could become his friends... As He later told us regarding his sacrifice: "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Indeed of Yeshua it may truly be said, Yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).

We do not become sanctified, in other words, by afflicting ourselves, but rather by sincerely trusting in the afflictions that our Friend Yeshua endured on our behalf.  Just as we are saved by God's grace through faith, so are we sanctified. Sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives just as miraculous as regeneration itself (1 Cor. 6:11). We do not earn merit before the LORD through performing "good deeds" (Titus 3:5-6), but rather by humbling ourselves and trusting in the Messiah for righteousness (John 6:28-29). Unleavened bread, then, signifies our identification with the Lord in his humility and afflictions, but it does not mean attempting to effect our own sanctity by means of self-styled affliction. We are sanctified by God's grace, not by outward shows of religion. Remember that all the "oughts" (i.e., commands) of the New Covenant are directed to the truth of who you are "in the Messiah," that is, by virtue of His connection to you, and not to your former life and identity as a slave in Egypt...

Note: The idea that we can merit our own righteousness before God -- that we are self-sufficient and do not need a Savior -- is something Yeshua regarded as a form of "spiritual leaven." It is only when the ego is deflated (i.e., "unleavened") that we are able to discern the truth of our inward condition. As Kierkegaard rightly observed, "And this is the simple truth - that to live is to feel oneself lost. He who accepts it has already begun to find himself, to be on firm ground. Instinctively, as do the shipwrecked, he will look around for something to which to cling, and that tragic, ruthless glance, absolutely sincere, because it is a question of his salvation, will cause him to bring order into the chaos of his life. These are the only genuine ideas; the ideas of the shipwrecked. All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce." The leaven of soul rises up and vaunts itself in order to push God away...

For more on this subject, see "Yeshua and the Feast of Unleavened Bread."
 




Personal Rosh Hashanah


 

04.12.12 (Nisan 20, 5772)  Your life, your very existence, is God's way of saying that He has invested His will and His energy into personally creating you. Your birthday, then, is a personal "Rosh Hashanah," when the cycle of the years of your life begins anew. It is therefore a good time to reflect on where you have been, where you are today, and where you hope to go in the days ahead.  It is a time for cheshbon ha-nefesh and reflection...
 

טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב
 וְיוֹם הַמָּוֶת מִיּוֹם הִוָּלְדוֹ

tov · shem · mi·she·men · tov
ve·yom · ha·ma·vet · mi·yom · hiv·val·dou

"A good name is better than precious ointment;
and the day of death than the day of birth" (Eccl. 7:1)

Hebrew Study Card
 


The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 38b) states that Adam was created on Rosh Hashanah. When he 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, "The LORD is King for ever and ever." The birthday of Adam is therefore the Coronation Day for the King of the Universe, and we likewise should recognize that God is our Creator and our King on our own personal Rosh Hashanah. Each of us was created to express the glory of God, and therefore on our birthdays we should open our spiritual eyes and offer praise and thanks to the LORD our Maker.
 




The Season of our Freedom


 

04.11.12 (Nisan 19, 5772)  Passover is called zeman cheruteinu (זְמָן חֵרוּתֵנוּ), the "Season of our Freedom." Some people might define freedom as "the ability to do what they want to do, when they want to do it," but that is decidedly not the Torah's idea of freedom. Yeshua told us "whoever commits sin is the slave (δουλος) of sin," and went on to say "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:34-36). True freedom is therefore moral and spiritual rather than physical; it is the ability to choose righteousness rather than being enslaved and pushed around by the lower nature....

In Hebrew, these two ideas of freedom are expressed using different words. The Hebrew word chofesh (חפֵשׁ) connotes freedom from external restraints (i.e., "doing your own thing"), while the word cherut (חרוּת) suggests the freedom to do what you should, or the having the power to act responsibly. Cherut, then, is the sort of freedom that God wants to give to us. Our deliverance is meant to clothe us with the power to walk in righteousness and truth.

When the Torah describes the Ten Commandments as charut al-luchot (חָרוּת עַל־הַלֻּחת), "graven on the tablets" (Exod. 32:16), the sages comment, "Do not read charut (חָרוּת), graven, but rather cherut (חֵרוּת), freedom." Those who think "freedom" means being able to satisfy their own lusts are in grave error; and only those who are empowered to live according to God's will are truly free. Indeed, Yeshua clearly states that all people are enslaved to sin, and therefore in need of His deliverance:
 

אָמֵן אָמֵן אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם
כָּל עוֹשֵׂה חֵטְא עֶבֶד הוּא לַחֵטְא
וְאֵין הָעֶבֶד שׁוֹכֵן בַּבַּיִת לְעוֹלָם
הַבֵּן שׁוֹכֵן לְעוֹלָם
לָכֵן אִם הַבֵּן מְשַׁחְרֵר אֶתְכֶם
בֶּאֱמֶת בְּנֵי חוֹרִין תִּהְיו

a·men · a·men · a·ni · o·mer · la·khem
kol · o·seh · chet · e·ved · hu · la·chet
ve·ein · ha·e·ved · sho·khen · ba·ba·yit · le·o·lam
ha·ben · sho·khen · le·o·lam
la·khen · im · ha·ben · me·shach·reir · et·khem
be·e·met · be·nei · cho·rin · ti·he·yu

"Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.
  The slave does not remain in the house forever; but the son remains forever.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." - John 8:34-36

ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι
πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν δοῦλός ἐστιν τῆς ἁμαρτίας.
ὁ δὲ δοῦλος οὐ μένει ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα,
ὁ υἱὸς μένει εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.
ἐὰν οὖν ὁ υἱὸς ὑμᾶς ἐλευθερώσῃ,
ὄντως ἐλεύθεροι ἔσεσθε.
 

Since Yeshua is the true heir of God who possesses the full authority over the household of God (Heb. 3:6; 1 Pet. 2:5), only Yeshua has the power to truly (ὄντως) set the soul free from the bondage to sin (Gal. 3:26). In other words, we are given opportunity to become the children of God on account of Yeshua, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with our Lord (Rom. 8:17).
 




Passover Seder Pictures


 

04.10.12 (Nisan 18, 5772)  Chag Pesach Sam'each (חג פסח שמח), Happy festival of Passover, chaverim. We held our annual Passover Seder over at my in-laws home last Friday evening and had a wonderful time. We started the seder before sundown and ended some time after midnight. Here are a few pictures from the event:
 

Passover 5772 - collage 1

[Left-to-right, top]:  1) the three matzot; 2) Judah and the lamb; 3) the seder table(s);
4) the seder plate; 5) Lighting the yom tov and Shabbat candles
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Friday night kiddush; 2) blessing under the talit; 3) Miriam's Cup;
4) Urchatz (hand washing); 5) dipping the karpas


 

Passover 5772 - collage 2

[Left-to-right, top]:  1) Yachatz -  Breaking the middle matzah; 2) Maggid: Telling the story;
3) Rachtzah: hand washing before matzah; 4) the table; 5) the table
[Left-to-right, bottom]: 1) Hallel after maggid; 2) eating maror; 3) the Hillel sandwich;
4) Olga and Judah; 5) Josiah found the lost Afikomen!
 

We all "see through a glass darkly," though the Holy Spirit reveals truth to us as we are able to bear it... Stay strong, chaverim; keep fighting the "good fight of faith." May it be soon that we shall be with our King!
 




Should We "Count the Omer"?


 

[ The following is related to the Torah's commandment to count exactly 49 days after the feast of Firstfruits until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost).  ]

04.09.12 (Nisan 17, 5772)  The word "omer" (עמֶר) generally refers to a measure of grain. The Torah commands that an omer of new grain (called chadash) must be "waved" before the altar on each of the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot (Lev. 23:15-21). This is called omer ha-tenufah (עמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה), or the "waving of the omer."  Prior to the offering of such "new grain," only produce from earlier harvests could be eaten (called yashan). This is the "firstfruits" connection. Only crops that have been first dedicated to God are kosher for use by God's people...

For Pharisaical (and Rabbinical) Judaism, the "Counting the Omer" (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר) begins on the second day of Passover (i.e., Nisan 16) and continues 49 days until Erev Shavuot (this implies that Shavuot always falls on Sivan 6 on the fixed Jewish calendar). For the Sadducees (and the later Karaites), the count begins following the weekly Sabbath after Passover and ends on Erev Shavuot (this implies that Shavuot always occurs on a Sunday, though the date is not set on the Jewish calendar).  In general, however, the period between Passover and Shavuot is simply called "the Omer," and the key ritual activity is sefirah ("counting"), since the primary obligation is the literal counting of days leading up to the festival of Shavuot. The sages interpret, "You shall count for yourselves" (סְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם) to mean that each person should count each day of the omer out loud (usually at the conclusion of the daily evening prayer service). The formulaic blessing is: "Blessed are You, LORD our God, Master of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to count the omer:  Tonight is the xx night of the Omer."


 

The period of the omer ends after counting seven weeks, or seven times seven days from Passover to Shavuot. The symmetry of the count (7 x 7) suggests perfection and completion. The "Jubilee" of Shavuot is a climax - first of the revelation given at Sinai, and later with the greater revelation given at Zion.  This is why the sages say that the end of the redemption process, which began at Passover, will be completed at Shavuot.  "For the Messiah is the goal (τέλος) of the law for righteousness for all who believe" (Rom. 10:4).

