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Hebrew4Christians Site Updates

August 2012 Updates

 

Fall Holiday Schedule
 

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

Preparations for the High Holidays begin a month in advance. This year, the 40-day season of teshuvah (return or repentance) runs from Aug. 17th (Elul 1) until the end of Yom Kippur (Sept. 25th). Just five days after Yom Kippur is the joyous week-long festival of Sukkot ("Tabernacles"), which is immediately followed by the celebration of Simchat Torah.  Here is a simple diagram to help you visualize this season of the Jewish calendar:

Elul and Teshuvah
 

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

  1. The Month of Elul

    When?  Aug. 17th - Sept. 15th


    Elul

    According to Jewish tradition the month of Elul represents the time that Moses spent on Sinai getting the second set of tablets after the idolatrous incident of the Golden Calf. Moses ascended on Rosh Chodesh Elul and descended 40 days later on the 10th of Tishri (the end of Yom Kippur). During the month of Elul we sound the shofar every day in anticipation for the Ten High Holy Days. For more information, see this page.
     
  2. Rosh Hashanah

    When?  Sunday, Sept. 16th

    Rosh Hashanah (ראש השנה) begins Sunday, September 16th this year (the seventh "new moon" of the Jewish Year) and ends on Tuesday, September 18th. According to traditional Jewish thinking, this holiday commemorates the creation of mankind by God. The Mishnah (earlier part of the Talmud) refers to Rosh Hashanah as the "Day of Judgment" (Yom ha-Din) since all of creation owes allegiance to the Creator and is accountable to Him. The Name Elohim (אֱלהִים) revealed in Genesis 1:1 bespeaks God as the Creator and Judge of the universe. On Rosh Hashanah we stand before God as our personal Creator and Judge. Many Messianic Jews believe that the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a symbol of the rapture (ἁρπάζω) of the followers of the Messiah. You can download a free Rosh Hashanah Seder Guide here.

    Rosh Hashanah

    Note: The minor Fast of Gedaliah traditionally is observed on Tishri 3, unless that happens to be a Sabbath (in which case it postponed). This year the sunrise to sunset fast occurs on Wednesday, September 19th.
      
     
  3. Yom Kippur

    When?  Tuesday, Sept. 25th


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

    Yom Kippur

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

    When?  Sun. Sept. 30th - Oct. 8th

    Just five days after Yom Kippur marks the start of the seven-day festival of Sukkot (referred to as "Tabernacles" in the Christian tradition). It can be argued that Sukkot is the climax of all the festivals in Scripture....  Everything leads to it as a culmination in God's prophetic plan.  Though it is a seven-day festival, Sukkot concludes with an additional holiday called "Shemini Atzeret," on Sunday, October 7th.

    Sukkot

    Note: Immediately following Sukkot (i.e., after the Shemini Atzeret evening service) we observe Simchat Torah ("Joy of Torah"). On Simchat Torah we conclude, and begin anew, the Torah-reading cycle for the year. To symbolize this, first we read the last portion of Deuteronomy followed by the first chapter of Book of Genesis. This year Simchat Torah occurs on Monday, October 8th.
     

    Simchat Torah
     


 

August 2012 Site Updates
 



Teshuvah and Listening...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance"... ]

08.31.12  (Elul 13, 5772)  Shema - In order to hear rightly, false assumptions about spirituality must be shattered. For example, the assumption that you cannot "hear" rightly until you attain some sort of spiritual perfection... No, the Voice of the LORD always speaks words of life to the sin-sick, the weary, the desolate of heart. Therefore God's voice is heard in resounding grace, inviting you to draw near, even now, in your imperfect state...
 

דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה בְּהִמָּצְאוֹ קְרָאֻהוּ בִּהְיוֹתוֹ קָרוֹב

dir·shu · Adonai · be·him·ma·tzo, · ke·ra·u·hu · bih·yo·to · ka·rov

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



Hebrew Study Card
 


God is extending to you an personal invitation to seek Him and call upon His Name. This is not a demand to stand before Him in judgment, since the invitation is explicitly directed to the sinner: "Let the wicked man (i.e., rasha: רָשָׁע) forsake his way, and the perverted man (i.e., ish avon: אִישׁ אָוֶן) his thoughts; and let him return (i.e., shuv: שׁוּב) to the LORD, that He may have compassion (i.e., rachamim: רַחֲמִים) on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly forgive (i.e., selichah: סְלִיחָה)."  God calls you today to receive His compassion, His love, and His forgiveness.

So "seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon Him while he is near."  Yet where can God be found? asks the Kotzker rebbe, except wherever one lets Him in. The Sacred Name of the LORD (יהוה) means "God is Present" and He shall always be Present... The LORD "stands at the door" and knocks for you to open the door (Rev. 3:20). What holds us back is our shame, but it is precisely this great wound that can only be healed by God's love.
 




Teshuvah and Brokenness


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance"... ]

08.31.12  (Elul 13, 5772)  The season of teshuvah reminds us that we all fail, that we all are broken people, and that errors and mistakes are part of our daily spiritual life... We journey toward humility rather than struggle for perfection; we confess our need for forgiveness and seek reconciliation with all those we might have harmed... During this season it is common enough to hear messages about our need to turn and draw near to God for life, but it is equally important to remember that God turns and draws near to the brokenhearted for consolation. As it is said, the Lord is near to the nishbar lev (נִשְׁבָּר לֵב), the one with a broken and crushed heart (Psalm 51:17).

Brokenness is the means through which God performs some of His deepest work within our hearts. A.W. Tozer once said, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply." Likewise Alan Redpath once wrote, "When God wants to do an impossible task, he takes an impossible individual – and crushes him." William James called this deep work of the spiritual life Zerrissenheit, a term that roughly can be translated as "torn-to-pieces-hood," or a state of being utterly broken and in disarray... The brokenhearted live in day-to-day dependence upon God for the miracle...
 




Accounting of Soul...


 

08.30.12  (Elul 12, 5772)  In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah it is customary to perform cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ), that is, "an accounting of the soul." As I mentioned the other day, to the degree that our motives and desires are hidden from us, we become strangers to ourselves. The way to find healing and integration, then, is to first of all to come to the light - to ask God to help us be honest and transparent before Him: "Search me, O God, and know my heart..." (Psalm 139:23).

How many of us define who we are by comparing ourselves to others? The world and popular culture appeal to such vanity, trying to seduce you to regard others as threats to your sense of self-worth. How much of what we do each day is focused on seeking the admiration and approval of others? How do you feel when you are flattered or publicly admired? The inner is not the outer, and vice-versa. If you crave being esteemed for some goodness you have, perhaps you are more of a Pharisee than you suspect...

Even if no one else notices what we do, we notice... (and of course, God sees, too).
 




Teshuvah of the Heart...

Marc Chagall - Bride
 

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

08.29.12  (Elul 10, 5772)  The month of Elul (אֱלוּל) is sometimes called "the month of love and compassion" (based on the acronym formed from אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי / "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine," Song 6:3). This poignant verse alludes to the mystery that God is our Heavenly Groom and we are His betrothed. God is the great Lover of our souls, and the greatest mitzvah of all is to keep faith in His covenant promise of love (Rom. 8:24). Our Beloved is Coming! Yeshua will soon be here, chaverim. Don't miss the Bridegroom's call! Return to the passion of your first love (Rev. 2:4).

 

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


 

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

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

Note: For more on this subject, please see "Teshuvah of the Heart."

  Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)
 




Teshuvah and the Ark...


 

[ The following is related to the coming High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur... ]

08.28.12  (Elul 9, 5772)  The Ark of the Covenant (אֲרוֹן־הַקּדֶשׁ) was the innermost place of the Tabernacle, a "three-in-one" box that contained God's Holy Word. As such, the ark served as a symbol of kisei ha-kavod (כִּסֵּא הַכָּבוֹד), the Throne of Glory. It stood entirely apart as the only furnishing placed in the Holy of Holies (קדֶשׁ הַקֳּדָשִׁים). Upon the cover of the Ark (i.e., the kapporet) were fashioned two cherubim (i.e., angel-like figures) that faced one another (Exod. 25:17-18). According to the Talmud (Succah 5b), each cherub had the face of a child - one boy and one girl - and their wings spread heavenward as their eyes gazed upon the cover (Exod. 25:20). This was the sacred place where the blood of atonement was sprinkled on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. God's voice would be heard only in the midst of innocence, humility, purity, and hope...

The image of two innocent children's faces peering before the Throne of God gives fresh meaning to the statement that unless you "turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 18:1-3). The most important things of life are only known through love, and so-called knowledge apart from love is actually nothing (1 Cor. 13:2). Knowledge "puffs up" (φυσιόω), that is, it swells and feeds the ego and its posture before others, whereas love "builds up" (οἰκοδομέω), that is, it is other-focused and seeks to create a sense of habitation and a place of safety. "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know; but if anyone loves God, he is known by Him" (1 Cor. 8:2-3). May God help us shine his love as His dear children...

Love is the reason we turn to God; it is the basis for teshuvah: "We love Him because He first loved us." We answer God's love by turning to Him.... that is the very first step. We must first receive hope into our hearts and that starts us on our way...
 




Why then the Law?


 

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

08.28.12  (Elul 9, 5772)  Some Jewish scholars have attempted to count and catalog the various mitzvot (commandments) listed in the Torah. For example, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides (i.e., "Rambam") listed a total of 613 commandments in his book Sefer Ha-mitzvot ("Book of Commandments") and divided them into two general groups:

  1. Mitzvot Aseh (מִצְוֹת עֲשֵׂה). These refer to the 248 "positive" commandments (i.e., imperatives of the form: "Thou shalt do [something].")
  2. Mitzvot Lo Ta'aseh (מִצְוֹת לא תַעֲשֵׂה). These refer to the 365 "negative" commandments (i.e., imperatives of the form: "Thou shalt not do [something].")
     

The sages colorfully explain that the positive commandments equal the number of bones of the body (most of which are in the hands and feet), whereas the negative commandments correspond to the number of days in the solar year.  This explanation was meant to teach that we should obey God with every bone and organ of our bodies, every day of the year. In Jewish tradition, the entire set of 613 commandments is sometimes called taryag mitzvot (the word "taryag" functions as a numerical acronym for "613").

At any rate, this week's Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, is notable because it contains the most commandments of all the other weekly Torah readings: 74 according to the count of Maimonides (over 12% of the 613 commandments). These various commandments cover a wide assortment of rules related to ethical warfare, family life, burial of the deceased, property laws, fair labor practices, proper economic transactions, and so on.  Even rules about a mother bird and her young are included (Deut. 22:6-7). Your Heavenly Father knows when the sparrow falls (Matt. 10:29).

As I reviewed the list of various laws in this week's Torah portion, the old questions regarding "law" and "grace" began to resurface.  After all, we are assured that the LORD did not "waste His breath" when he revealed the lawcode to ancient Israel, but how are we to understand our relationship to the law in light of the finished work of the Messiah? What about the Apostle Paul's statement that the law is good only if is used "lawfully," that is, in the negative sense of restraining evil:

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless, the question remains as to why God revealed the laws at Sinai and how we are to understand their application to our lives today. In light of the salvation we have in Yeshua, what is our relationship to the law? What is the goal or "end" of the law that the Apostle Paul discussed in his letters? To continue exploring this subject, please click read the article, "Why, then, the Law?
 




Parashat Ki Teitzei - כי־תצא


 

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

08.27.12  (Elul 9, 5772)  In last week's Torah reading (Shoftim), Moses defined an extensive system of justice for the Israelites and pointed to the coming Messiah who would be the rightful King of Israel. In this week's portion, Moses returns to the immediate concern of the conquest of the Promised Land by providing a number of specific laws and instructions to be enforced regarding civil life in Israel.

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

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

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

Note: For more on this subject, see "Yeshua and the Curse of the Law."
 




Shabbat "Table Talk" for Shoftim


 

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

08.24.12  (Elul 6, 5772)  Our Torah portion this week continues Moses' farewell address to Israel just before they entered the land of Canaan. It begins with the commandment that the people of Israel should appoint righteous judges (i.e., shoftim: שׁפְטִים) and officers (i.e., shoterim: שׁוֹטְרִים) so that justice would be enforced throughout the promised land.

To make it a little easier to discuss some topics, I created a Shabbat "Table Talk" guide for this portion of Scripture. The guide includes a brief summary of the Torah reading, a set of questions (with answers), and some additional topics for discussion. Hopefully this material will prompt some interesting (and enjoyable) discussion for your Sabbath, chaverim. You can download the PDF file from the linked page (above) or by directly clicking here.

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




Repentance and Life...


 

[ The following is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance"... ]

08.24.12  (Elul 6, 5772)  We are saved by God's love and kindness, and that's both the means and the end of our teshuvah (i.e., repentance). "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail" (John 6:63). The salvation of God is not simply freedom from the penalty of sin but freedom from its power. Often, however, we are slow to realize this, and God allows us to revisit the various "waste places" of our own lusts until we have become sick of ourselves -- sick "to the bones." We have to be willing "to give up our sickness." Usually that means that we must experience repeated failures until we have "learned from the heart" that the LORD alone is our Healer and Deliverer (2 Cor. 7:10). Ironically it is only after we have abandoned teshuvah in our strength that we are enabled to truly turn...

Find courage, friends. For those of you who struggle with pride, anger, lust, hardness of heart, and so on, teshuvah is genuinely possible. As it is said, God can turn "stone to flesh" and make you come to life by means of His glorious power:
 

וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב חָדָשׁ
 וְרוּחַ חֲדָשָׁה אֶתֵּן בְּקִרְבְּכֶם
 וַהֲסִרתִי אֶת־לֵב הָאֶבֶן מִבְּשַׂרְכֶם
 וְנָתַתִּי לָכֶם לֵב בָּשָׂר

ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · cha·dash
ve·ru·ach · cha·da·shah · e·ten · be·kir·be·khem
va·cha·si·ro·ti · et · lev · ha·e·ven · mi·be·sar·khem
ve·na·ta·ti · la·khem · lev · ba·sar

"And 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 (לֵב בָּשָׂר)."
(Ezek. 36:26)

Shiviti

 

The heart (lev) is the inner person, the seat of the emotions, thought, and will.  A new heart (lev chadash) represents the transformation of the whole of your inner nature - with the impartation of new appetites, new passions, new desires, etc.  (Psalm 51:10). A new spirit (ruach chadashah) implies the renewal of your inner life – the rebirth of your will. This is the "law of the Spirit" (תוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים) and the new principle of eternal life (Rom. 8:2).

The gift of faith is a miracle of grace that transforms us so that we become a "new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). Spiritual rebirth means having a new heart with a new set of affections imparted to you: "I am crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but Messiah who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20).

May it please God to give us all soft hearts and renewed spirits that are empowered to love in the truth and to walk before His Presence... May He perform a divine "heart transplant" so that we may feel the heartbeat of the Spirit within us. Amen.
 




Wholehearted with God...


