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July 2012 Updates


Overcoming Ambivalence


 

07.31.12  (Av 12, 5772)  Ambivalence has been defined as wanting two different and opposing things at the same time, and therefore is a state of inner conflict... For example, we may want to be kind and loving toward someone who has hurt us, yet we also may harbor resentment or seek revenge; or we may want to abstain from a forbidden pleasure, yet we find ourselves inwardly hungering for it anyway. When we feel pulled in two different directions or have mixed feelings, we are being called near to God to find help.
 

סֵעֲפִים שָׂנֵאתִי וְתוֹרָתְךָ אָהָבְתִּי

se·a·fim · sa·nei·ti · ve·to·ra·te·kha · a·hav·ti

"I hate the double-minded, but I love your Torah"
(Psalm 119:113)



 

Note that the word se'afim (סֵעֲפִים) is translated as παρανόμους (paranomous) in the LXX, literally, "one who reasons around the Torah," that is, someone who is quick to excuse himself from the demands and truth of God's moral will and authority... Some translations render this word as "frivolous-minded," "light-minded," or "vain," though the Hebrew word comes from a root (סעף) that means to split or to divide, fork-like, like branches of trees waved with the wind to and fro (compare James 1:8-9; 4:8; 1 Kings 18:21).

The contrast is between ambivalence, or being "two-soulled" (δίψυχος), and the desire for the truth of God's Torah that unifies the soul. To be undivided, wholehearted, pure of heart, and so on, means to abhor all fantasies of imagination or thought that lead us away from the Divine Presence. "Take every thought captive" (2 Cor. 10:5). We must always be on guard lest we be seduced from our heart's focus and direction (Heb. 4:1).

Consider temptation to be a "rabbit hole" that leads to discovery about what you really need. Take your temptation to the LORD and ask Him to fill the void, to strengthen your heart, to heal the inner divide, and so on. He already knows what's happening within your adulterous heart, so come before Him boldly to find healing and help (Heb 4:16). "God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power (גְּבוּרָה / δύναμις) and of love (ἀγάπη), and of a "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός), literally, a "delivered" mind, "healed" from fragmentation (2 Tim. 1:7). The Greek word "sound mind" (σωφρονισμός) comes from the verb sodzo (σῴζω), meaning "to save," from saos (σάος) "safe," in the sense of being under restraining influence of the Spirit of God..

Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. We bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly fragmented - in order to receive God's care for us.  Today choose to regard your brokenness as an invitation to come before God for healing; never let it be a source of shame that keeps you from coming to the LORD for help! We are not to be ignorant of Satan and his devices... Despite our many sins, frailties, and our own inner ambivalence, we know that God alone is our healer, our deliverer, and the lover of our souls....
 




Spiritual Warfare...


 

07.31.12  (Av 12, 5772)  I mentioned recently that our own evil inclination, the yetzer hara, needs to be acknowledged so that we may find inner peace... Often our true motives are hidden - even from ourselves - so that we are unaware of how we are controlled by them.  For example, if we harbor an unacknowledged hunger to find approval and validation from other people, we may lose sight of God Himself (Gal. 1:10). The enemy within is usually in hiding, and we need special wisdom from God not to be ruled by fear, anger, and so on. It has been said that "we are only as sick as the secrets we keep," though the secrets we keep from ourselves are surely the most dangerous.

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you" (Prov. 25:21-22). Some of the sages have said that the "enemy" here refers to the yetzer hara, the "evil impulse," and that by proactively attending to the inner emptiness and neediness we sometimes feel - by feeding ourselves the "bread of Torah" and the "water of the Spirit" - we will overcome the evil with good (Rom. 12:21). If you feel yourself lacking, the evil impulse will offer to fill the void. The only defense against inner emptiness is to be filled with the Spirit of God. Study the truth of Scripture, pray, develop hakarat hatov (gratitude), and perform acts of gemilut chassidim. Overcome the evil impulse with good. The LORD will see to it that your cup will overflow in the presence of your enemy (Psalm 23:5). Thus it is written, "From my enemies You teach me wisdom in doing your commandments" (Psalm 119:98), meaning that the yetzer hara can teach us if we submit to God's will... Therefore Yeshua said, "Be wise as serpents but harmless as doves" (Matt. 10:16).

The essence of sin is unbelief. Sin is not so much disobedience to an external code of behavior as much as it is abandoning your trust, your identity, and your hope as a beloved child of God.  As you believe so you will behave, and as you behave so you believe... Therefore one of the greatest of sins is to forget the truth of who you really are – a prince or princess of God!  The great temptation of sin is rooted in the lie that we are unworthy people, that God does not really loves us (just the way we are), that He is disappointed in us, and so on. This perspicacious quote by Henri Nouwen speaks to my heart:
 

    Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection.... Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence."
     


Ultimately sin seduces people to destroy themselves, since it first of all seeks to disown, impugn, and reject what is most important for spiritual life. The devil seeks to murder and destroy all that we need to be eternally healed... And though we might want to escape from this conflict (or to pretend that it's not really here), the battle is intractably real and must be fully engaged until our redemption is complete (1 Pet. 5:8-9). Meanwhile, spiritual struggles can be downright ugly. Would any one deny that the cross of Messiah was a sacred space - and yet it was precisely from there, from the place of blood and suffering and pain and terror, that the grace, beauty, and strength of God for us would shine forth.