In the written Torah, Shavuot is not directly connected to the revelation of the Torah at Sinai, though later Jewish tradition made such a connection. After the destruction of the Temple, the sages essentially divested the agricultural aspects of the holiday and decided that Shavuot would commemorate mattan Torah (מַתָּן תּוֹרָה), the giving of the Torah.  Later still, the Kabbalists viewed the 49 days of counting as a sort of "mystical journey" back to Sinai, or rather a journey through the human soul. Each day of the count is thought to be associated with one of the "sefirot of God's emanations" and therefore affords an occasion to engage in moral and spiritual purification required before experiencing the dizzying heights of Sinai.  According to these mystics, just as Israel "ascended" from 49 levels of impurity before being made worthy of the revelation given at Sinai, so we too should make special efforts to grow during these 49 days of teshuvah. Each day of the sefirah is thought to correspond to a specific area for spiritual growth (i.e., one of the divine attributes that are "mirrored" in the soul can become "unplugged" from obstruction), and by meditation, repentance, and other means the soul may merit being able to "rechannel" the divine energy of the universe to behold miracles, etc.


 

In this connection we note that Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of the omer count, is regarded as a mystical holiday in Judaism, because on this date (i.e. Iyyar 18) the Kabbalah is claimed to have been revealed to Israel -- in a manner not unlike the revelation given at Sinai.  The mitzvah of the omer is likened to a "build up" to Kabbalat HaTorah - the receiving of the Torah, and each day is thought to represent an additional "level" for obtaining greater clarity of its inner meaning.  Hence many siddurim (prayerbooks) include the following concluding paragraph after describing the ritual for counting the omer for the day:

    "Master of the Universe, You commanded us through Moses Your servant to count the Omer in order to cleanse us from our encrustations of evil and from our contaminations, as You have written in Your Torah, so that the souls of Your people Israel be cleansed of their contamination.  Therefore, may it be Your will, God, our God and the God of our Forefathers, that in the merit of the Omer-Count that I have counted today, that there be corrected whatever blemish I have caused in the sefirah. May I be cleansed and sanctified with the holiness of Above, and through this may abundant bounty flow in all the worlds. And may it correct our lives, spirits, and souls from all sediment and blemish; may it cleanse us and sanctify us with Your exalted holiness. Amen."
     

Note the Kabbalistic cosmology expressed in this closing paragraph of the traditional omer count formula. The kellipot, or "encrustations," block the hidden divine light within us which causes an "imbalance" in the emanations (sefirot) of God's attributes. We can influence God's disposition toward the world through our actions of repentance.  Our responsibility is to "clean out the pipes" so that the divine light/energy can freely flow down to us. If we mirror the positive attributes of God, the divine light will be increased; on the other hand, if we indulge in laziness or indifference, the divine light will be decreased.  The Omer period, then, is a time of revelation, or a time to move from the concealment of God's hand to a time of disclosure.

Contrary to such claims of medieval Kabbalah, Yeshua never taught His disciples to remove "encrustations" from the soul. On the contrary, He taught that human beings were slaves to sin in need of radical deliverance and spiritual rebirth (John 8:24; 44; John 3:3-10). And though He preached teshuvah (repentance), Yeshua never suggested that people were "shattered vessels" that needed to be reabsorbed into a greater World Soul (i.e., pantheism).  Likewise, Yeshua never taught that God's hidden essence was revealed through ten sefirot (attributes), or that human nature was "parallel" to the sefirotic structure of the universe. And surely Yeshua would have objected to the claim that human beings have power to influence God or to "affect His disposition" by performing various religious rites or rituals (Mark 7:5-9). No, Yeshua was apocalyptic in his eschatology and never taught the idea of tikkun olam (repair of the world) through self-effort.  He plainly taught that He alone was the Savior of the world (מוֹשִׁיעַ הָעוֹלָם), and that salvation, spiritual life, and the ultimate healing of the world would come solely through Him...

Recently I read an article from a large Messianic ministry (that will go unnamed) that extolled the omer count and recommended its practice for Christians.  Unfortunately, the article assumed a Kabbalistic understanding of the omer and did not mention the hidden assumptions at work behind the idea of spiritual "elevation" or "works righteousness." Let me repeat here something I've written about elsewhere, and that's that Kabbalah is fundamentally opposed to the idea of salvation through Yeshua alone. Kabbalah claims that human nature is essentially a "part of god" and that "salvation" is to become like god through removing of the "kellipot."  This is obviously not the salvation message that Yeshua came to bring, nor does it elevate the sacrifice of Yeshua as the means for obtaining eternal kapparah (atonement) and healing with the Father.  Since Kabbalah teaches a false system of salvation, it needs to be exposed to Christians who are tempted to dabble in its doctrines.

How should followers of the Messiah "count the omer"?  After all, the Torah does indeed say that we are to count 49 days until the 50th day of "Pentecost."  Well, the point of the omer count was to foretell of the giving of the Holy Spirit (רוּחַ הַקּדֶשׁ) and to confirm the New Covenant of God. The redemption process that began at Passover was indeed completed at Shavuot, and that "completion" is the revelation of God's love and deliverance for the whole world. Though the Jewish sages did not fathom the use of the otherwise forbidden leaven in the offering (Lev. 2:11), prophetically the waving of shtei ha-lechem pictures the "one new man" (composed of both Jew and Gentile) before the altar of the LORD (Eph. 2:14). The countdown to Shavuot therefore goes beyond the revelation of Torah given at Sinai and points to the greater revelation of Zion.  Yeshua removes our tumah (טוּמְאָה) and makes us tahor (טָהוֹר) by His sacrifice as the true Passover Lamb upon the Cross; Shavuot is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit's advent to those who are trusting in Him. "Counting the Omer" is about being clothed with the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) to experience and know the resurrected LORD of Glory. You can "count" on that, chaverim!
 