 

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

08.24.12  (Elul 6, 5772)  In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah it is customary to perform cheshbon hanefesh (חֶשְׁבּוֹן הַנֶּפֶשׁ), that is, "an accounting of the soul." To the degree that our motives and desires are hidden from us, we become strangers to ourselves. The way to find healing and integration, then, is to first of all to come to the light - to ask God to help us be honest and transparent before Him. Indeed our Torah portion this week (Shoftim) addresses this very issue: "You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God:
 

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ

ta·mim  ti·he·yeh  im  Adonai  E·lo·he·kha

"You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God"
(Deut. 18:13)
 


 

In the Sefer Torah (i.e., the handwritten Torah scroll), the first letter of the word tamim ("wholehearted") is written extra LARGE in order to emphasize the importance of the word. Notice also the little word "with" (עִם) that follows in this verse. This hearkens to Micah 6:8: "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice (mishpat), and to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly (hatznea lechet) with your God?" Having a humble heart walks with the LORD. Humility begins with the awareness that 1) there is a God and 2) you are not Him.... It is the practice of "knowing before whom you stand" and living your life in light of this fundamental truth.

Unnoticed inner desires, urges, and so on, do their secret work in the hidden parts of the soul - free to affect us because they operate under the surface. Left unchecked, these passions will lead us to be "double-minded," half-hearted, and eventual unstable in our affections and decisions (James 1:8). When we bring our secrets to the light, however, they lose their power over us. For example, we can be honest with ourselves by acknowledging our hidden pride, our secret desire to be "different" (i.e., better) or "more spiritual" than others, and so on. Likewise we can confess our yearning for the approval of others -- our lust to be respected, admired or even worshiped. We bring all such "secret stuff" to the light and ask God for deliverance....

A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field" (Isa. 40:6). "All flesh is grass" (כָּל־הַבָּשָׂר חָצִיר) - we are here today but gone tomorrow. We have only so many chances to turn to the LORD and make up our minds that we will serve Him.  Our Torah portion this week intimates, "man is a tree of the field," i.e., הָאָדָם עֵץ הַשָּׂדֶה, Deut. 20:19). The righteous man is described as a "tree planted by the rivers of water that brings forth fruit in his season" (Psalm 1:3). If you stand in front of a tree to watch it grow, however, you will see nothing. But if you care for the tree, nurture it over time, and provide for its needs, eventually you will see its fruit appear. God gives us each a season to repent, but if that proves fruitless in our spiritual lives, eventually we will be "cut down" (Luke 13:6-9):

    "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it but found none. So he said to the vinedresser, 'Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, but I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?' But the vinedresser answered him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.'"
     

As Yeshua also admonished: "Remember (zachar) how you have fallen; repent (metanao) and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place unless you repent" (Rev. 2:5). If you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - Yeshua will "spit you out of His mouth" (Rev 3:16). These are sober words that remind us that time is short for us all. Our lives are not our own; we were redeemed at a great cost to God Himself (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Note: For more on this important topic, see "Teshuvah and Double-Mindedness."
 




Hebrew and Creation...


 

08.23.12  (Elul 5, 5772)  In Hebrew, the word for "word" is davar (דָּבַר), which also means "thing," suggesting a correspondence between divine speech (i.e., lashon hakodesh) and reality itself. By the power of the word, God "spoke" the universe into existence. Indeed the very first word of Scripture, bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית), often translated as "in the beginning," may be read as "by means of the first thing," where the "first thing" is the Hebrew alphabet itself. "Bereshit bara Elohim et..." therefore can be read, "by means of the Aleph-Tav (את) God created the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 1:1), implying that Aleph-Tav (i.e., the alphabet) precedes all created realms. However, we know that Yeshua is Word of God and the Aleph-Tav, the first and last (Rev. 22:13; Isa. 48:12), and therefore the verse can be read, "by means of Yeshua God created the heavens and the earth," which of course agrees with John 1:1-3 and Col. 1:16-17, "For by Him [Yeshua] all things were created..."
 

בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת
הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ

be·re·shit  ba·ra  E·lo·him  et
ha·sha·ma·yim  ve·et  ha·a·retz

"In the beginning God created
the heavens and the earth."
(Gen. 1:1)



Hebrew Study Card
  

The final portion of the Book of Exodus (i.e., Pekudei) provides details about the construction of the Tabernacle (מִשְׁכָּן) and its furnishings as well as the special clothing of the priests. At the end of the portion we read, וַיְכַל משֶׁה אֶת־הַמְּלָאכָה / "Moses finished all the work" (Exod. 40:33), a phrase that has the same gematria (numeric value) as bereshit (בְּרֵאשִׁית, the first word of the Torah (Gen. 1:1). This suggests that the very creation of the universe was for the sake of building the Tabernacle, which spiritually understood means for the sake of the sacrificial love of God to be demonstrated to all of creation. The Talmud states, "All the world was created for the Messiah" (Sanhedrin 98b) and indeed, Yeshua is called "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" in the New Testament (Rev. 13:8; 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9). "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). Creation therefore begins and ends with the redemptive love of God as manifested in the Person of Yeshua our Messiah, the great Lamb of God our Redeemer... He is the Center of Creation - the Aleph and Tav - the Beginning and the End (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:17).

Note: Some of the Jewish mystics connect the first Aleph-Tav (את) in Gen. 1:1 with the following letter Hey (ה) in ha-shamayim to form the word atah (אַתָּה), the Hebrew word for "you." This would then form, bereshit bara Elohim atah, which could be interpreted as, "In the beginning God created you." And since the letter Hey represents the Holy Spirit in Jewish tradition, each time we say the word "atah" we connect all the Hebrew letters to the Spirit.
 




No Ordinary People...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.23.12  (Elul 5, 5772)  Does Torah teach the immortality of the personal soul? The early sage Resh Lakish taught that though the days of the righteous die, they themselves do not die: "It does not say (1 Kings 2:1), 'And David drew near to die,' but 'the days of David drew near to die' (וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי־דָוִד לָמוּת); likewise of Moses it was not said (Deut. 31:14), 'the time draws near for you to die,' but 'your days have drawn near to die' (קרְבוּ יָמֶיךָ לָמוּת); and likewise of our father Jacob it was said (Gen. 47:29), 'the days of Israel drew near to die' (וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל לָמוּת), though not Jacob himself." This teaches us that though "our days" may die, our souls never die. As Yeshua told those who doubted the reality of resurrection, where the Scripture says, "I Am of the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," it thereby implies that the LORD is not God of the dead, but of the living (Matt. 22:32). Indeed the sacred Name YHVH (יהוה) means that "God is Present" (the Name comes from wordplay on the verb hayah [הָיָה], "to be")... As it says, "He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep" (Psalm 121:4).

As C.S. Lewis said, "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors" (The Weight of Glory).

There are no "little people" in God's eyes, since each soul has been created by Him for His glory and purposes... Nothing is trivial. In the world to come you will be shocked to understand that everything you thought, everything you said, and everything you did was given to you from above, and therefore has tremendous significance (Matt. 12:36-37). Indeed, your entire life is on loan from heaven itself...
 




Themes of the Month of Elul


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.22.12  (Elul 4, 5772)  During the month of Elul (אֱלוּל) it is customary is to blow the shofar (שׁוֹפָר), or "ram's horn," every day (except on Shabbat) to remind us of the need to "wake up" from our slumbers and turn back to the LORD. As it is written, "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you" (James 4:8). The Sefer Hachinuch says that since man is made of dust of the earth, he is by nature slow and inert: "He has to be goaded into action. In war, the troops roused by martial music and the sounding of trumpets to fight the enemy. On Rosh Hashanah the shofar is the ideal instrument to spur a person to do teshuvah. The broken sound of teruah suggests a person's brokenhearted remorse. It reminds us to break our lusts and overcome our temptations."

On the holy calendar, the days of Elul are regarded as an opportune time to seek God's favor, since it was during this month that the LORD forgave the sin of the Golden Calf and revealed the attributes of the Name YHVH (יהוה) to Moses. The sages have said that the name "Elul" serves as an acronym for the famous words in the Song of Songs, ani l'dodi v'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי) -- "I belong to my beloved and my beloved belongs to me" (Song 6:3). The awareness of God's love sets the context for our understanding of teshuvah: sin ultimately means a breach in relationship, an obstacle to the free expression of love, and the "voice of the shofar" is meant to call us near our beloved One to say: ani le'dodi, "I belong to my beloved...."

In addition to hearing the shofar, during the month of Elul it is customary to recite Psalm 27 daily, since this psalm is considered thematic for the Season of Teshuvah:
 

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

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The midrash on the Psalms states that the word ori (אוֹרִי), "my light," refers to Rosh Hashanah (based on Psalm 37:6) whereas the word yishi (יִשְׁעִי), "my salvation," refers to the atonement given on Yom Kippur. King David also mentions that God would hide him in his sukkah (בְּסֻכּה) in the time of trouble, referring to the holiday of Sukkot (Psalm 27:5). Since all three of these holidays are alluded to in this Psalm, Psalm 27 is regarded as the key Psalm for the Fall Holidays of the Jewish year. Ironically, Yeshua is our Light and our Salvation, the One who says, "It is I; be not afraid" (John 8:12; Mark 14:27; etc.).

The shofar is mentioned in connection with both Rosh Hashanah (Lev. 23:24, Num. 29:1) and Yom Kippur: "Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month, on Yom Kippur, you are to sound a blast on the shofar; you are to sound the shofar all through your land" (Lev. 25:9). In Jewish tradition, since the shofar is sounded throughout the month of Elul, blowing the shofar on the first of Tishri (i.e., Rosh Hashanah) is called "the last trump," while the shofar blast on Yom Kippur is called the "great trump," since at that time judgment was sealed....

  Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)
 




Personal Rosh Hashanah...


 

08.22.12  (Elul 4, 5772)  In Jewish thinking, Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of Adam and Eve, and therefore it may be regarded as their "birthday" of sorts. However, on the very day that Adam and Eve were created, they disobeyed God and were sent into exile, and therefore Rosh Hashanah commemorates Judgment Day as well. On the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah represents both the start of the new year, when the cycle of days begins anew, as well as the Day of Judgment, when the deeds of the previous year are accounted for and reviewed...  Similarly, the day of your birth is your own "Rosh Hashanah," when the cycle of the years of your life begins anew, just as the day of your death represents your personal judgment day... 

    "Self-awareness is a supreme gift, a treasure as precious as life. This is what makes us human. But it comes with a costly price: the wound of mortality. Our existence isforever shadowed by the knowledge that we will grow, blossom, and inevitably, diminish and die." (Yalom: Staring at the Sun)
     

In light of this, the sages said, shuv yom echad lifnei mitatakh - "Repent one day before you die" (Avot 2:10). One day you will die, of course, and today could be that day. So what if you were allotted just one more day to live on this earth? How would you choose to live that day? What would you do to prepare yourself? Ask yourself: Is this the way I want to go meet my Maker? Am I ready to die and come before God's Presence? 

Are you prepared for the bridegroom's arrival, anticipating the late hour, or are you at risk of being caught off guard and even excluded from the celebration (Matt. 25:1-13)? It is so easy to get distracted by the world, to forget why we really exist, and how little time we have to turn to God before it's too late. As Yeshua our LORD admonished: "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour..."  May the LORD help us all to be ready. Amen.
 




Teshuvah and Creation...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.22.12  (Elul 4, 5772)  Is life worth living? For two and a half years the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel differed on the question. Hillel argued that it was better that humans had been created, whereas Shammai argued the other way. Finally a vote was called for and the decision was rendered: It would have been better for humans not to have been created than to have been created. However, since we do in fact exist, we must search our ways, practice teshuvah by turning from our sins, and choose to live in accordance with the Creator's will for our lives (Eruvin 13b). Meanwhile we must exercise trust that whatever afflictions come will be for our good, as it is said, "he humbled and tested you to do you good in the end" (Deut. 8:16).

Of course, we agree with the School of Hillel regarding the question of whether life is worth living. For example the Westminster Catechism states, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever" (an end, it may be said, that is also man's chief good). We have a life-affirming faith, and indeed Yeshua came to give us "abundant life" (John 10:10), though we must soberly acknowledge that this world is often a vale of tears and a place of testing.

Indeed, suffering and affliction in olam hazeh - this present age - is meant to build the soul to apprehend a greater good. By the grace of God, we descend in order to ascend. As it is said, "For our light momentary affliction (θλῖψις: oppression, "squeezing" (as of grapes), "tsuris") prepares us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Cor. 4:17). This world is not our home, and we are afflicted with hardship while we sojourn in our exile. Our hearts "groan" (or "sigh," στενάζομεν) to be in heaven with the LORD, though our present state of suffering should be regarded as a temporary and "light" burden that will be fully comforted in the promised world to come....

The searching debate between Hillel and Shammai is not trivial, nor should it be dismissed out of hand. After all, King Solomon was described as the wisest man on earth and yet he said, הֲבֵל הֲבָלִים הַכּל הָבֶל / havel havelim, hakol havelim ("Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," Eccl. 1:2). But we know that vanity has an end, friends, and this end affects the entire universe. The future holds hope that salvation will be literally cosmic in its sweep: "For the creation was subjected to vanity (לַהֶבֶל) not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:20-21). May that day come soon!
 




The Importance of Truth...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.21.12  (Elul 3, 5772)  "Many people love falsehood and only a few love truth. For it is possible to love falsehood truly, but it is impossible to love truth falsely" (R' Yaakov of Pshischa). May the LORD God of truth (יהוה אֵל אֱמֶת) help us to love truth truly, then, with all our hearts, since love and truth characterize God's rule: As it is written, "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and truth go before you" (Psalm 89:14).
 

אֱמֶת מֵאֶרֶץ תִּצְמָח
 וְצֶדֶק מִשָּׁמַיִם נִשְׁקָף

e·met · me·e·retz · titz·mach
ve·tze·dek · mi·sha·ma·yim · nish·kaf

"Truth springs up from the ground,
 and righteousness looks down from the heavens"
(Psalm 85:11)

Shiviti

 

Truth springs up everywhere; righteousness shines down over all the earth. This primarily concerns the sacrificial work of the Messiah, of which it is rightly said: "Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other" (Psalm 85:10). Because of the great reconciliation we have through Yeshua, the truth of God shall prevail among men. The "Seed" that was planted in Zion and becomes a Tree of Life throughout all the earth. "Deliverance goes before the LORD, and prepares a pathway for Him" (Psalm 85:13).

We have a moral imperative, given by God Himself, to receive the truth and to live according to the nature of spiritual reality. Those who reject or suppress the truth, however, are responsible for their actions, as it is written, "No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes" (Psalm 101:7).
 

יהוה מִי־יָגוּר בְּאָהֳלֶךָ מִי־יִשְׁכּן בְּהַר קָדְשֶׁךָ
הוֹלֵךְ תָּמִים וּפעֵל צֶדֶק וְדבֵר אֱמֶת בִּלְבָבוֹ

Adonai · mi · ya·gur · be·a·ho·le·kha · mi · yish·kon · be·har · kod·she·kha
ho·lekh · ta·mim · u·fo·el · tze·dek · ve·do·ver · e·met · bil·va·vo

"O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth within his heart."

(Psalm 15:1-2)



 

Note that the word tamim, translated "blamelessly," might better be rendered "perfectly," that is, complete in all its parts; where no part is missing. The person who walks perfectly, then, means one who is wholehearted in their faith and trust.... Note that this person does what is right – that is, practices tzedakah and performs good deeds; he uses the "good eye" to bless others. Speaking truth "within the heart" is critical since it implies that the person is sincere, honest, without ulterior motives, and so on... He is a "true" person with a heart that can be trusted. The phrase also implies the person is free from self-deception or the need to pretend to be something he isn't.

The Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת) is composed of the first, middle, and last letters of the alphabet, whereas the three letters that spell "falsehood" (i.e., sheker: שׁקר) stand next to one another. Truth creates a firm foundation, secure, strong, and trustworthy, while falsehood is unstable... As it is written, "truth stands forever, falsehood has no legs."

We are commanded to keep distant from falsehood (Exod. 23:7; Prov. 4:24). People often lie when they want to manipulate reality to serve their desires. In that sense the lie is similar to lust, since lust seeks its own inner satisfaction regardless of the moral duty of the moment... Lying is also like stealing, since it reports reality to be something it isn't, and that difference robs another person of what is needed to navigate their lives properly... "A worthless person, a wicked man, goes about with crooked speech" (Prov. 6:12). Truth is the foundation of reality, and lying is therefore a form of denial of reality – a dangerous denial - since reality invariably proves self-authenticating (John 3:18). "The lip of truth will stand forever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment" (Prov. 12:19).

It requires moral courage to speak the truth to others... A hypocrite is one who wears a mask, who pretends to think or feel one thing when he really thinks or feels something else. The law, "you must not set a stumblingblock before the blind" (Lev. 19:14) includes the implication that you must not hide part of your intention while giving someone advice or when offering someone a benefit. It is important to understand that a sin of omission regarding speaking the truth is as serious as practicing deceit itself. (On the other hand, every bride and newborn is beautiful, regardless of conventional perceptions, and there are times when we might be constrained to lie for the sake of preserving life; for example, responding "no" to the question, "are there any Jews hiding in your house?" when indeed a Jewish family was knowingly concealed in the attic during the time of WWII. In that sense we note the connection between the word "truth" and "trustworthiness").

The lie is a type of violence. Martin Buber once said, "What is accomplished through lies can assume the mask of truth; what is accomplished through violence can go in the guise of justice, and for a while the hoax may be successful. But soon people realize that lies are lies at bottom, that violence is violence - and that both lies and violence will suffer the destiny history has in store for all that is false."

"There are many ways to offend against the truth. One way is to deny it: the way of the liar. Another way is to keep silent when the truth should be spoken: the way of the coward. At the other end is the cruel use of the truth - pointing out failure when silence is the way of honor, or by distorting 'little truths' for the sake of a supposed capital "T" truth, that is, lying for the sake of an ideology or dogma: the way of the politician" (John Cogley).

Being honest with ourselves is absolutely essential for any sort of authentic spiritual life... "No person is saved except by grace; but there is one sin that makes grace impossible, and that is dishonesty; and there is one thing God must forever and unconditionally require, and that is honesty" (Kierkegaard). Confession means "saying the same thing" about ourselves that God says - and that means not only acknowledging our various sins, transgressions, and iniquities, but also affirming our new identity as the beloved children of God. Saying that God doesn't love you is a lie as damning as denying His very existence...

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




Returning Back Home...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.20.12  (Elul 2, 5772)  A king's son was at a far distance from his father. Said his friends to him, "Return to your father." He said, "I can't: the way is too far. His father sent to him and said, "Go as far as you are able, and I will come the rest of the way to you. Thus says the Holy One, blessed be He: "Return to Me, and I will return to you" (Mal. 3:7). 
 

שׁוּבוּ אֵלַי וְאָשׁוּבָה אֲלֵיכֶם
 אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת

shu·vu · e·lai · ve·a·shuv·ah · a·lei·khem
a·mar · Adonai · tze·va·ot

"Return to me, and I will return to you,
says the LORD of hosts"
(Malachi 3:7)

Shiviti

 

The sages taught that it was never too late to turn to God. The prophet Jeremiah spoke in the Name of the LORD: "Return, faithless Israel, declares the LORD. I will not look on you in anger, for I am kind (כִּי־חָסִיד אֲנִי), declares the LORD" (Jer. 3:12). When the people drew back in shame, however, God encouraged them by saying "My children, if you return, will you not be returning to your Father? Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness. "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."
 

שׁוּבוּ בָּנִים שׁוֹבָבִים אֶרְפָּה מְשׁוּבתֵיכֶם
הִנְנוּ אָתָנוּ לָךְ כִּי אַתָּה יְהוָה אֱלהֵינוּ

shu·vu · ba·nim · sho·va·vim · er·pah · me·shu·vo·te·khem
hi·ne·nu · a·ta·nu · lakh · ki · a·tah · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha

"Return, O faithless sons; I will heal your faithlessness."
 "Behold, we come to you, for you are the LORD our God."
(Jer. 3:22)



 

Notice the wordplay on the Hebrew verb shuv (i.e., "turn") here. God calls out to the "turned-away" sons (i.e., banim shovavim) to turn (shuvu) back to Him, so that He can heal them of their turning-away (meshuvah). "If you would ask, then ask; and come back yet again" (Isa. 21:12). The evidence of sincere teshuvah (i.e., "repentance") is found in turning back to God by accepting that He is your Heavenly Father who truly loves you... God's love is always the question; our teshuvah is always the answer...

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

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

Note: For more on this topic, please see Teshuvah of the Heart.
 




Seek God and Live...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.20.12  (Elul 2, 5772)  The sages affirm, "This world is like a corridor before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the corridor, that you may enter into the hall" (Avot 4:21), which implies that the great commandment is always "seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4). "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near" (Isa. 55:6). "Where can God be found?" asks the Kotzker rebbe, "but where one lets Him in..." God sometimes "hides" from us so that we are given the opportunity to seek Him with all our hearts.
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

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

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



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Wisdom was asked, "The sinner, what of his punishment?" She said to those who asked: "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:20). The Torah was likewise asked, and the reply came "Let him bring a guilt offering for atonement" (Lev. 1:4). The Holy One, blessed be He, was asked, and He said to those who asked, "Let him repent and he will be atoned for, as it is said, "Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He directs sinners in the way" (Psalm 25:8). Therefore the Spirit of God cries out: "My children, what do I beseech of you," says God, but dirshuni vicheyu (דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ) - seek Me and live!
 

טוֹב־וְיָשָׁר יְהוָה
 עַל־כֵּן יוֹרֶה חַטָּאִים בַּדָּרֶךְ

tov · ve·ya·shar · Adonai
al · ken · yo·reh · cha·ta·im · ba·da·rekh

"Good and upright is the LORD;
 therefore he directs sinners in the way"
(
Psalm 25:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 


God's Spirit is always calling for us to return to Him, to "seek God and live..."  What is holding your heart back? In Hebrew teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) means an "answer" to a to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question. It is a response to the call of God... The One who ransomed us from death and offers us life in abundance is standing at the door knocking, waiting for us to respond to call (Rev. 3:20). During this season of teshuvah, may we all hear the Voice of Him who invites the brokenhearted to join him. "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
 




Religion vs. Spirituality...


 

[ The following entry is related to the month of Elul and the "Season of Repentance" leading up to the High Holidays... ]

08.20.12  (Elul 2, 5772)  It has been wisely said that "religion is for people afraid of going to hell; spirituality is for those who have been there...." Religion seeks defense of the ego and delights in the idea of personal reward; spirituality seeks death of the ego and delights in the idea of shared love... Studying the Scriptures for the sake of "religion" is ultimately self-defeating, since the answer is not religion but spiritual rebirth: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).

Most people "sleepwalk" through life, overlooking the wonder of the present moment, refusing to seek God, medicating the gnawing sense of inner emptiness. It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death... Above all, then, "repentance" means waking up to return to reality...

‎"It is enough to open your heart the smallest amount - even the width of a pin head - to repent, so that you feel a prick within your heart, like a piercing sting in living tissue, not like a needle thrust into dead flesh" (Menachem Mendel of Kotzk).
 




Parashat Shoftim - שופטים


 

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

08.19.12  (Elul 1, 5772)  Our Torah reading this week (Shoftim) begins with the commandment that the people of Israel should appoint judges (i.e., shoftim: שׁפְטִים) and officers (i.e., shoterim: שׁוֹטְרִים) so that justice would be enforced throughout the promised land. The call for justice is famously stated as, "tzedek, tzedek tirdof" (צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדּף): "Justice, Justice you shall pursue" (Deut. 16:20). The word tzedek means "righteousness" and involves the duty to adhere to moral truth. The act of charity (called tzedakah) is therefore regarded an obligation rather than as gemilut chasadim (i.e., an act of benevolence).  The prophet Isaiah wrote (Isa. 32:17): "The work of righteousness (tzedakah) shall be peace" (וְהָיָה מַעֲשֵׂה הַצְּדָקָה שָׁלוֹם), and added that "the service of righteousness (וַעֲבדַת הַצְּדָקָה) shall be quietness and security forever."

Regarding making judgments about others we should try to always extend the benefit of the doubt (i.e., kaf zechut). The Talmud states that when we judge mercifully and in accord with the truth, the Divine Presence joins us, but if we act corruptly, we "push" the Presence away and create a sense of exile.  Yeshua told us to "whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matt. 7:12). In other words, as we judge others, so we are judged ourselves. We must be careful to avoid rationalizations... Looking at others from a selfish perspective is therefore a form of "bribery" that blinds us to the truth about righteousness (see Deut. 16:19).

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof also means that justice must be pursued in a just manner. The methods used to obtain justice must themselves be just. The Scriptures therefore do not advocate pragmatism or utilitarian thinking. There are no "noble lies" in the Kingdom of Heaven. Violence (verbal or physical) or deception done in the name of God is always a bad idea. We must execute great restraint and caution when we confront oppression in the world. If you want to change the world around you, begin with yourself....

 

Our reading adds, "You must be wholehearted with the LORD your God" (תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ) (Deut. 18:13). Notice the little word "with" in this verse (עִם). This verse hearkens to Micah 6:8: "What does the LORD require of you but to do justice (mishpat), and to love kindness (chesed), and to walk humbly (hatznea lechet) with your God?" Having a humble heart walks with the LORD. The word translated "humbly" comes from the same root that gives us the word tzeniut (צְנִיעוּת), meaning modesty or humility.  Humility begins with the awareness that 1) there is a God and 2) you are not Him.... It is the practice of "knowing before whom you stand" and living your life in light of this basic truth.

A.W. Tozer wrote: "The humble man will attain a place of soul rest. As he walks on in humility he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace which humility brings." May it please the LORD to give us all hearts of genuine humility.
 




Rosh Chodesh Elul


 

[ The following entry is meant to help us get ready for the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah, which begins this coming Shabbat... Chodesh Tov! ]

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  This Shabbat marks Rosh Chodesh Elul (the "new moon" of the Hebrew month of Elul), which, according to Jewish tradition, was the time when Moses reascended Mount Sinai (the third time) to receive the second set of Tablets from the LORD. Since the tablets were not inscribed until 40 days later (on the 10th of Tishri, the date of Yom Kippur), the 29 days of Elul are considered a time of selichot (prayers for forgiveness) in anticipation of the Ten High Holy Days (Tishri 1-10).  For more, see this page.

Beginning on the second day of Rosh Chodesh Elul (and continuing until Erev Rosh Hashanah) the custom is to blow the shofar every day (except on Shabbat). Psalm 27 is often recited every day during this time as well...


 

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). Yeshua our Messiah is "the Voice of the Living God (קוֹל אֱלהִים חַיִּים) speaking from the midst of the fire" who understands our need: "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).

"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

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The Narrow Door...


 

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). The narrow door is the way of humility, assuming a low position, crawling, if you will, and making yourself small... The large, wide-open door is designed for the crowd and its idols. Beware of the world that seeks to assimilate the soul: beware of becoming part of the crowd! The individual is lost and overwhelmed in the midst of the crowd and its momentum. The crowd assimilates the soul, laughs at the notion of individual responsibility, and abandons itself to the gravity of purely natural forces... The life of faith, on the other hand, refuses to regard the individual human heart as a triviality, a joke. Faith is an individual struggle, a walk into unknowing; it is the way of the sojourner who feels uneasy in this world of shadows... God is always with us and helps us stay strong and resolute, even as we struggle through the darkness of this age. Press on, chaverim! Do not lose sight of your high calling in Yeshua. Shabbat Shalom!
 




HaMakom - the Place of God


 

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

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  From our Torah portion this week we read, "But you shall seek the place that the LORD your God will choose ... there you shall go" (Deut. 12:5). The sages note that the gematria for this verse (5150) is the same as "You shall therefore lay up these words of Mine in your heart and in your soul..." (Deut. 11:18), which therefore shows that the Divine Presence, Hamakom (הַמָּקוֹם), the Holy Temple, was always meant to be manifested within your heart... As Yeshua said, "the kingdom of heaven is within you."
 




Teshuvah and Distance....


 

[ The following entry is meant to help us get ready for the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah, which begin this coming Shabbat... ]

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  The sages say that if you ignore God for one day, two days are lost (Berachot 14). How so? If two people each walk for one day in opposite directions, they are now two days apart, and the gap widens.. We close the gap by teshuvah - returning to the LORD - and as soon as we do, the distance of separation is miraculously nullified, since the LORD God, who is above all constraints of time and space, will "run toward us" like the father of the prodigal son..

"Why is the Name of the Holy Blessed One called ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), 'I Am who I Am' (Exod. 3:14)? When one is remorseful and says, "I will return to the LORD and forsake my sin," the Blessed Holy One responds at that instant, saying 'I Am with you and will immerse you in my Presence' (Yitzchak of Peshischa). Indeed, God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help (Psalm 46:1).
 




Give, you shall give...


 

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

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  Regarding giving to the needy the Torah is emphatic, "Give, you shall give to him" (נָתוֹן תִּתֵּן לוֹ), "and your heart shall not be grudging when you give, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake" (Deut. 15:10). Indeed great is the power of giving charity (tzedakah), for by means of it we can behold the Divine Presence and are given vision, as it says: "I will behold Your face in tzedakah; I will be satisfied awaking to your likeness" (Psalm 17:15). 

אֲנִי בְּצֶדֶק אֶחֱזֶה פָנֶיךָ
אֶשְׂבְּעָה בְהָקִיץ תְּמוּנָתֶך

a·ni · be·tze·dek · e·che·zeh · fa·ne·kha
es·be·ah · ve·chak·itz · te·mu·na·te·kha

"I will behold Your face in righteousness;
 I will be satisfied awakening to your likeness."
(Psalm 17:15)

The cross, not the scales

 

Note that the Hebrew word "behold" in this verse is chazah (חָזָה), which means to "envision" (the word chazon (חָזוֹן) means a prophetic "vision"). We envision the Lord's face as we give tzedakah, especially when we understand that loving the one in need is to exercise the divine attributes of rachum v'chanun, being merciful and gracious. Practicing compassion evokes compassion from Heaven for your own life, as it is said, "whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17). It assuredly is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

Giving is a test of faith, to be sure, and it is always counterintuitive to the carnal ways of the selfish lower nature. God sees in secret and will reward you openly. "If anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?" (1 John 3:17). We give because it is the heart of God to give, and giving to others is a way we give to the Lord... This is not legalism, but rather an opportunity for us. In the world to come we will only have what we gave away to others in love.