Sefirot Ha-Omer:
Counting the Omer


 

[ The following is related to the Torah's commandment to count exactly 49 days after the feast of Firstfruits until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost).  ]

04.09.12 (Nisan 17, 5772)  The Torah commands that on the second day after Passover, on the day the first sheaf (omer) of barley is brought into the temple on Yom Bikkurim, forty nine days are to be counted until the climactic festival of Shavuot on the 50th day (Lev. 23:15-16). In Jewish tradition, these forty nine days – "seven weeks of days" – begin on the second day of Passover and run until the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost or "Weeks"). This period of time is called Sefirat HaOmer (סְפִירַת הָעוֹמֶר), or the "counting the sheaves." Every day during this season a blessing is recited naming exactly how many more days are left before the "seven weeks of days" are complete. Psalm 67 is often recited because it is composed of 49 Hebrew words which correspond to the 49 days of the Omer count.

In traditional Judaism, the Omer is counted from Nisan 16 through Sivan 5. On our Gregorian calendars, the count began last night and will run 49 days until the evening of May 25th (this implies that Shavuot will begin on May 26th, after sundown this year).

According to some of the Jewish mystics, the Omer count represents the way of teshuvah, one day for each of the 49 "levels of sin" that the Jewish people had degraded into while being slaves in Egypt. Just as there are 49 levels of spiritual impurity (i.e., tumah: טוּמְאָה), so there are said to be 49 levels spiritual of purity (i.e., tahora: טְהוֹרָה). In Judaism, then, the count is intended to prepare us for the subsequent revelation at Sinai. Normally a meditation is given for each of the 49 days to help you "purge" a sinful condition from your life in order to attain higher levels of purity (this process is sometimes called madregot ha-tahara, "the stairs of purity").


 

From a Messianic point of view, the climax of the 49 days was not the giving of the law at Sinai, but rather the revelation of the altar (Tabernacle) and its subsequent fulfillment in the sacrificial death of Yeshua as our Lamb of God.  Moreover, it was during this time that Yeshua made His post-resurrection appearances to His disciples - and indeed ascended to heaven during this 49 day period... Of particular importance is the holiday of Shavuot, day  7x7 of the count, when the Holy Spirit (Ruach ha-Kodesh) was given to the disciples in fulfillment of the promise of Yeshua that we would not be left comfortless... Shavuot, then, marks the time of "Jubilee" of the Spirit, when are clothed with power from on high to serve the LORD without fear...
 




He is Risen Indeed!


 

[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Firstfruits, which begins tonight at sundown... ]

04.08.12 (Nisan 16, 5772)  Happy Passover!  Although sincere people may differ on some of the details, it is likely that Yeshua was crucified on Nisan 14 in the afternoon (a Thursday) and rose from the dead three days later, on Nisan 17 (i.e., Saturday night). The disciples then encountered the risen Lord later that day in the morning (Matt. 28:1-10). Note that while the corresponding Gregorian dates for these dates vary from year to year, this year Nisan 17 begins Sunday April 9th at sundown. Other events that occurred on Nisan 17 include the following:
 

  1. Noah's Flood Ended: Gen. 8:4. Note that the seventh month was later designated as the first month at the time of the Exodus (Exod. 12:2). Our new creation in Messiah began on the anniversary of the rebirth of the world.
  2. Israel Crossed the Red Sea: Some sages believe that Israel crossed Yam Suf on this date. They reason that from the crossing of the sea to the arrival at Sinai was 47 days (Ex. 19). Three days later would mark the 50th day as the original occasion of Shavuot and the commemoration of the giving of the Torah.
  3. The Wave Sheaf offering was made at the Mishkan (and later, at the Temple). This was the first fruit of the Spring barley harvest. For more information, see Reshit Katzir.
  4. Haman was hanged. According to various Jewish authorities, the villain Haman was hanged on the gallows he had specifically prepared for Mordechai the Jew on this date.
  5. Yeshua was resurrected on Nisan 17. In 1 Cor. 15:20-23 Paul clearly links the firstfruit offering with the resurrection of Yeshua our Mashiach.  Yeshua's resurrection was like a "wave offering" presented before the Father as the "firstfruits" of the harvest to come! Moreover, Yeshua presented His firstfruits offering to the Father on this day (Matt. 27:52-53). Yeshua is the first-begotten of the Father (Heb. 1:6); the Firstborn of Creation (Col. 1:15-16); the first-begotten of the dead (Rev. 1:5) and is the Firstfruits of those who are to be resurrected (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Baruch HaShem. And just as He is our Firstfruits, so "He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created" (James 1:18). For more information, see Reshit Katzir.