What gifts would you bring to offer to the Master of the Universe, Possessor of Heaven and Earth? A midrash reads: "If you would show love for Me, attend to my words: I have children and I cherish them deeply. If you would show your love for Me, then go forth and serve my children." As Yeshua, the true King said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" (Matt. 25:40).

Note that when we give freely, cheerfully, without begrudging, etc., we are given this promise: "the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake" (Deut 15:10). Indeed all that you put your hand to do shall prosper (Psalm 1:3).
 




Charity and Wickedness...


 

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

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  We are commanded to show kindness to the poor. Regarding the verse, "You shall tithe" (Deut. 14:22), Kol Dodi notes that while some people regard giving tzedakah as a "nice" thing to do, it is actually a sacred duty before the LORD, and indeed the word "tithe" (עשׂר), when reversed, spells "wicked person" (רשׁע).

The sages say that one who does not give charity is like an idol worshiper. He thinks to himself, "I gained this wealth by my own efforts - why should I give it away?" He does not believe that God gave him the riches and so it is as if he served idols and deserted God.
 




All we need of Heaven...


 

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  Heaven is the Presence of God, being with Yeshua our LORD, and that is all we will ever need... If you love God and God loves you, what need do you have of the world to come, of rewards, accolades, recognition, and so on? The love of God is all you need, and whatever else heaven might mean is surely found in that. If we do not live today - now - are we really living? As it is said, "For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand, today - if we hear his voice" (Psalm 95:7).
 




A Matter of Life and Death...


 

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

08.17.12  (Av 29, 5772)  Our Torah portion this Shabbat begins, "See! I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse" (Deut. 11:26). The blessing comes when we focus on God and allow His Spirit to guide us; and the curse comes when we go after other gods that we "have not known." These alien passions distract us and separate us from the true Divine Presence, and this leads to the "works of the flesh" (i.e., addictions, cravings, uncontrollable passions, etc.). When we walk in the Spirit we experience the blessing and are made free of the law of sin and death (Gal. 5:16-24).
  

    But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Yeshua the Messiah have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:16-24)
     




The "Now Covenant" with God....


 

08.16.12  (Av 28, 5772)  Many of us live with one eye on the past, another on the future, and therefore we miss seeing the present. Where it is said, "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past" (Psalm 90:4), the New Testament adds "for the Lord one day is as a thousand years" (2 Pet. 3:8), which means that a single day - today - is as a "thousand years" before the eyes of the LORD. We can live no more than one day at a time. May the LORD open our eyes to His Presence now.

Saying "I will do it tomorrow" is self-deceptive. The Chofetz Chaim wrote: "If you have decided to do God's will, begin your good deeds today, not tomorrow..." Today is the day of salvation; today is the day you've been given. Walk in the light!
 




The Yearning of God's Heart


 

08.16.12  (Av 28, 5772)  Man prays to God, but to whom does God pray? For what does He pray? Or do you think that the Almighty has no desires of His own, no yearning of heart? The sages of the Talmud believed that God indeed addresses himself: Yehi ratzon milfanai, "May it be acceptable before me, may it be my will, that my compassion overcome my anger, and that it may prevail over my justice when my children appeal to me, so that I may deal with them in mercy and in love" (Berachot 6a). This is the deeper unity of the Name YHVH (יהוה), the Savior and LORD, revealed to Moses after the sin of the Golden Calf (Exod. 34:6-7), and this is the essential meaning of the cross of Yeshua, where the LORD passionately "prayed within Himself" so that His compassion would overcome His fearful judgment for our sins.
 

חֶסֶד־וֶאֱמֶת נִפְגָּשׁוּ צֶדֶק וְשָׁלוֹם נָשָׁקוּ

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

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

The cross, not the scales

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Only the cross allows God's justice and mercy to kiss (Psalm 85:10; 89:14); only the cross reveals the true Holy of Holies where the blood was placed over the Ark of the Law; only the cross intimates the Inner Sanctum of God's heart.  Because of the cross, a holy God is able to truly love and help the trusting sinner (Rom. 3:26). It is written: "Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you" (Psalm 89:14). Because of Yeshua, God is vindicated as entirely just - and the Justifier of those who trust in His redemptive love (Rom. 3:24-26). Yeshua is the prayer of God the Father's on behalf of His children...

The will of God - His heart's yearning and desire - is for his children to receive his love (2 Pet. 3:9; 1 Tim. 2:4; John 3:16; Ezek. 18:23). As Yeshua prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one... I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me" (John 17:11,23). Yeshua died on the cross to bear the shame for your sins, to be sure, but he did this so that you could be accepted and securely loved forever.... It is the love of God that is the goal of all things, after all.  When Yeshua cried out, "It is finished" and breathed his last breath as He died for our sins upon the cross, the greatest exhalation of the Spirit occurred, the greatest sigh, the greatest utterance was ever declared. The sacrificial death of Yeshua for our deliverance was God's final word of love breathed out to those who are trusting in Him.
 




Love and the Torah...


 

08.16.12  (Av 28, 5772)  The students of the maggid of Zlotchov once asked him, "In the Torah we read that our father Abraham kept all the laws (Gen. 26:5), but how could this be, since they had not yet been given to him?" The maggid replied, "All that is needed is to love God. If you are about to do something and you think it might lessen your love, then you know it's a sin; but if you think it will increase your love, then you know it's in keeping with God's will. That's what Abraham did" (adapted from the Sages Speak).
 

עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַע אַבְרָהָם בְּקלִי
 וַיִּשְׁמר מִשְׁמַרְתִּי מִצְוֹתַי חֻקּוֹתַי וְתוֹרתָי

e·kev · a·sher · sha·ma · Av·ra·ham · be·ko·li
vai·yish·mor · mish·mar·ti · mitz·vo·tai · chuk·ko·tai · ve·to·ro·tai

[...in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed]
"because Abraham listened to my voice
 and kept my charge, my commandments, my decrees, and my laws."
(Gen. 26:5)

 

Abraham is called the "father of faith," and rightly so, since his obedience to offer up his beloved son Isaac clearly exemplified the sacrificial love of God demonstrated in Yeshua (James 2:21; Heb. 11:17). And of course the truth that love is the inner meaning of the Torah is repeatedly expressed in the New Testament.  For example, "Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom. 13:8-10).
 




Ancient Hebrew Secret...


 

08.16.12  (Av 28, 5772)  Regarding the great Shema, the central affirmation of the faith, there is an ancient and venerable teaching that Deut. 6:5, "You shall love the LORD your God bekhol levavkha - with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" really means: "You shall love the LORD your God bekhol levavkha - with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." 

Don't worry if you didn't notice any difference between these two statements, because there isn't any: The words are simply repeated to point out that you must live (and relive) the truth in order to know the truth.  As Yeshua said, "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them" (John 13:17).
 

וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יהוה אֱלהֶיךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ
וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל־מְאדֶךָ׃

ve'a·hav·ta  et  Adonai  E·lo·he·kha  be'khol  le·vav·kah
uv'khol  naf·she·kha  uv'khol  me'o·de·kha

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength" (
Deut. 6:5)

 




Blessed Hunger and Thirst...


 

08.16.12  (Av 28, 5772)  Yeshua taught, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (צְדָקָה), for they shall be satisfied" (Matt. 5:6). Most people have a natural desire to eat and drink each day, but why are our souls often not as hungry or thirsty? After all, hunger is a sign of life, and those who have no desire for food are physically ill. Similarly, just as body can become sick with illness, so our souls can become sick if we do not seek the things that ultimately satisfy them, namely God's righteousness and truth.
 

אֲנִי־אָמַרְתִּי יְהוָה חָנֵּנִי
 רְפָאָה נַפְשִׁי כִּי־חָטָאתִי לָךְ

a·ni · a·mar·ti · Adonai · cho·nei·ni
re·fa·ah · naf·shi · ki · cha·ta·ti · lakh

"I said, LORD, be gracious to me
 heal my soul; for I have sinned against You"
(Psalm 41:4)

The cross, not the scales

 

Regarding matters of the spirit, the problem with many of us is not that we are hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... "The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry" (Simone Weil). There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God's righteousness.

We are called to take our place at the table, where God Himself provides food, adorns our heads with fragrant oil, and even fills our cups in overflowing measure (Psalm 23:4). No good thing does your heavenly Father withhold from those who walk in the truth of His righteousness (Psalm 84:11). May it please the LORD our God to fill us with the abiding desire to be taught the glory and wonder of His healing love.  Amen.
 




Awakening to Teshuvah...


 

[ The following entry is meant to help us get ready for the month of Elul and the Forty days of Teshuvah, which begin this coming Shabbat... ]

08.16.12  (Av 28, 5772)  Spiritual danger is just as real as physical danger, though most people pretend it isn't because it isn't easily seen. The real dangers of life are not the worldly fears of terrorism, crime, financial loss, sickness, or some accident, however, but the susceptibility to despair, the tendency to put off repentance, the possibility of not dying well.... It is a great danger to walk through life asleep only to be jolted awake upon the day of death. "The greatest danger is that one does not discover, that one is not always discovering, that one is in danger" (Kierkegaard). Danger of what? Of wasting your life with trifles and vain fears; of never learning how to truly love or to be loved; of becoming numb, unfeeling, and therefore unmoved by your need for God...

It is said, "Repent one day before you die." But who knows the day of one's death in advance? Therefore live each day as if it were to be your last, and live it with reverent joy. It's only when we understand we have a limited time on earth, and that "no man knoweth the day or the hour" when their time is up, that we begin to live each day as if it were the only one we really have... For every man the "end of this world" is the day of his death, the day of judgment. Therefore it is written, "teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."
 

לִמְנוֹת יָמֵינוּ כֵּן הוֹדַע
 וְנָבִא לְבַב חָכְמָה

lim·not · ya·me·nu · ken · ho·da
ve·na·vi · le·vav · chokh·mah

"Teach us to number our days
 that we may get a heart of wisdom."
(Psalm 90:12)

The cross, not the scales

Download Study Card
 


Moses' petition surely is not the request that we are enabled to literally count the remaining days of our lives (as if that would help us, anyway), since God does not disclose the day of one's death, nor should such information be sought... On the contrary, to "number our days" means first of all to account them in relation to Eternity and to esteem them as both infinitely vain and infinitely precious. In other words, Moses is asking that the LORD God would teach us how to make our days count for eternity, to have a weight of glory that will shine in the world to come. Living in the awareness of both the frailty of life as well as its eternally enduring significance is to acquire a heart of wisdom, since fleeting moments - and what we choose to do with them - are the very means by which we prepare ourselves for the world to come and our future with the LORD.  May God make this real for us: Amen.
 




Knowing who you are...


 

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

08.16.12  (Av 28, 5772)  We need to praise God to know who we are, why we were created, and for what purpose we are to live in this world, as it is written, "I have formed this people for Myself; they shall recount my praise" (Isa. 43:21). Praising God means saying ani l'dodi (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי), my life belongs to God, my Beloved (Song 6:3). This is the essence of who we are and why we are called God's people, to "proclaim the excellencies (ἀρετὰς) of Him who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9).
 

עַם־זוּ יָצַרְתִּי לִי תְּהִלָּתִי יְסַפֵּרוּ

am · zu · ya·tza·rti · li · te·hil·la·ti · ye·sa·pei·ru

"I have formed this people for Myself;
 they shall recount my praise."
(Isa. 43:21)



 

One of the greatest sins is to forget the message of who you really are and your beloved status before the LORD... "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine" (Isa. 43:1). Forgetting who you are leads to forgetting who the LORD is, just as forgetting who the LORD is leads to forgetting who you are. Our Torah portion this week includes the verse: "You are children of the LORD your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be for him am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה) - a treasured people out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth" (Deut. 14:1-2).

In this connection it is helpful to remember that the Hebrew word "Jew" (יְהוּדִי) comes from a root (יָדָה) which means to "thank" or to "praise." The Apostle Paul alluded to this by saying that a Jew whose heart has been circumcised by the Spirit is "one who is praised by God," not by men (Rom. 2:29). Being a Jew therefore means that you are "chosen" to receive special blessings and grace to live in holiness for the glory of God and for the welfare of the world. The performance of various commandments are for the greater purpose of tikkun olam, the "repair of the world," in order to reveal God's goodness and love. Doing so makes a person a Jew, since his praise comes not from man, but from God.

It's been astutely noted that there are very few deliberate hypocrites, and therefore we are repeatedly warned about the perils of self-deception.... "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). We have been warned by the Messiah himself: "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  (lit., you deniers of the Torah; i.e., anomia, ἀνομία from α- + νομος, "without law"). We are quick to ask someone, "Do you know the Lord?" though a more important question is "Does the LORD know you?" Truly the worst possible judgment is to be told by the LORD on that day: "Depart from me; I never knew you" (Matt. 7:22-23). May God continue to show us His mercy and grace as we press on in faith, chaverim... May we both know Him in the truth and be assured that He indeed knows us.  Amen.

Note: For more on this very important topic, please see the article "Am Segulah."
 




No Good Apart from You...


 

08.15.12  (Av 27, 5772)  "All the desires of this world are like rays of light; you try to catch them in your hand, only to find there is nothing in your grasp" (Nachman of Bratslav). Similarly C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world." Therefore the heart cries out, "As a deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God! My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When will I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:1-2).

"God hides so that we will seek." Our thirst for significance, meaning, purpose, and fullness of life are meant to lead us to God, the Source of Living Water. "If you knew the gift of God ... you would have asked Him, and he would have given you living water" (John 4:10).

God is our only real source of good, the one who loves us and guards our every step. The LORD cannot give us good apart from Himself, because there is no such thing. "Happiness without conviction is no real happiness but merely debauchery." As it is said by the psalmist, "You are the Lord, I have no good apart from You."
 

שָׁמְרֵנִי אֵל כִּי־חָסִיתִי בָךְ
 אָמַרְתְּ לַיהוָה
 אֲדנָי אָתָּה טוֹבָתִי בַּל־עָלֶיךָ

shom·rei·nu · El · ki · cha·si·ti · vakh
a·mart · la·donai:
Adonai · at·tah · to·va·ti · bal · a·ley·kha

"Guard me, O God, for I seek refuge in You.
 I say to the LORD,
 "You are the Lord, I have no good apart from You."
(Psalm 16:1-2)



Keep me; guard me; watch over me, O LORD, for you alone can deliver me from evil.... The Hebrew phrase bal aleykha (בַּל־עָלֶיךָ) has been translated in various ways, but the idea seems to be there is nothing above or beyond the good God provides, and therefore there is no one but the LORD to make appeal: "I have no good apart from You." God is our only real source of good, the One who loves us and guards our every step. Just as "ein od milvado" – there is no [power] apart from Him, so there is no real good. The LORD cannot give us good apart from Himself, because there literally is no such thing.
 




Using the Good Eye...


 

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

08.15.12  (Av 27, 5772)  Kierkegaard tells the story of two young portrait artists who both sought to capture the essence of beauty in their paintings. One artist looked high and low for the "perfect face of beauty" but never found it. Tragically, he later gave up painting and lived in despair. The other artist, however, simply painted every face he saw and found beauty in each one.  Now here's your question: Which of the two was the sincere artist?

A person is said to be olam katan, a minature world. The eye reflects the world outside and reveals the world inside. The way we choose to see is ultimately a spiritual decision. "If your eye is single (ἁπλοῦς), your whole body will be filled with light" (Matt. 6:22). Better to be open-hearted, trusting, and to use the good eye than to be closed off, suspicious, and always feeling the need to defend yourself... The sages say it is better to love the truth than to hate falsehood, since one who hates the false hates the entire world, because there is no one who is not a little false; but one who loves the truth will find something good in everyone, because there is no one who does not harbor a little truth - and there is always hope, even for the least likely of us...
 

טוֹב־עַיִן הוּא יְברָךְ
 כִּי־נָתַן מִלַּחְמוֹ לַדָּל

tov · a·yin · hu · ye·vo·rakh
ki · na·tan · mil·lach·mo · la-dal

"Whoever has a good eye will be blessed,
 for he shares his bread with the poor."
(Prov. 22:9)



The heart looks through the eye.... The good eye (i.e., ayin tovah: עַיִן טוֹבָה) - sometimes called the "beautiful eye" (עין יפה) - refuses to think evil about others (it "does not impute the bad" - οὐ λογίζεται τὸ κακόν - in 1 Cor. 13:5), but it rejoices in the truth – even if such truth is found only in the hope of a future good (1 Cor. 13:7). The good eye is the instrument of a giving heart that looks upon the needs and pains of others with genuine compassion. The "evil eye" (i.e., ayin hara: עַיִן רָעָה), on the other hand, is cynical, jaded, envious, and unsympathetic to other people and their struggles... Using a good eye takes from the treasure within the heart and gives it out freely to others: "The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil" (Matt. 12:35). There never is a risk that love may be given away without warrant from heaven. In the future judgment to come, I'd rather be found guilty of "casting pearls before swine" than to be found guilty of withholding love from others...
 




Prophetic Words of Fire...


 

08.15.12  (Av 27, 5772)  Even for one whose heart is frozen solid, or whose heart has turned to stone, the Word of the LORD is powerful to smash and crush, as it is said, "Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?"
 

הֲלוֹא כה דְבָרִי כָּאֵשׁ נְאֻם־יְהוָה
 וּכְפַּטִּישׁ יְפצֵץ סָלַע

ha·lo · kho · de·va·ri · ka·esh · ne·um · Adonai
 ukh·pa·tish · ye·fotz·etz · sa·la

"Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD,
 and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?"
(Prov. 22:9)
 


Note that some think that the adverb ko (כּה), usually translated as "thus" or "so," might originally have been koach (כּחַ), "power," so that the first part of the verse would be rendered, "Is not my word powerful, like fire?" Indeed God's truth is quick and piercing - like fire - penetrating into the hearts and souls of men (Heb. 4:12). The difference between the true and false prophet, then, is that the true prophet is sent by the LORD, and therefore the word spoken has power to effect God's purposes... This is the agency of the Spirit of God, which produces power and fire in those who are truly called, as opposed to those who are imitators or those who "call themselves" God's prophets... The "word" of the false prophet invariably "tickles the ear" by promising peace despite the prevalence of sin, though the truth of God burns away the dross and breaks even the hardest of hearts. In the case of the prophet Jeremiah, God's word would execute judgment upon Judah -- despite the flattery of false prophets who sought to distract people from its imminence... The walls of Zion would be burned by fire and broken through as a hammer shatters rock to pieces.

Applied metaphorically, God's word is like a hammer that shatters the hardest of hearts, breaking it to pieces. When a sinner is so shattered, he or she may feel woe, but "there is nothing so whole as a broken heart," and therefore the fire and hammer of God is intended to forge new life from above.
 




Seeing yourself...


 

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

08.14.12
  (Av 26, 5772)  This week's Torah portion is about seeing, including how we see both ourselves and others around us... Recall that the tragic Sin of the Spies was the result of seeing with ayin ra, an evil eye, by allowing fear to distort and impugn the truth and promise of God. The spies claimed that they "looked like grasshoppers" before the sons of Anak (Num. 13:33), but how did the spies know the way they were perceived? And even if it were true that they were small, what difference would that make to the LORD?  How would the relative physical size of the enemy factor into the sure promise and power of God?

We may assume that others see us as we see ourselves, though this is an unjustified inference based on carnal logic. The spies 'projected' their own sense of inadequacy and thereby enlarged the strength of the enemy... Therefore faith must include self-respect: How you view yourself is basic, and that means accepting that you are loved and of great value to God... It is unimportant how you may (or may not) appear to others; the main thing is how you appear to yourself, and how you see yourself comes from faith in your worth before the LORD God Almighty... For more on this important subject, see "Small in our Eyes."
 




Refusing to be Afraid...


 

08.14.12  (Av 26, 5772)  Fear is one of the great devices of the devil... it is Satan's knock on the door of the heart. Do not answer the knock and open the door to fear, but resist it in the Name and authority of the LORD God of Hosts. The Spirit of God repeatedly states: al-tirah ki imekha ani (אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי), "fear not, for I Am with you..."
 

אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי
 אַל־תִּשְׁתָּע כִּי־אֲנִי אֱלהֶיךָ
 אִמַּצְתִּיךָ אַף־עֲזַרְתִּיךָ
 אַף־תְּמַכְתִּיךָ בִּימִין צִדְקִי

al · ti·ra · ki · im·me·kha · a·ni;   al · tish·ta · ki · a·ni · E·lo·he·kha
im·matz·ti·kha · af · a·zar·ti·kha;  af · te·makh·ti·kha · bi·min · tzid·ki

"Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God;
 I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand"
(Isa. 41:10)


 
Hebrew Study Card
 

While loving God and others is our greatest duty - the very "yoke of heaven" - you might be surprised to learn that the most frequent commandment is simply al-tirah, "Be not afraid." Over and over again in the Scriptures we hear the LORD saying to those who trust in Him, al tira (אַל־תִּירָא כִּי עִמְּךָ־אָנִי), "fear not, for I Am with you...."

This is a word for the exiles of every age: Be not afraid - al-tirah – not of man, nor of war, nor of tribulation, nor even of death itself (Rom. 8:35-39). If God is for us, then who is able to stand against us? Indeed, Yeshua came to die to destroy both the works of the devil and the power of death itself, in order to "release all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery" (1 John 3:8; 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, "Fear not, for I Am with you."
 




Believing and Seeing...


 

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

08.14.12  (Av 26, 5772)  This week's Torah portion is about seeing. We are commanded to see clearly the choices that lie before us and to choose the way of life and blessing. Note, however, that the Hebrew word for seeing (ראה) and the word for fearing (ירא) share the same root, suggesting that we cannot truly see apart from the reverence of God.

Some people say "I'll believe it when I see it," but the heart of faith believes in order to see... You will see as you believe. The gift of seeing the truth is a miracle on the order of being born again. As CS Lewis said, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." If you believe in the love of God there are no questions; but if you refuse to believe, there are no answers.
 

    "You teach," said Emperor Trajan to Rabbi Joshua, "that your God is everywhere, yet I cannot see him." Joshua said that unlike human kings, the LORD was too powerful for people to see; as it is written in the Torah: "No person shall see Me and live." The emperor was skeptical, however, and insisted that unless he could see God, he would be unable to believe. Joshua then pointed to the sun high in the sky: "Look into the sun and you will see God." The emperor tried to look into the sun, but was forced to cover his eyes to keep them from burning: "I cannot look into the sun," he said. Joshua then replied: "Listen to yourself: If you cannot look into the sun which is but one of God's creations, how can you expect to look at God?" (Sefer HaAggadah)
     


It's been said that the optimist believes this is the best of all possible worlds; whereas the pessimist is afraid that the optimist is right... Faith is the foundation for everything, and indeed, there can be no knowledge of anything whatsoever apart from faith. It is therefore supremely important for us to think clearly about our faith, since what we believe about God has eternal implications...
 




Our Ever-Present Help...


 

08.13.12  (Av 25, 5772)  "Why is the Name of the Holy Blessed One called ehyeh asher ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה), 'I Am who I Am' (Exod. 3:14)? When one is remorseful and says, "I will return to the LORD and forsake my sin," the Blessed Holy One responds at that instant, saying 'I Am with you and will immerse you in my Presence' (Yitzchak of Peshischa). Indeed,  God is our refuge and strength, our ever-present help (Psalm 46:1).
 

אֱלהִים לָנוּ מַחֲסֶה וָעז
 עֶזְרָה בְצָרוֹת נִמְצָא מְאד
 עַל־כֵּן לא־נִירָא בְּהָמִיר אָרֶץ
 וּבְמוֹט הָרִים בְּלֵב יַמִּים

E·lo·him · la·nu · ma·cha·seh · va·oz / ez·rah · ve·tza·rot · nim·tza · me·od
al · ken · lo · ni·ra · be·ha·mir · a·retz / u·ve·mot · ha·rim · be·lev · ya·mim

"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
 though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea"
(Psalm 46:1-2)



Hebrew Study Card
  

We "will not fear" because the LORD our God has promised to give us His strength in time of our need. God is an "ever-present" help – the phrasing is emphatic – and He is always as close as our mouth and heart. Therefore lo nira - "will not we fear." We are to count ourselves safe and to make ourselves strong in the LORD. We are safest when we are exactly where God wants us, even if that is in the midst of battle in the enemy's camp. "Though the earth be removed" suggests that even if the basis for all that is visible will be upended, God is to be called upon and trusted, since He is forever faithful to those who belong to Him. "The Name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous one runs into it and is safe" (Prov. 18:10). God will never leave nor forsake those who trust in Him (John 6:37).
 




A Simple Reminder...


 

08.13.12  (Av 25, 5772)  "Your Heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him" (Matt. 6:8). What sort of a God would the Creator be if He needed to learn from me how and why to help? No, the innermost purpose of prayer is to open our hearts so that we can listen, so we can apprehend God's glory and presence within us.... "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these (other) things will be added to you."
 




Forty Days of Teshuvah...



 

[ The last month of the Jewish calendar begins Friday, August 17th at sundown... ]

08.13.12  (Av 25, 5772)  The last month of the Jewish calendar (counting from Tishri) is called Elul (אֱלוּל), which begins Friday, August 17th at sundown this year (i.e., this Shabbat). Traditionally, Rosh Chodesh Elul marks the beginning of a forty day "Season of Teshuvah" that culminates on Yom Kippur. The entire month of Elul is therefore a time set aside each year to prepare for the Yamim Nora'im, the "Days of Awe," by making additional efforts to repent, or "turn [shuv] toward God."

 

The Days of Favor..

In Jewish tradition, these 40 days are sometimes called Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן) - "Days of Favor," since it was during this time that the LORD forgave the Jewish nation after the sin of the Golden Calf (Pirke d'Reb Eliezar). Therefore the sages have said Elul marks a favorable season to turn to the LORD for help restoring broken or strained relationships in our lives.
 

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

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

"But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
 At a favorable time, O God, in the abundance of your love
 answer me in the truth of your salvation"
(Psalm 69:13)


 


As it is written, "God is near to all those who call to Him, to those who call to Him in the truth" (Psalm 145:18). Since God desires all to turn to Him, those who pray with awareness of their need to surrender to the LORD will assuredly find His favor (1 John 5:14).

On the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah begins four weeks after Chodesh Elul (i.e., Sept. 16th at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.


The Rosh Chodesh Blessing


 

The following (simplified) blessing can be recited to ask the LORD to help you prepare your heart during the month of Elul and the forty day "Season of Repentance":
 

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

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

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



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Note: It has been noted that the name of the month "Elul" serves as an acronym for the famous words in the Song of Songs, ani l'dodi v'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי) -- "I belong to my beloved and my beloved belongs to me" (Song 6:3). But notice, too, that all four words in this verse end with the letter Yod (י), with a numeric value of 10 – resulting in a total of 40. This alludes to Yemei Ratzon (יְמֵי רָצוֹן), the 40 days of favor from the start of the month of Elul until Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The awareness of God's love sets the context for our understanding of teshuvah: sin ultimately means a breach in relationship, an obstacle to the free expression of love. Therefore more than "repentance" and sorrow for our sin, we understand teshuvah to mean turning of the heart to respond to God's atoning love...


Listening to the Shofar

Beginning on Rosh Chodesh Elul and continuing until the day before Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to blow the shofar (ram's horn) every day (except for Shabbat). This practice was adopted to awaken us for the coming High Holidays.

There are four primary types of shofar blasts:

  1. Tekiah (תְּקִיעָה) - A long single blast (the sound of the King's coronation)
  2. Shevarim (שְׁבָרִים) - Three short wail-like blasts (signifying repentance)
  3. Teru'ah (תְּרוּעָה) - Nine staccato blasts of alarm (to awaken the soul)
  4. Tekiah ha-Gadol (תְּקִיעָה הַגָּדוֹל) - A great long blast (for as long as you can blow!)
     

The general custom is to first blow tekiah, followed by shevarim, followed by teruah, and to close with tekiah hagadol:

  Listen to the Shofar (click speaker icon)

 




Why Adam was Created Alone...


 

08.13.12  (Av 25, 5772)  The Talmud says of Adam, "Man was created alone and must always remain in his aloneness," to teach that every person is an "only child" in the eyes of the Blessed and Holy One. Man was created alone to reveal his profound need for connection ... for God ... since even in his most intimate of relationships with others, he remains an irreducibly unique soul.

In a discussion regarding capital punishment, the Talmud states: "If someone strikes many coins from one mold, they all resemble one another, but the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He, made each man in the image of the first man Adam, and yet not one of them resembles his fellow. Therefore every single person is obligated to say, bishvili nivra ha'olam (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם), "The world was created for my sake" (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).  This is why murdering another human being created b'tzelem Elohim (in the image of God) is considered so horrendous.  The sages reasoned that whoever destroys a single soul is accounted as if he had destroyed the whole world; and whoever saves one soul is accounted as if he had saved the entire world. Hence the Torah (Gen. 4:10) records "The voice of the bloods of your brother cries out to me" (קוֹל דְּמֵי אָחִיךָ צעֲקִים אֵלַי). It was not merely the innocent blood of Abel that cried out, but rather the blood of all his ancestors who were destroyed along with him.

On the other hand, each of us must remember (as did father Abraham) that we are afar ve'efer - "dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27). Why was Adam created on the sixth day, from the dust of the earth? Why wasn't he created yesh me'ayin ("ex nihilo") like the angels? The sages answer that this was intended to instill humility in all of us, since even a gnat has an earlier lineage than does the first man. And yet creation itself was designed to express the Kingship of God, and for that man was needed. Man is made from the lowliest substance of earth (dust is next to nothingness itself) and yet he is imparted with nishmat chaim, the "breath of souls," and is created in the image and likeness of God Himself.

An old chassidic tale says that every person should walk through life with two notes, one in each pocket. On one note should be the words bishvili nivra ha'olam (בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם) -- "For my sake was this world created," and on the other note the words, anokhi afar ve'efer (אָנכִי עָפָר וָאֵפֶר) -- "I am but dust and ashes."  The LORD speaks: "I have formed this people for Myself and they shall proclaim my praises" (Isa. 43:21). We need to worship and praise God to know who we are and why we were created. Praising God means saying from the heart, ani l'dodi, "My life belongs to God" (Song. 6:3). This is the essence of who we are as God's treasured people....
 