Our LORD Yeshua -- the Killer of death; the Slayer of the Serpent; the Victory of God's love for us!  יְהִי שֵׁם יְהוָה מְברָךְ - "Blessed be the Name of the Lord."
 

וְעַתָּה הַמָּשִׁיחַ קָם מִן־הַמֵּתִים
רֵאשִׁית הַבִּכּוּרִים מִן־יְשֵׁנֵי הַמָּוֶת

ve·at·tah · ham·ma·shi·ach · kam · min · ha·ma·tim,
re·shit · habik·ku·rim · min · ye·she·nai · ha·ma·vet

But now Messiah has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have died (1 Cor. 15:20).

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Postscript: Though the Gregorian calendar varies every year, originally Yeshua's suffering on the Cross would have been Thursday afternoon -- certainly not on "Good Friday." Moreover, His resurrection would have occurred on the following Saturday night -- not on Sunday morning when the tomb was already found empty.... Nonetheless, the most important thing -- the matter of "first importance" -- is that Messiah 1) died for our sins; 2) was buried; and 3) was raised the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Good people sometimes argue over the details but risk missing the greater point. Yeshua completely atoned for our sins and His resurrection validated that God the Father accepted His sacrifice. It was God the Father who raised Yeshua in victory (Gal. 1:1, Rom. 10:9), and those who trust in Him are justified by faith.  Yeshua "was delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25).   As Yeshua the Messiah said, "Because I am alive, you also will live" / שֶׁכֵּן אֲנִי חַי וְגַם אַתֶּם תִּחְיו / ὅτι ἐγὼ ζῶ καὶ ὑμεῖς ζήσετε (John 14:19).
 

שֶׁכֵּן אֲנִי חַי וְגַם אַתֶּם תִּחְיוּ

she·ken · a·ni · chai · ve·gam · at·tem · ti·che·yu
 

"Because I am alive, you also will live"


 




Techiyat Ha-Mashiach:
Why the Resurrection Matters


 

[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Firstfruits, which begins tonight at sundown... ]

04.08.12 (Nisan 16, 5772)  The Scriptures make clear that Yeshua is the true Passover Lamb of God (שֵׂה הָאֱלהִים) whose sacrificial death and shed blood causes the wrath of God to "pass over" (pasach) those who are trusting in Him (John 1:29, 3:36; Acts 8:32-36; 1 Cor. 5:7-8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20, etc.). Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! (Rev. 5:12). But while the sacrifice of Yeshua gives us atonement (כַּפָּרָה) with God, the resurrection of the Messiah (i.e., techiyat ha-Mashiach: תְּחִיַּת הַמָּשִׁיחַ) justifies His work of salvation on behalf of the sinner and forever vindicates the righteousness of God.

The resurrection of Yeshua is not an "academic" or speculative question to be considered in purely rational terms, but rather is a matter of eternal life or death. How we choose to respond to its message determines our destiny. Everything turns on whether we awaken to the risen reality and Presence of Yeshua in our lives. Without Him we are hopeless; with Him we are more than conquerors (1 Cor. 15:14; Rom. 8:37).

For more on the tremendously important subject of why the resurrection of Yeshua matters, please see this article.
 

בָּרוּךְ הוּא הָאֱלהִים אֲשֶׁר נָתַן־לָנוּ תְּשׁוּעָה נִצַּחַת בְּיַד
יֵשׁוּעַ הַמָּשִׁיחַ אֲדנֵינוּ

ba·rukh · hu ·ha·e·lo·him · a·sher · na·tan · la·nu · te·shu·ah · ni·tza·chat · be·yad
Ye·shu·a · ha·ma·shi·ach · a·do·nei·nu

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through
our Lord Yeshua the Messiah! (1 Cor. 15:57)


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הִנֵּה הוּא בָא עַד־מְהֵרָה / hinei hu va ad-maherah: "Behold, He comes quickly."
  




Happy Passover!


 

[ The great holiday of Passover begins this evening, chaverim... We will light candles for the seder about 18 minutes before sundown. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! ]

04.06.12 (Nisan 14, 5772)  The Torah states that during the days of Passover, sometimes called the Festival of Unleavened Bread, no chametz (i.e., leavened food) may be eaten for a full seven days - from the 15th of Nisan through the 22nd of Nisan (Exod. 12:15-18; 34:18). Every trace of leavening must be purged from our homes, and no leavened products of any kind may be consumed during this time (Exod. 12:15). So we've spent the last few days cleaning up around the house, vacuuming underneath sofa cushions, cleaning behind the stove, and otherwise purging the house of whatever leaven we can find... As a final gesture, last night we had a little "bedikat chametz" ceremony, when we lit a candle and swept up some remaining crumbs of the forbidden stuff.
 