Parashat Re'eh - ראה


 

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

08.12.12
  (Av 24, 5772)  This week's Torah portion (Re'eh) begins with the portentous words: "See (רְאֵה), I give before you today a blessing and a curse, the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you" (Deut. 11:26-28). In the Hebrew text we notice that the word re'eh is singular ("you see!"), whereas the following pronoun is plural ("before you today") which stresses that though Torah is freely given to everone "who has ears to hear," it's our own personal responsibility to "choose life" and walk its message out in our lives (Deut. 30:19). This has traditionally been understood to mean that God gives each of us the path of goodness (that leads to blessing) and the path of wickedness (that leads to curse). The path we are are choosing, in other words, is ultimately our own choice...

This is an Either/Or of the heart, and there is no place for compromise in this decision.  Moreover, since your life is part of a greater whole, you must understand that every deed you do brings to the world around you either a blessing or a curse.... To "correct" the world you live in (תיקון עולם), you must first correct yourself (Matt. 7:5).

An undisputed maxim of the Talmud is: "All is in the hands of God except the fear of heaven (yirat shamayim)" (Berachot 33b; Niddah 16b). In other words, though God constantly showers the world with grace and light, He does not "force" us to revere His Presence but rather leaves that choice with us. God could overwhelm us all so that we had no choice but to see and fear Him, but He "withdraws" Himself and restrains His influence in our lives so that we can exercise faith.  The Hebrew word for seeing (ראה) and the word for fearing (ירא) share the same root. We cannot genuinely "choose life" apart from personally seeing it, but we cannot see it apart from the reverence of God. The reverence of God sanctifies our perception and enables us to see clearly. Therefore we understand that the righteous "walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7).

In this connection, our Torah portion also teaches the importance of helping others who are in need: "If there be among you a needy person ... you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand" (Deut. 15:7). Indeed practicing compassion evokes compassion from Heaven for your own life, as it is said, "whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his deed."
 

מַלְוֵה יְהוָה חוֹנֵן דָּל
 וּגְמֻלוֹ יְשַׁלֶּם־לוֹ

mal·veh · Adonai · cho·nein · dal
u·ge·mu·lo · ye·sha·lem · lo

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD,
 and He will repay him for his deed"
(Prov. 19:17)


 


When we give without any hope of repayment it is reckoned as if our gift was given directly to the LORD Himself, and the gracious One Himself promises to completely repay the act of chesed. The Lord offers "collateral on the loan," so to speak, which will be repaid either in this world or assuredly in the world to come... This is another example of love's "like-for-like" and the reciprocity of faith: "Give, and it will be given to you: A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be poured into your lap. For the measure you use will be the measure you receive" (Luke 6:38; also 2 Cor. 9:6).

We never lose what we give away by faith, as it is counted as treasure in heaven; and indeed only what we give to others will abide in the world to come. Therefore we are commanded to give tzedakah (צְדָקָה, "charity") not because it is "right," but it is right because it is based on God's love and care for others. Something is righteous, in other words, because it expresses the truth about God's love. As it is said, "the world is built in chesed (חֶסֶד)" (Psalm 89:3[h]). Practicing compassion is the underlying motivation for adherence to all of God's commandments, for without the inner motivation of love, there is little point to anything else the Torah might say.

Note: For more on this wonderful Torah portion, please see the Re'eh Summary page and its various related articles.  Shavuah Tov, chaverim!
 




The Blessing of Satisfaction...



 

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

08.10.12  (Av 22, 5772)  Our Torah portion this week includes the remarkable commandment: "And you shall eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless the LORD your God" (Deut. 8:10), which immediately is followed by a warning to never forget the deliverance and grace of the LORD (Deut. 8:11-17). So what's the connection here?

The Scriptures make clear that the reason we are tested by God is to reveal what is within our hearts (Deut. 8:16). When we are tested by God, it is always for our good, though we might not think so at that time... "Are we always punished for our sins?" asks the student to his rebbe, who succinctly answers, "Only if we are fortunate."  It is a terrible tragedy to be overlooked by God, to no longer be tested, to have an easy go of things in this life... Testing is God's tool for shaping our inner character, a refining fire.  As the Apostle wrote, "Trials reveal the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold – even gold that is tested by fire, though it is passing away" (1 Pet. 1:7).

It may seem strange that the Torah commands that "you shall eat," since most of us don't need to be reminded to fill our stomachs, but in a deeper sense this means that we are to receive the goodness of life itself. "Taste and see that the LORD is good." That is why in this connection we are further told "and you shall be satisfied." We are to savor what is given and not to rush past the moment, looking for something more. It is only then, after we have received the goodness of the moment and savored it within our hearts that we are to "bless the LORD for the good land he has given you" (incidentally, this explains why Jews recite an additional blessing after they eat a meal called the Birkat hamazon).
 

טַעֲמוּ וּרְאוּ כִּי־טוֹב יְהוָה
אַשְׁרֵי הַגֶּבֶר יֶחֱסֶה־בּוֹ

ta·a·mu · ur·u · ki · tov · Adonai
ash·rei · ha·ge·ver · ye·che·seh · bo

"Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him!"
(Psalm 34:8)


 


Addictions, cravings, lusts, etc., often arise from refusing to be satisfied, by hungering for more than the blessing of the present moment. "My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). The living waters are present for us, but we will only find them if we open our hearts to the wonder of God in this moment.  We must slow down, savor the moment, and see God's hand in everything around us: "Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD God of Hosts: The whole earth is filled with His glory" (Isa. 6:3). Opening our spiritual eyes will break the cycle of unthinking habit, of "mindless eating," and so on. Ultimately this is another aspect of shema, or listening to your body, your heart, your soul – and especially listening for God's word spoken to your inward being. We can "break the spell" of continual dissatisfaction, of the power of greed, ambition, and so on, when we discover that our constant hunger is really a cry for God and His blessing. Our sense of inner emptiness is an invitation to come to the waters and drink life...

The world and its promises are entirely vain, since it is possible to "have it all," that is, to have all the world's comforts and toys, and yet still be profoundly unsatisfied...  The blessing of being satisfied means being set free from a sense of lack, deprivation, desire, hunger, and so on. Ambition is restless, greed is a taskmaster, and envy is cruel, but we overcome these inward drives by resting in the promise of the LORD, that is, by "eating His word" and being satisfied with His nourishment.

Being driven by chronic discontent creates a "numbness of being," a state of uncircumcised heart. We rush past the moment and its vividness, its disclosure, its power, is overlooked and unfelt. This in turn causes the heart to feel further deprived, leading to an never-ending cycle of hunger. This explains how people who seem to have everything – all of the world's luxuries and pleasures – can be bored, numb, and dead inside...

We have a Good Shepherd who promises to take care of us, to lead us beside still waters, to give us living water to restore our souls. If we surrender to the simplicity of the moment, trusting that God is present for us there, we find inner peace and satisfaction.

Therefore don't mindlessly eat... Eating is inherently a sacrificial act. When we eat food we consume one form of life for the sake of sustaining our own life, and therefore eating itself is a means of experiencing holiness. Yeshua told his followers, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). Only Yeshua feeds our hearts and gives us everlasting satisfaction. Amen.


Shabbat Shalom, chaverim! Though we have been challenged lately, I sincerely thank you all for your love, prayers, and support over these last months...  I remember you all in my prayers and ask that the LORD will bless you in every way.
 




Up and Down the Mountain!



 

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

08.10.12  (Av 22, 5772)  From our Torah portion this week we infer that Moses went three times up Sinai, for a total of 120 days and nights. First, he ascended right after the 10 commandments were uttered (Deut. 9:9) and returned on Tammuz 17 to see the golden calf; second, the very next day he went up to plead for Israel before the LORD (Exod. 32:30; Deut. 9:18), and returned on the 29th of Av; and third, he went up on Elul 1 to have the new tablets inscribed by God (Deut. 10:1-2,10), and returned on Tishri 10, that is, Yom Kippur, with his face shining over the restored covenant:

 

Actually, the matter is a bit more complicated than even this... For more about Moses' numerous trips up and down Sinai as God's mediator, see "The Eight Aliyot of Moses."
 




Cleaving to the LORD...


 

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

08.10.12  (Av 22, 5772)  In our Torah portion this week we are instructed to "cleave" to the LORD in daily devotion: "You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cleave to Him (Deut. 10:20); "Be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving the LORD your God, walking in all his ways, and cleaving to him" (Deut. 11:22). The concept of "cleaving" or "holding fast" is called devakut (דְּבָקוּת) in Jewish tradition, a word that derives from the root davak (דבק), meaning to "cling" or "stick" (the Modern Hebrew word for glue is devek which comes from the same root). Davak is used to describe how a man cleaves to his wife so that they become basar echad – "one flesh" (see Gen. 2:24), and is related to the word for bodily joint (debek), the bond of our bones to our skin (Job 19:20). The devakim were those who "held fast" or "cleaved" to the LORD throughout their wanderings in the wilderness (Deut. 4:4), and all of us are likewise commanded to revere the LORD and be united with Him (Deut. 6:4-6; John 15:1-5, etc.).
 

דָּבְקָה נַפְשִׁי אַחֲרֶיךָ
בִּי תָּמְכָה יְמִינֶךָ

da·ve·kah · naf·shi · a·cha·re·kha
bi · tam·khah · ye·mi·ne·kha

"My soul clings to you;
Your right hand upholds me."
(Psalm 63:8)



Hebrew Study Card
 


In Jewish mystical theology, devakut is considered as the highest step on the spiritual ladder back to God, somewhat similar to the idea of "beatific vision" found in some Christian traditions. Yeshua, however, emphasized that He alone is the true sullam, or Ladder, to God. Just as Jacob saw a ladder reaching to heaven with the angels of God ascending and descending upon it, so Yeshua is the Bridge, hasha'ar hashamayim - the gateway into heaven (Gen. 28:12, John 1:51, 14:6). Indeed the Scriptures declare: yesh ohev davek me'ach – "there is a friend who sticks (davek) closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24), and his name is Yeshua, the Holy One of Israel who descended to earth by clothing himself in human flesh. Yeshua demonstrated God's own devakut for us by "cleaving" to the cross as full payment for our sin. Because of His loyal love for us, we can now experience "at-one-ment" and true communion with God (see John 17:21-23). Blessed be His Name forever.

Note: Devekut has been described as "God consciousness imbued with love." "To cleave to Him - that means the cleaving of the mind to Him, for there is no devakut except that of the mind and the meditation of the heart" (Sh'ar ha-ahavah). We are able to cling or cleave to God because He first clung to the cross in love for us (1 John 4:19). 

Of course there is a paradox about the idea of "cleaving" to the LORD who is described as esh okhlah, "Consuming Fire." We must balance fear and love. Under most circumstances, fear causes us to draw back (i.e., to separate), whereas with love, the fear itself centers on the possibility of being separated from God. Fear of God in the sense of His judgment (or disapproval) is replaced by a deeper fear of injuring the holy bond of love between the heart and God. Fear of sinning is therefore fear of separating yourself from God's love and losing the joy of your fellowship with God... This is why the analogy of marriage is often used to describe our relationship with God - we should yearn for the LORD and agonize at the thought of being apart from Him. May God help us really cleave to Him, chaverim...
 




The Power to Change...


 

08.10.12  (Av 22, 5772)  Reb Shmeke of Nikolsburg once said: "When I was young, I wanted to change the world. I tried, but the world didn't change. So I decided to change my town, but my town didn't change. Then I resolved to change my family, but my family didn't change. Then I realized that I first had to change myself." I would add, "but then I realized that I couldn't change even myself, so I cried to the LORD for a new heart (lev chadash) and He answered my plea..." Yes, and may it please the LORD to deliver us -- from ourselves!
 

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 51:10)



Hebrew Study Card
 


When King David cried out, "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 preexisting material, but instead used the word bara (בָּרָא), a verb exclusively used to refer to God's direct creation of the cosmos (Gen. 1:1). King David understood that no amount of "re-formation" of his character would be enough, and instead appealed to that very power of God that created the worlds yesh me'ayin, "out of nothing." Such was the nature of the remedy required...
 




Know Him in All your Ways...


 

08.09.12  (Av 21, 5772)  Behold the goodness and kindness of our God!  Where it is written: "Know Him in all your ways" (Prov. 3:6), this of course includes the way of your transgressions... Acknowledge these ways before Him, too, and trust that God will help you depart from your sin (Prov. 28:13). As it is said, "Because he is devoted to Me I will deliver him; I will keep him safe, for he knows My Name. When he calls to Me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him My salvation" (Psalm 91:14-16). 
 

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
 

"Know Him in all your ways," that is, even in your failures and missteps, your sins and your inquities -- look for the LORD's help (Heb. 4:16). 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). The very first step is finding hope enough to trust...
 




Victory in Brokenness...


 

08.09.12  (Av 21, 5772)  Rashi states that the "wooden ark" mentioned in this week's Torah portion (see Deut. 10:1) was later used in Israel's wars. At the outset of a battle, the kohanim (priests) would accompany this "war ark" ahead of the army while the Levites would blast shofars and sing praises to the LORD. The midrash states that the war ark held the tablets that were shattered after the sin of the Golden Calf, whereas the second ark, made by Betzalel, held the unbroken tablets in the Holy of Holies of the Tabernacle (Exod. 37:1). Perhaps the purpose of bringing the broken tablets to the battle was to remind us that even as we battle against evil, we must do so in humility, conscious of our own inner brokenness, and relying solely upon God's power for the victory...
 




Wholeness and Obedience...


 

08.09.12  (Av 21, 5772)  Where it is written, "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep his commandments: for this is the whole [duty of] man" (Eccl. 12:13), we note that the Hebrew text reads, ki zeh kol-ha'adam (כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם), "for this is the whole man," suggesting that those who do not fear God are incomplete, half-persons...
 

סוֹף דָּבָר הַכּל נִשְׁמָע אֶת־הָאֱלהִים יְרָא
וְאֶת־מִצְוֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר כִּי־זֶה כָּל־הָאָדָם

sof · da·var · ha·kol · nish·ma ·  et · ha-E·lo·him · yir·a
ve·et · mitz·vo·tav · she·mor · ki · zeh · kol · ha·a·dam

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God
and keep his commandments: for this is the whole man."
(
Eccl. 12:13)



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To genuinely revere the LORD our God and to obey His Word is indeed "the whole man," that is, that which constitutes his essence and entire being...
 




The Blessing of Peace...


 

08.09.12  (Av 21, 5772)  The great "priestly blessing" culminates with the bestowal of God's peace: ve'yasem lekha shalom (וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם). Inner peace is the greatest blessing since without it no other good in your life (e.g., money, health, romance, children, etc.) is possible. What does it profit you to gain the whole world - and lose your soul? On the other hand, with inner peace, you can never lose any real good, since God works everything for your benefit. In other words, if you have the peace of God, you have blessing, regardless of your temporary circumstances...
 

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

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

"The LORD bless you and guard you;
 The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
 The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace."
 (Num. 6:24-26)



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The sacred Name YHVH (יְהוָה) appears three times in this blessing, and the opening verse is likewise three words. The LORD is represented by the "three-in-one" letter Aleph (א), which in the classical Hebrew script is formed by two Yods (י) - one to the upper right and the other to the lower left - that are joined by a 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. This pictures Yeshua our great High Priest and Intercessor. In gematria, 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).

Notice that the phrase, "The LORD lift up His face toward you..." (יִשָּׂא יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ) pictures the beaming face of a parent as he lifts up his beloved child in joy. The repetitive construction of the LORD "lifting up His face" (יְהוָה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיך) suggests a "double portion" of compassion for the soul. Note further that the word for "face" is plural in Hebrew, though the pronomial ending is singular...

We must use tov-ayin (טוֹב־עַיִן), a "good eye," to attain inner peace: we must believe to see the good, even of ourselves, and to accept that we are beloved. We must abjure the temptation to fear, since God has promised to always be with us. As Yeshua said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid" (John 14:27).
 

הִנֵּה אֵל יְשׁוּעָתִי אֶבְטַח וְלא אֶפְחָד
כִּי־עָזִּי וְזִמְרָת יָהּ יְהוָה
וַיְהִי־לִי לִישׁוּעָה

hi·nei · el · ye·shu·a·ti · ev·tach · ve·lo ·ef·chad,
ki · o·zi · ve·zim·rat · Yah · Adonai
vai·hi · li · li·shu·ah

"Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the LORD God (יָהּ יְהוָה) is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation."
(Isaiah 12:2)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

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We find peace as we surrender to God's will for our lives, without regard to either the past or the future... The past is gone, after all, and the future is God's business: all we have is the present moment to call upon the Name of the LORD. Be faithful in the present moment, then, asking for the grace and strength you need for the task at hand. In this way we may experience the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7).
 




Pride and Blindness...


 

08.08.12  (Av 20, 5772)  "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind" (John 9:39). The effect of truth reveals what is concealed within the heart. Where it does not soften, it hardens the heart; where it does not turn the heart to the light, it brings deeper blindness. To those who are proud, to those who scoff and say that they are without need of deliverance, the truth only says, "since you say that you can see, you are therefore made blind." For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself (Gal. 6:3).

If you realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked, you do well (Rev. 3:17). Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Of the humble soul it is written, "if he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am gracious" (Exod. 22:27).
 




Know in Your Heart...


 

08.08.12  (Av 20, 5772)  Because we are so easily prone to "forgetfulness," the Torah repeatedly warns us to remember and not to forget the reality and truth of the LORD God of Israel: "Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God" (Deut. 4:39). Knowledge that "the LORD is God" must be a settled conviction within your heart, your inmost being, otherwise it is merely an empty profession...
 

וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ
 כִּי יְהוָה הוּא הָאֱלהִים בַּשָּׁמַיִם מִמַּעַל
 וְעַל־הָאָרֶץ מִתָּחַת אֵין עוֹד

ve·ya·da·at · ha·yom · va·ha·she·vo·tai · el · le·va·ve·kha
ki · Adonai · hu · ha·E·lo·him · ba·sha·ma·yim · mi·ma·al
ve·al · ha·a·retz · mit·ta·chat · ein · od

"Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart,
 that the LORD is God in heaven above
 and on the earth beneath: there is no other."
(Deut. 4:39)



 

Note that the phrase "lay it to your heart" may better be rendered as "return to your heart" (וַהֲשֵׁבתָ אֶל־לְבָבֶךָ), suggesting that the truth of the LORD is found there – within the heart that truly seeks him.  In other words, the truth is found in the heart's seeking for the LORD and His love. Know this truth today... "The most important part of teaching is to teach what it is to know," that is, to know "in your heart."
 




Take with you words...


 

08.08.12  (Av 20, 5772)  In the appeal to turn to God for life, the Holy Spirit says to us, "Take with you words and return to the LORD; say to Him, 'Take away all iniquity; accept what is good ... for in you the orphan finds mercy' (אֲשֶׁר־בְּךָ יְרֻחַם יָתוֹם). The LORD then responds to the words of our heart: "I will heal their apostasy; I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them" (Hos. 14:2-4).

"In you the orphan finds mercy..." Do any of you feel like orphans in this world? "When my father and my mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in..." (Psalm 27:10). This might be hyperbole for some, though tragic reality for others. The point, however, is that the love of God is stronger and more certain than even that of your own father or mother, and He will never leave you nor forsake you (Josh. 1:5; Heb. 13:5). This works the other way around, too. The passion we have for the Savior may produce a split that can tear even the most holy of bonds: "A person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matt. 10:37).
 




Seek God and Live...


 

08.08.12  (Av 20, 5772)  The problem with many of us is not that we are so hungry, but rather that we are not hungry enough... "The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry" (Simone Weil). There is a "deeper hunger" for life, and I pray we are all touched by such hunger pangs; blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God's righteousness.

So what are you seeking today? (John 1:38) The Spirit of the Living God calls out in invitation, "Seek Me and live" (Amos 5:4). There is a "divine discontent" that can lead you to discover a deeper sense of contentment for the heart.
 

כִּי כה אָמַר יְהוָה לְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל
דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ

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

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



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

Let's not settle for the good when we can have the best... In the end, if we cannot say we have lived well, then nothing else matters... Seeking God is the goal of life, and in the world to come, I am afraid that most of us will regret that we did not pursue the Eternal with all our hearts while we had the opportunity to do so... Therefore the Spirit always cries out: dirshuni vicheyu (דִּרְשׁוּנִי וִחְיוּ) - "Seek Me and live."
 




Afflicted with Manna...


 

08.07.12  (Av 19, 5772)  The Torah states that we are "afflicted by manna," which is to say that neither can we foresee the next day's meal nor can we store it away for the future... "God fed you with manna ... that he might afflict and test you, to do you good in the end" (Deut. 8:16). The Kol Dodi notes that the word "afflict you" (עַנּתְךָ) can be rendered as "answer you," suggesting that the affliction of manna was meant to answer the need of the heart, that is, "to do you good in the end."

Affliction from heaven is always "teleological," meaning that it works l'shem shamayim, for the sake of heaven's good purposes. Holy affliction induces a sense of godly dependence to make it through the day, and it likewise helps us to pray with keen awareness that our lives depend upon God's answer to the cry of our hearts....

Of the poor man it is written, "if he cries out to me, I will hear, for I am gracious" (Exod. 22:27). The LORD is merciful and chanun (חַנּוּן), "gracious," a word that comes from chinam (חִנָּם) meaning "gratuitous" or free. God's grace is His freely given "com-passion" for the suffering and welfare of people... The LORD blesses us through affliction - by making us poor in spirit - in order to reveal to us His compassion and lovingkindness.  As this verse plainly states, if the poor one cries to God, He will surely listen to his plea...
 




Showing Compassion...


 

08.07.12  (Av 19, 5772)  "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Matt. 9:12). We have to be careful not to be offended, especially over the "messiness" of living by faith... What did you expect? We are in the midst of an age-old battle, and each of us must struggle to press on. There are failures along the way; most of us stumble and are troubled by inner sin. We are all wounded people seeking healing and love. God enters into the midst of our troubles and brings us salvation and grace, and we must likewise show compassion to one another on the journey. As Yeshua said, "I came not to call the 'righteous,' but sinners" (Matt. 9:13).
 




The Power of Forgetfulness


 

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

08.07.12  (Av 19, 5772)  The sages note: "Great is the power of forgetfulness, for it is also capable of causing you to forget the LORD your God, as it is written, "Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today" (Deut. 8:11). Therefore strive to remember, to guard the truth that has been entrusted to you: "Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth" (Prov. 4:5).
 

הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן־תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ
 לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמר מִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקּתָיו
 אֲשֶׁר אָנכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם

hi·sha·mer · le·kha · pen-tish·kach · et · Adonai · E·lo·he·kha
le·vil·ti · she·mor · mitz·vo·tav · u·mish·pa·tav · ve·chuk·ko·tav
a·sher · a·no·khi · me·tza·ve·kha · ha·yom

"Guard yourself lest you forget the LORD your God
by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes,
which I command you today" (Deut. 8:11)


 

Note that the word "forget" comes from a root (שָׁכַח) that means to ignore or "wither," thus recalling the words of Yeshua: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers (ξηραίνω); and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned" (John 15:5-6).
 




Alienation and Idolatry...


 

08.07.12  (Av 10, 5772)  In the Torah an idol is sometimes called a "no thing" (אֱלִיל), suggesting an empty promise, an illusion, or a vanity (the Hebrew word comes from אַל, "not," suggesting negation and emptiness). The Kotzer Rebbe comments, "You shall have no foreign god" means do not let God be strange or foreign to you - neither to your heart nor to your soul." God is revealed inwardly to the heart. Therefore any religion that depicts God as "strange," "distant," or that moves you to be estranged from others is false. Putting a "false face" on the Eternal One who is faithful, loving, and true – that is idolatry.
 

שְׁמַע עַמִּי וְאָעִידָה בָּךְ
 יִשְׂרָאֵל אִם־תִּשְׁמַע־לִי
 לא־יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֵל זָר
 וְלא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לְאֵל נֵכָר

she·ma · am·mi · ve·a·i·dah · bakh
Yis·ra·el · im · tish·ma · li
lo · yi·he·yeh · ve·kha · el · zar
ve·lo · tish·ta·cha·veh · le·el · ne·khar

"Hear, O my people, while I admonish you!
 O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
 There shall be no strange god among you;
 you shall not bow down to a foreign god."
(Psalm 81:8-9)



 

The LORD God of Israel alone meets the true need of our hearts, and substituting other things for Him never truly satisfies the hunger we have for love...
 




His Unsearchable Greatness...


 

08.07.12  (Av 18, 5772)   "His ways are unsearchable..." (Psalm 145:3). Most religions of the world trifle with the notion of mystery, but they stumble over the idea of paradox, and especially over the Absolute Paradox that Almighty God Himself is so infinitely great - the LORD of all possible realms - that He literally became a man who could bleed, suffer, and die as a condemned criminal in our place, for our sins... God's greatness extends even there - in infinite condescension to man, revealed at the cross of Yeshua. Other world religions try to put God in a box, to imagine Him to be intelligible, and thereby reduce His glory to that of a "cosmic accountant." The truth of God is always more than we could have thought or even imagined: the Infinite One became bound in time, the Holy One became sin, and so on.
 

גָּדוֹל יְהוָה וּמְהֻלָּל מְאד
 וְלִגְדֻלָּתוֹ אֵין חֵקֶר

ga·dol · Adonai · u·me·hul·lal · me·od
ve·lig·dul·la·to · ein · che·ker

"Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
 and his greatness is unsearchable."
(Psalm 145:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 

God's glory is utterly unfathomable, and ironically those who think they have Him "all figured out" are undoubtedly mistaken... Thomas Aquinas' most significant work was his Summa theologiae or 'Summary of Theology,' a massive book that attempted to "systematize" all of Christian theology. He worked on it for many years, but when he was nearly finished he underwent a spiritual experience that, as he himself explained, made everything he had written "seem like straw." He thereafter gave up writing about "theology" after he encountered the Reality itself.  "He does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number" (Job 5:9). Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable (Isa 40:28).
 




Grappling with Grace...


 

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

08.06.12  (Av 18, 5772)   Genuine faith in the Messiah means dying to the religious game of seeking to justify yourself... Faith does not mean successfully adhering to a moral code of some kind (all the world pretends to do that, after all), much less does it mean pretending to have all the answers... Instead, faith is the passionate decision to trust in the miracle of God's love for you - despite the ambiguity and testing of the present moment. Trusting in Yeshua the Messiah, the Living LORD, is the essential Torah of God (John 6:28-29)

The term eikev (עֵקֶב) comes from the root akav (עָקַב, to "take by the heel"), as does the name Ya'akov (יַעֲקב, Jacob), who had "grabbed the heel" of his twin brother Esau while still in the womb of Rebekah. Ya'akov was later renamed Israel in commemoration of his grappling with Malakh Adonai (the Angel of YHVH) at Peniel. The Lord then declared to him, "Your name shall no longer be Ya'akov ("grappler") but Yisrael (יִשְׂרָאֵל), for as a prince (שַׂר, sar) you have striven (שָׂרִיתָ, sarita) with God and with men and have prevailed" (Gen. 32:28). The first occurrence of the root word appears in Genesis 3:15, where the LORD prophesied that although the Redeemer's heel (עָקֵב, akev) would be bruised, the very head (ראשׁ, rosh) of the serpent (satan) would be crushed.

Indeed, directly after the Akedah (the sacrifice of Isaac), the LORD said to Abraham, "in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because (עֵקֶב) you have obeyed my voice" (Gen. 22:18). God blessed Abraham and his descendants because he grappled with the Voice of the LORD (YHVH).  The great test of the Akedah centered on whether Abraham would accept the unconditional compassion of the LORD or if he would be tempted into seeking self-justification before God as Elohim (i.e, Judge). Ironically enough, Abraham's test was whether he would be "religious" or whether he would heed the compassionate intervention of the LORD...  When the White Ram was caught in the thicket and sacrificed in Isaac's place, there was nothing left for Abraham to do other than accept God's gracious gift of love. Surrendering to God's love is the only genuine obedience, after all. "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one God has sent" (John 6:29).

Note: For more on this topic, see the article, "Grappling with Grace."
 




Prayer in the Dark...


 

08.06.12  (Av 18, 5772)   Lord, when I feel lost, remind me again how you have found me, how you have prepared a place for me, and that's all I really need to be home... If I must suffer, please let it neither embitter nor shatter me. If I cry out in protest or despair, accept my heartache and grant me your compassion and comfort. When my faith falters, reveal to me that you are always near. Help me, Yeshua, to chose life this day.  Amen.
 




Parashat Eikev - עקב


 

[ The Torah reading for this week is parashat Eikev, traditionally read during Shabbat Va'tomer, the second "Sabbath of consolation" after Tishah B'Av. ]

08.05.12  (Av 17, 5772)   Last week's Torah portion (Va'etchanan) ended with a sober warning to obey the LORD: "Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God (הָאֵל הַנֶּאֱמָן) who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today" (Deut 7:9-11).

In this week's portion (Eikev), Moses continues his admonition by saying, "If you heed these judgments, and keep and do them, the LORD your God will keep with you the covenant and the steadfast love that he swore to your fathers" (Deut. 7:12). Obedience to the commandments will yield blessings: plentiful children, harvests, livestock, and other material miracles in the land. Indeed, the Israelites would be "blessed above all peoples," free of every type of sickness, living in victory in the Promised Land.  The people were not to live in any kind of fear, particularly of the seven nations of the land of Canaan. Instead they were to exercise faith, recalling what the LORD did to Pharaoh in Egypt and delivered the people. The people were to have no tolerance for idols of any kind. They were to "devote them to utter destruction," burning them with fire and eradicating them from the land.

Moses then reminded the people how the LORD had taken care of them throughout their wandering in the desert. For nearly 40 years, God humbled them, feeding them with manna and giving them water from the miraculous Rock. Even the Shekhinah glory miraculously kept their clothes fresh and their shoes from wearing out! Moses said that the LORD did all this to teach the people to rely on Him alone to meet all their needs. The various hardships in the desert had disciplined them to learn that "man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD."
 