Our bedikat chametz ceremony
 

The sages teach: be'khol dor vador - in each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt. As we partake of the Seder, we must embrace it as our own -- as if we were personally there (in Egypt, at the foot of the Cross) and understand that this mighty redemption was accomplished for my sake, as well as for yours... We recall the words, bishvili nivra ha'olam -- "For my sake was this world created," while we also recall the words, anokhi afar ve'efer -- "I am but dust and ashes."

The meaning of Passover is of course rooted in the greatest love story ever told - about God, creation, the estrangement of Adam and Eve, the call of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah who would sanctify us as His own people, deliver us from the plague of death, and redeem us from the penalty of sin. Yeshua's mesirat nefesh ("giving over of soul" in sacrifice) and his triumph at the cross made the new covenant with God possible. As our Suffering Servant, He gave up His life for ours in exchange, redeeming us from the sickness unto death and making the way for our everlasting healing.
  

רָאוּי הַשֶּׂה הַטָּבוּחַ לְקַבֵּל גְבוּרָה
עשֶׁר וְחָכְמָה וְכּחַ וִיקַר וְכָבוֹד וּבְרָכָה

ra'uy  ha·seh  ha·ta·vu·ach  le·ka·bel  ge·vu·rah,
o·sher  ve·chokh·mah,  ve·ko·ach  vi·kar,  ve·kha·vod  uv·ra·kha

"Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing" (Rev. 5:12)



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The Name YHVH (יהוה) means "He is Present." By faith we can experience the Messiah through the broken maztah and the poured out wine. It is the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh, that reveals the Divine Presence to our hearts, just as it is the Ruach HaKodesh who comforts us with the truth of God's everlasting love for us...

Whether or not you are able to attend a Passover Seder this year, please understand that there is a place for you at His table. After all, Yeshua made a place for you within His heart when he died for you on the cross, and that's what Passover is really all about anyway.  Shalom chaverim.
 




Crossing Over...


 

[ The following concerns the holiday of Passover, which begins tomorrow at sundown... ]

04.05.12 (Nisan 13, 5772)   During a traditional Passover seder, we customarily drink four cups of wine, based on the four promises of redemption given Exodus 6:6-7: "I will bring you out; I will deliver you; I will redeem you; and I will take you to be my people" (i.e., vehotzeiti, vehitzalti, vega'alti, velakakhti). This custom dates back to the time of the Second Temple period (Mishnah: Pesachim 10). The early sages justified the custom of the four cups by appealing to the Torah's general commandment to establish a "service" to commemorate the Exodus, which eventually took the form of the Passover "seder" (Exod. 12:25-27).

During Yeshua's last Passover seder with his disciples, he took a cup of wine and identified it with his sacrificial death for our sins: "And he took the cup, and after he had recited the blessing, he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:27-28). We know this was the third cup of the seder because Yeshua said these words after the meal: "And likewise he took the cup after they had eaten, and said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood" (Luke 22:20, see also 1 Cor. 11:25). In the traditional seder, the third cup was raised after the meal to commemorate God's promise of redemption (i.e., vega'alti: "I will redeem you"). The Mishnah says the wine in this cup recalls the shed blood of the korban Pesach that was applied to the doorposts in Egypt, causing the plague of death to pass over. Similarly, Yeshua associated this cup with the blood he would shed on the cross, causing death to "pass over" those who would put their trust in him. Yeshua called this the cup of the new covenant (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה), that is, God's new agreement (ketubah) to regard all those who trust in the sacrificial death of the Messiah for the forgiveness of their sins to be justified and forever made right with Him. Because of God's redemption given through the precious blood of the Messiah, we are "justified" by faith - it is "just-if-I'd" never sinned and "just-if-I'd" always obeyed. This is the good news of the redemption we have in Yeshua, the miracle of the "exchanged life" (2 Cor. 5:21).

The inner meaning of Passover has to do with our sanctification, our deliverance, and our redemption given through Yeshua our Savior, the true Lamb of God (1 Cor. 1:30). However, we remain in a state of "already-not-yet" expectation regarding the complete fulfillment of the New Covenant, since this covenant was given to ethnic Israel regarding their national deliverance and the establishment of the kingdom of Zion within the earth (Jer. 31:31-37). It is only after Yeshua returns as Israel's rightful King that "all Israel shall be saved" and the New Covenant will be fulfilled. At that time, we will partake of the Cup of Restoration with Yeshua in His kingdom (Matt. 26:29), and then we shall all exclaim, "Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!" (Psalm 147:12).
 