כִּי לא עַל־הַלֶּחֶם לְבַדּוֹ יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם
כִּי עַל־כָּל־מוֹצָא פִי־יהוה יִחְיֶה הָאָדָם׃

ki  · lo · al-ha·le·chem · le·va·do · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam;
ki · al-kol-mo·tza · fi-Adonai · yich·yeh · ha·a·dam

"Man does not live on bread alone, but by everything that comes
from the mouth of the LORD does man live."
(Deut. 8:3)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The portion continues with Moses encouraging the people to trust in God for their every need, for as long as they did so, God would prosper them in the land and continue to care for them, just as He did in the desert.  However, Moses warned the people not to forget the LORD by ignoring his commandments, especially after they had settled the land and become prosperous. If the people forgot their supernatural deliverance and origin, turning to idols or believing that their own ingenuity gave them their wealth, God promised that they would soon perish from the land, just like the seven Canaanite nations before them.

Parashat Eikev concludes with the passage which is used liturgically as the second (of three) portions of the Shema (called the Vehayah). These words (i.e., Deut. 11:13-21), reiterate the connection between Israel's devotion to the LORD and their blessing as God's chosen people, are recited twice a day by Orthodox Jews all over the world. 

Note: For more on this important Torah portion, see the parashah summary page. You can also download the Shabbat Table Talk for Eikev by clicking here.
 




The Last Sabbaths of the Year....


 

[ The last ten weeks of the Jewish year prepare us for the High Holidays. During the Three Weeks of Sorrow, we revisit the pain of our exile, but the following seven weeks (leading up to Rosh Hashanah), we remind ourselves of the future redemption of the Jewish people and the coming Messianic Era.... ]

08.05.12  (Av 17, 5772)   The weekly haftarah portion (i.e., reading from the Prophets) is usually thematically connected with the weekly Torah portion; however, beginning with the 17th of Tammuz until the end of the Jewish year, the connection changes. During the Three Weeks of Sorrow, we always read three prophetic portions of rebuke. After Tishah B'Av, however, and for the next seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah (i.e., the new year), we always read selections of comfort that foretell of the future redemption of the Jewish people and the coming Messianic Era. Collectively the last seven weeks of the calendar are called the "Seven Weeks of Comfort," and are intended to help us find comfort and strength to prepare for the coming new year...

The second of the "Seven Weeks of Comfort" leading up to Rosh Hashanah is called Va'tomer Tzioyn (וַתּאמֶר צִיּוֹן, "But Tzion said..."), which admonishes us never to regard Zion as abandoned by the LORD God of Israel... "Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me" (Isa. 49:15-16). The Haftarah concludes by Isaiah saying that the LORD will comfort the Mountain of Zion by making it like the Garden of Eden, with joy and happiness within her, along with thanksgiving and the sound of song.


 

Note: The month of Elul begins in just a couple of weeks (i.e., on Friday, August 17th this year), which initiates the 40 day period of preparation for the Jewish High Holidays. This means that Rosh Hashanah will begin in about six weeks (i.e., Sept. 16th at sundown). During the time leading up to the High Holidays, it is customary to engage in cheshbon ha-nefesh ("soul searching") and to derive comfort that God is forgiving and loving to those who sincerely turn to Him. The sages chose the seven "Haftarot of comfort" to encourage us to make our hearts ready for the upcoming High Holiday Season.
 




Finding God in your Heart


 

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

08.03.12  (Av 15, 5772)   From this week's Torah portion: "You will find the LORD your God if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul" (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ), which means that if we seek the LORD will all our heart, we will find Him there, in our heart. "For the Word is very near you (כִּי־קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאד); it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it" (Deut. 30:14).
 

וּבִקַּשְׁתֶּם מִשָּׁם אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלהֶיךָ וּמָצָאתָ
 כִּי תִדְרְשֶׁנּוּ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל־נַפְשֶׁךָ

u·vik·kash·tem · mi·sham · et · Adonai · E·lo·hey·kha · u·ma·tza·ta
ki · tid·re·she·nu · be·khol · le·va·ve·kha · u·ve·khol · naf·she·kha

"But you will seek the LORD your God from there and you will find Him,
if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul."
(Deut. 4:29)



 

Note that the word "you will seek" is in the plural, whereas the rest of the verse is in the singular. "Where is God to be found?" asks the Kotzker Rebbe, but "in the place where He is given entry!" As the Apostle Paul wrote, "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Yeshua is LORD and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same LORD is LORD of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved" (Rom. 10:8-13).

In the Shema we read, "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart" (Deut 6:6). But why in this place does the Torah use the preposition "on" (עַל) instead of "in" the heart?  Perhaps because עַל is the root of the word alah (עָלָה), to ascend, referring to Elyon (עֶלְיוֹן), the Most High... The Kotzker Rebbe commented that at times the heart might be closed and the concepts and ideas you accept intellectually don't penetrate and become part of you. We are still to keep them "ascended over the heart" even if they don't enter your heart, for as soon as your heart softens they will immediately penetrate."

Note: Our Torah portion for this week begins, "And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, to say..." (Deut. 3:23), which implies that we must pray in order to be able to pray, that is, we make ourselves ready to pray by praying....  If you can't find the words to pray, then plead with the LORD and ask for the Holy Spirit to groan on your behalf (Rom. 8:26).
 




There was only a Voice...


 

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

08.03.12  (Av 15, 5772)   We walk by faith, not by sight, and the message of faith comes by listening to the Word of God... Indeed the dramatic theophany at Sinai was essentially verbal and not visual. Therefore Moses repeatedly says that the people "heard the Voice of words, but saw no form (תְּמוּנָה) -- there was only a Voice" (Deut. 4:12). Moses goes on to prohibit any representation of God whatsoever, since God is the Infinite One (i.e., Ein Sof: אין סוף), the One greater than anything imaginable, and therefore any similitude of God in finite terms - regardless of how seemingly beautiful - is necessarily incomplete. But while we can't see God or depict His presence, we can indeed hear Him: "There was only a Voice."
 

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֲלֵיכֶם מִתּוֹךְ הָאֵשׁ
 קוֹל דְּבָרִים אַתֶּם שׁמְעִים
 וּתְמוּנָה אֵינְכֶם ראִים זוּלָתִי קוֹל

vai·da·ber · Adonai · a·ley·khem · mi·tokh · ha·esh
kol · de·va·rim · at·tem · shom·im
u·te·mu·nah · ey·ne·khem · ro·im · zu·la·ti · kol

"Then the LORD spoke to you out of the midst of the fire.
 You heard the sound of words,
 but you saw no form - there was only a voice."
(Deut. 4:12)



 

The Hebrew word for idols (i.e., elil: אֱלִיל) literally means "nothings" in Hebrew (from אַל, "not," suggesting their worthlessness and emptiness). Idols are inherently deceptive because they misrepresent the truth of God by implying that God can be known through human art, invention, or imagination. The prohibition against idolatry, then, amounts to the proclamation of God's utter transcendence, His incomparable glory, and His absolute holiness... The truth of God is not some dressed-up version of humanism, but instead is the Presence of the unutterably Sacred and mysterious Power that creates all existence yesh me'ayin, out of nothing. The attempt to reduce the infinite to the finite, to absolutize the finite, is to engage in a form of idolatry - whether that means literally bowing before a physical representation of the divine or not. Indeed, you might as well go out and stare at the sun in the noonday sky than to assume that you can envision the overmastering glory and superlative majesty of the LORD God Almighty...

Postscript: The idea that we have no visual analogy for the Reality of God is paradoxical, since there are other Scriptures that speak of being able to "see" the Divine Presence (or at least infer God's effects in creation). See the Torah Table Talk for Vaetchanan for discussion on this question... Indeed, the whole earth is lit up with God's glory, and every bush of the field is aflame before us -- if we have "eyes" to see (Isa. 6:3). May it please the LORD to open our spiritual eyes so we can behold more of His glory and majesty in this hour. Amen.
 




An Everlasting Love...


 

[ The 15th of the month of Av, otherwise called Tu B'Av, occurs Friday, August 3rd this year. ]

08.03.12
  (Av 15, 5772)   Today is Tu B'Av, the 15th day of the month of Av, a time associated with love and joy in Jewish tradition.  Just as Yom Kippur originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel to the LORD after the sin of the Golden Calf, so Tu B'Av originally celebrated the reconciliation of Israel for the Sin of the Spies. Therefore both the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur became joyous times celebrating forgiveness and restoration to the LORD. The Babylonian Talmud (Ta'anit 31a) states "Israel had no holidays as joyous as the fifteenth of Av and the Day of Atonement, when the maidens of Israel would go out and dance in the vineyards..."

An old Jewish legend says that 40 days before a person is conceived in the womb, God decrees who that person's life partner will be (Talmud: Mo'ed Katan 18b). The sages calculate that Tu B'Av falls 40 days before Elul 25, the traditional date of the creation of the universe, and infer that at that time - before the foundation of the world - God "chose us to be His beloved (Eph. 1:4). At any rate, Tu B'Av reminds us of the deeper truth that you were created to be in a love relationship with God! 
 

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

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

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



Hebrew Study Card 
 

Note that the word translated "I have drawn you" (i.e., מְשַׁכְתִּיךְ) 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 chesed seizes us, takes us captive, and leads us to the Savior... Spiritual rebirth is a divine act of creation, "not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). God is always preeminent.
 




Hearing and God's Presence


 

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

08.02.12  (Av 14, 5772)   The Hebrew word "shema" (שׁמע), "listen," equals 410 in gematria (i.e., Shin = 300 + Mem = 40 + Ayin = 70), which is the same value as the word mishkan (מִשְׁכּן), "tabernacle," and the word kadosh (קדוֹשׁ), "holy." This suggests that as we listen to the Word of the LORD, we are like a Temple filled with His holy Presence (1 Cor. 6:19). As Isaiah said, "Who has believed our report (i.e., שְׁמוּעָה, from the same root as shema), and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (Isa. 53:1). Faith cannot exist apart from the proclamation of the truth which first must be declared so that it may be received by faith. As it is written in the New Testament: "So then faith comes from listening, and listening comes through the Word of the Messiah" (Rom. 10:17).
 




I AM your Neighbor...


 

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

08.02.12  (Av 14, 5772)   Deuteronomy is called mishneh ha-Torah (מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה), or "the repetition of the Torah," since it restates and summarizes many of the laws of the Torah that were revealed at Sinai some 40 years earlier. The book opens 37 days before Moses was to die, namely, during the fortieth year since the Exodus from Egypt, on the first day of the eleventh month of Shevat (Deut. 1:3).  As such, the book has the tone of a farewell discourse from Moses to the children of Israel.  In fact, unlike the previous four books of the Torah, the speaker in Deuteronomy is Moses himself, and even the recounting of various laws and ordinances are recorded as part of the addresses he gave.

This week's Torah portion (Vaetchanan) restates the Ten Commandments (as they were initially given in Parashat Yitro) during Moses' farewell speech. Though there are some slight language differences between the Exodus and Deuteronomy versions, both begin with "I AM" (אָנכִי) and both end with "[for] your neighbor" (לְרֵעֶךָ). Joining these together says "I am your neighbor," indicating that the LORD Himself is found in your neighbor. When we love our neighbor as ourselves (אָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ), we are in effect showing love for the LORD.  We must learn to disregard the claims of our ego and cling to the idea of chesed. So who exactly is your neighbor? You are -- to every other soul you may encounter this day...
 




Guardian of the Doors of Israel...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'av. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

08.02.12  (Av 14, 5772)  In this week's Torah portion we are commanded about the mezuzah, a scroll with words of Torah affixed to the doorposts of a house and the gates of a city. The word "mezuzah" (מְזוּזָה) is used 18 times in the Scriptures, the same numerical value as the word for "alive" (i.e., chai: חי). Note that the gematria of the verse, "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house, and on your gates" (Deut. 6:9) equals 2468, which is the same value found in the account of the final plague in Egypt during the time of the Passover: "Thus says the LORD: 'About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt' (Exod. 11:4). Because of this connection, the sages infer that just as the Israelites applied the blood of the lamb to the mezuzot of their homes during the time of their deliverance as a sign of their faith, so we should affix mezuzot to the doors of our homes. As believers in the Messiah Yeshua, the mezuzah reminds us that we too are bought with a price, and that our homes are dedicated to God.

Many mezuzot are beautiful pieces of artwork and are often given as housewarming gifts. The letter Shin (שׁ) that often is inscribed on the outside of the mezuzah case stands for the Name of God: Shaddai (the "All Sufficient One"). The three letters of the word Shaddai (שׁדי) are said to be the initials taken from the phrase "Guardian of the doors of Israel" (i.e., shomer daltot yisrael: שׁוֹמֵר דַּלְתוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל).

 

Note: For more information about the mezuzah, see the Mezuzah Blessing page.
 




Grace for the Body...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'av. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

08.01.12  (Av 13, 5772)  The name of our Torah portion this week, va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן), comes from a root word that means "grace" (i.e., chen: חֵן). When Moses pleaded with God to be allowed into the land, he was told rav lakh (רַב־לָךְ) - you have so much! Go up to the mountain and understand that the promise will be fulfilled, even if in the present hour it seems as if grace is being withheld from you (Deut. 3:23-27).

The idea of grace is bigger than individual blessing and deliverance, since ultimately it concerns the whole community. What good is it to be saved if others are lost? If one member of the body suffers, so does the whole body (1 Cor. 12:26). The Apostle Paul went so far as to ask to be cursed – cut off – from heaven itself for the sake of the deliverance of the Jewish people (Rom. 9:3). Therefore our prayers are often uttered in the plural:  Avinu she-bashamayim: "Our Father, who art in heaven..." Moses was denied entry to the land (at this time, though see Matt. 17:3) because access to Zion would come through Yeshua the Messiah, and that message must be delivered to the people in the fullness of time...
 




Torah and the Fear of God...


 

[ The following concerns this week's Torah reading, parashat Vaetchanan, which is always read on the Sabbath following Tishah B'av. Please read the Torah portion to "find your place" here. ]

08.01.12  (Av 13, 5772)  Moses prefaces the Shema and its blessings by saying: "Now this is the commandment (זאת הַמִּצְוָה) -- the decrees (i.e., ha-chukkim: הַחֻקִּים) and the rules (i.e., ha-mishpatim: הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים) -- that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over (עבְרִים) to possess, that you may fear the LORD your God (לְמַעַן תִּירָא אֶת־יְהוָה), you and your son and your son's son, by keeping all His statutes and His commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, that your days may be long" (Deut. 6:1-2). The purpose of the Torah, then, is to instill the fear of the LORD (i.e., yirat Adonai (יִרְאַת יְהוָה), and indeed, this connection may be seen in the word Torah (תּוֹרָה) itself, which has the same numerical value as the verb tirah (תִּירָא), "you may fear."

The "fear of the LORD" is reverential awe that you are standing before the Divine Presence, and that all of your thoughts, desires, and actions are performed before God Himself. Da lifnei mi atah omed: "Know before whom you are standing." This is more than intellectual knowledge, however, since the fear of sinning before the Holy One is ultimately a matter of the heart. The midrash states, ‎"You may learn the entire Law and teachings, but if you have no fear of sin you have nothing. I say to my neighbor: I have a thousand measures of wheat, wine, and oil. My neighbor responds: Have you storehouses in which to put them? If yes, you have all; if no, you have nothing. So with you: you may have learned everything, but only if you have the fear of sin is it yours."
 






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