אָמֵן אָמֵן אֲנִי אוֹמֵר לָכֶם
 הַשּׁוֹמֵעַ אֶת דְּבָרַי וּמַאֲמִין לְשׁוֹלְחִי
 יֶשׁ לוֹ חַיֵּי עוֹלָם וְאֵינוֹ בָּא בְּמִשְׁפָּט
 כִּי אִם עָבַר מִמָּוֶת לְחַיִּים

a·men · a·men · a·ni · o·mer · la·khem
ha·sho·me·a · et · de·va·rai · u·ma·a·min · le·shol·chi
yesh · lo · cha·yei · o·lam, · ve·ei·no · ba · be·mish·pat
ki · im · a·var · mi·ma·vet · le·cha·yim

"Truly, truly, I say to you,
whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me
has eternal life, and he will not be condemned,
but has crossed over from death to life."
(John 5:24)



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The theme of Passover is our freedom - and that includes freedom from the old sins that seek to define and enslave us... Because of Yeshua, you are no longer who you once were... you have crossed over from death to life! You are briah chadashah - a new creation in the Messiah! May this be a season in your life of real miracles -- namely, a deeper connection with our LORD and with one another.  Peasach Same'ach!
 




Enabled to love...


 

04.04.12 (Nisan 12, 5772)   The Torah's "great commandment" is clearly ve'ahavta lere'akha kamokha (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ) - "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-40; Gal. 5:14), since loving others is the only means of demonstrating our love for God in this age (1 John 4:20). Indeed, genuinely loving others is the goal or "end" of all true Torah, and the practice of love (expressed in acts of lovingkindness) is therefore the final test of whether we truly understands its intent. And therein lies the problem, or the "heart of the problem," since by nature we do not know how to love...

Notice that the gematria for the commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (i.e., וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹך) equals 820, the same value as the word yekidashti (וְקִדַּשְׁתִּי), "And I [the LORD] will sanctify" (Exod. 29:44). When God commands us to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Lev. 19:18), he graciously includes the addendum: "I am the LORD," which the sages understood to mean, "I will help you to do this," that is, I will enable you to love, and therefore "I will sanctify you through your acts of lovingkindness." Though by nature we are unable to love, God imparts to us the grace to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. Praise God for enabling us to truly love... 
 




Be not Afraid...


 

04.03.12 (Nisan 11, 5772)  Nachman of Breslov once said that "The whole earth is a very narrow bridge (kol ha'olam kulo), and the important thing is never to be afraid." Yeshua is the Bridge to the Father, the narrow way of passage that leads to life. He calls out to us in the storm of this world, "Take heart. It is I; be not afraid" (Matt. 14:27). When Peter lost courage and began to sink, but Yeshua immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt (lit., think twice)?"

Yeshua is "the Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking from the midst of the fire" who understands the need of His people. He is the Good Shepherd: "I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry... I know their sufferings" (Exod. 3:7; Heb. 4:15). A midrash says that the Ten Plagues were needed – not to convince Pharaoh that the LORD was God – but rather to convince the children of Israel of God's love! After all, without faith in that, Israel would never have ventured to leave Egypt. The same could be said of the greater judgment to come upon this world.  The ultimate purpose of yissurei ahavah (יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה) "the troubles of love," is to turn us away from the source of what keeps us in bondage.  A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are made fortunate..." The worse possible fate is for God to be indifferent to someone... can anything be more tragic than to be forgotten or to go unnoticed by God?  It is far better that He afflict you with yissurim shel ahavah - the "troubles of love." As we hear the "footsteps of the Messiah" approaching nearer, let us heed the words of our Messiah and Savior: "when you see these things taking place, you know that the time is near, right at the door" (Mark 13:29), and let us then appeal to others to "wake up!" "come alive!" Awake thou that sleepest - arouse from a state of slumber and arise from the dead (Eph. 5:14). The message to the sinner is always, "Wake up - you are living a nightmare..." There is only one remedy.

"All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b), and since that is so, we can have confidence that all things work together for good.  God repeatedly tells us not to be afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy the power of death, "and to release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (Heb. 2:14-15). The resurrection of the Messiah is the focal point of history - not the "dust of death." Death does not have the final word. Indeed, because Yeshua is alive, we also shall live (John 14:19). Because of Yeshua's victory, we can now live without fear: al-tirah, "Be not afraid, it is I."
 

יְהוָה אוֹרִי וְיִשְׁעִי מִמִּי אִירָא
יְהוָה מָעוֹז־חַיַּי מִמִּי אֶפְחָד׃

Adonai · o·ri · ve·yish·i, · mi·mi · i·ra
Adonai · ma·oz · chai·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)

Shiviti

Download Study Card
 

"Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the voice of His Servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God" (Isa. 50:10).
 




Torah of Passover

Passover Timeline
 

[ The following concerns the holiday of Passover, which begins this Friday April 6th at sundown. ]

04.03.12 (Nisan 11, 5772)  All of the Biblical holidays begin with the holiday of Passover. On the first of Nisan, two weeks before the Exodus, God showed Moses the new moon and commenced the divine calendar. Two weeks later, the Israelites kept the Passover by daubing the blood of the lamb on their doorposts. At the stroke of midnight of Nisan 15 God sent the last of the ten plagues on the Egyptians, killing all their firstborn. On the 6th of Sivan, exactly seven weeks after the Exodus (49 days), Moses first ascended Sinai to receive the Torah (Shavuot). Forty days later, on the 17th of Tammuz, the tablets were broken. Moses then interceded for Israel for another forty days until he was called back up to Sinai on Elul 1 and received the revelation of the Name (hwhy). After this, he was given the second tablets and returned to the camp on Tishri 10, which later was called Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Moedim
 

The Exodus is perhaps the most fundamental event of Jewish history. In addition to being commemorated every year during Passover (Exod. 12:24-27; Num. 9:2-3; Deut. 16:1), it is explicitly mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:2), and it is recalled every Sabbath (Deut. 5:12-15). The festivals of Shavuot and Sukkot likewise derive from it (the former recalling the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the latter recalling God's care as the Exodus generation journeyed from Egypt to the Promised Land).  Indeed, nearly every commandment of the Torah (including the laws of the Tabernacle and the sacrificial system) may be traced back to the story of the Exodus. Most importantly, the Exodus prefigures and exemplifies the work of redemption given through the sacrificial life of Yeshua the Messiah, the true King of the Jews and the Lamb of God.

Akedat Yeshua
 

The very first occurrence of the word "Torah" (תּוֹרָה) in the Scriptures refers to the obedient faith of Abraham (Gen. 26:5), and the second occurrence refers to the law of Passover: "There shall be one law (תּוֹרָה) for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you" (Exod. 12:49). There is a link between these two occurrences.  Abraham lived before the time of the Exodus, of course, and therefore he obeyed the law of Passover by means of the Akedah (the sacrifice of his "only begotten" son Isaac). Despite offering his son up upon the altar at Moriah, Abraham believed in the LORD and it was credited to him as tzedakah (righteousness). Abraham's obedience revealed that the inner meaning of Torah is that the "righteous shall live by faith" (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17). The Torah of Passover (תּוֹרַת פֶּסַח) likewise teaches that redemption from death is possible through the exchange of an innocent sacrificial victim. The blood of the Passover was "a sign" of imputed righteousness that was obtained entirely by faith. This is the "korban" principle of "life-for-life" that underlies the Torah of the sacrificial system of the Tabernacle as well. Ultimately all true Torah points to Yeshua, who is the divinely appointed Redeemer and the beginning and goal of all of creation... "When the fullness of time (τὸ πλήρωμα τοῦ χρόνου) had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the Torah, to redeem those who were under the Torah, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5).
 




New Passover Haggadah!


 

[ This coming Shabbat begins Passover, with candle lighting for the seder beginning 18 minutes before sundown. Let's keep the feast, chaverim (1 Cor. 5:7-8). ]

04.02.12
(Nisan 10, 5772)   I have entirely rewritten the Hebrew for Christians Passover Haggadah for this year, making it more participatory and interactive. For instance, the "maggid" section now includes interactive readings so that everyone at the table can join in the story of the great Exodus from Egypt.  The Hagaddah is called "Worthy is the Lamb" because I wanted to ensure that Yeshua is given the preeminence throughout its pages as Seh Ha'Elohim, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world...

You can download the new Passover Haggadah here:

Our tradition states, "In each and every generation an individual should look upon him or herself as if he or she (personally) had left Egypt." It is my hope and prayer that this new haggadah will help you celebrate your deliverance, chaverim. Shalom.
 




Passover: Who knows 15?


 

[ The following entry is related to the holiday of Passover, which begins Monday, April 18th at sundown this year. ]

04.02.12 (Nisan 10, 5772)   Many of us are familiar with the connection between Passover and the number four. There are four "special Sabbaths" that precede the festival, and the holiday itself has four names: Chag Ha-Pesach (the holiday of the Passover [Num. 9:2]); Chag HaMatzot (the holiday of Unleavened Bread [Exod. 12:17-20]); Chag Ha-Aviv (the holiday of spring [Deut. 16:1]), and Z'man Cheiruteinu (the Season of our Freedom). During the seder, we partake of arba kosot ("four cups"), ask arba kushiyot ("four questions"), discuss arba Banim ("four sons"), and so on. However, it has been noted by various sages that the number fifteen is also connected to this holiday. There are 15 Steps to the traditional Passover Seder, which is held exactly 15 days into the first month of the Jewish year (i.e., Nisan). The famous "Song of the Sea" (i.e., Shirat Hayam: שִׁירַת הַיָּם) - which thanks God for the Exodus from Egypt - is found in the 15th chapter of the Book of Exodus, which was crafted by the scribes so that its center column has exactly 15 "steps" of text:


 

The Divine Name YAH (יה) - which first occurs in the Scriptures in the "Song of the Sea" (Exod. 15:2) - equals 15 in Hebrew gematria, and during the seder meal there are 15 things for which we sing Dayenu (i.e., דַּיֵּנוּ: "it would have been enough").  Furthermore, there were 15 steps on the south side of the Temple Mount, leading up to the Temple, and 15 psalms (120-134) that sung by the Levites as "Songs of the Steps." There are also 15 words uttered in the Priestly Blessing (Birkat Kohanim).... 15 is also the number of completion (7) combined with the number of grace (8), indicating the plan of God's redemption for the ages.
 




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