To effectively combat the devil, let us first of all pray to the LORD God Almighty and ask for His power, wisdom, and grace to deal with the evil one's devices and strategies used against us (Eph. 6:11-18; Rom. 13:12, 1 Thess. 5:8; 2 Cor. 10:4-5). Since we are not to be ignorant of the devil and his devices (2 Cor. 2:11), let us particularly ask God to remind us of who we really are in the Messiah, and to give us the power of the Holy Spirit to genuine walk in the truth of our sacred identity. Let's ask God to help us practically apply the victory given to us in the resurrection of Yeshua. With God's help, may we be bold to take our place at His banqueting table, assured that we are indeed His dear children. Shalom.
 




Romance and Tu B'Av


 

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

07.31.12
  (Av 12, 5772)  Hebrew letters can be used to express numbers.  Joining the letters Tet (9) and Vav (6), for example, equals the number 15, sometimes written as the acronym "Tu" (ט"ו). The phrase "Tu B'Av" (ט"ו באב) indicates the 15th day of the month of Av (אָב), a "full-moon" holiday that has been celebrated as a day of love and affection (i.e., chag ha-ahavah: חַג הָאַהֲבָה) since Biblical times.  In modern Israel Tu B'Av is celebrated as a sort of "Valentine's Day," though it is a much older holiday that St. Valentine's Day.

The first mention of Tu B'Av is found in the Mishnah, where Shimon ben Gamliel is quoted as saying, "There were no better (i.e. happier) days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Israel go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What were they saying: Young man, consider whom you choose to be your wife... (Taanit, Chapter 4).

Since it is the "last" festival of the Jewish year, prophetically Tu B'Av pictures our marriage to the Lamb of God (Seh Elohim), the LORD Yeshua our beloved Messiah. On a soon-coming day those who belong to the LORD and are faithful to follow His ways will be blessed with the unspeakable joy of consummating their relationship with Him. This is heaven itself - to be in the Presence of the LORD and to be His beloved (Rev. 19:6-9).

 

Note: For more about Tu B'Av, click here.
 




Shabbat Nachamu - שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ


 

[ We have seven weeks to prepare for the start of the new year (Rosh Hashanah) and the High Holidays - a prophetic season that concerns the return of Yeshua... ]

07.30.12  (Av 11, 5772)  The prophet Zechariah foresaw the future Messianic Era when the various fast days of the Jewish year will be transformed into to appointed times of great joy (Zech. 8:19): "Thus says Adonai Tzeva'ot (יהוה צְבָאוֹת): The fast of the fourth month (Tammuz), and the fast of the fifth month (Tishah B'Av), and the fast of the seventh month (Yom Kippur), and the fast of the tenth month (Asarah b'Tevet), will be to the house of Judah for joy and rejoicing, and for pleasant appointed seasons, and the truth and the peace they have loved (וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ)."

Because of this prophecy of coming consolation for Israel, on the Sabbath immediately following the fast of Av (i.e., Tishah B'Av) we recall the promise of the final redemption of the Jewish people - and indeed the entire world. Therefore the sages named this Sabbath the "Sabbath of Comfort" (i.e., Shabbat Nachamu: שַׁבַּת נַחֲמוּ) and assigned the prophetic portion from the Book of Isaiah that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ammi - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." (Isa. 40:1).
 

נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי יאמַר אֱלהֵיכֶם

na·cha·mu  na·cha·mu  am·mi,  yo·mar  E·lo·hey·khem

"Comfort, comfort my people, says your God"
(Isa. 40:1)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The sages reasoned that the word nachamu was repeated to offer consolation for both of the Temples that were destroyed. Thematically, this Shabbat marks a time of joy over our anticipated comfort: Despite our present tribulations, in the end the LORD will vindicate His glory and completely ransom His people.  Note further that the verb yomar is imperfect, implying that God is always saying this to His people...
 




Parashat Vaetchanan


 

[ 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. ]

07.30.12  (Av 11, 5772)  Our Torah portion this week (Va'etchanan) includes some of the most fundamental texts of the Jewish Scriptures, including the Ten Commandments, the Shema (the duty to love God and study His Torah), and the commandments of tefillin and mezuzot. In addition, in this portion Moses predicts the galut (exile) and the eventual redemption of the Jewish people in acharit hayamim (the prophesied "End of Days").

The portion begins with Moses' plea to the LORD to be allowed entry into the Promised Land, despite God's earlier decree (see Num. 20:8-12; 27:12-14). The Hebrew word va'etchanan (וָאֶתְחַנַּן) comes from the verb chanan (חָנַן), which means to beseech or implore. It derives from the noun chen (חֵן), grace, implying that the supplication appeals to God's favor, not to any idea of personal merit (in Jewish tradition, tachanun (תַּחֲנוּן) are prayers recited after the Amidah begging for God's grace and mercy). Moses was asking God to show him grace by reversing the decree that forbade him to enter the Promised Land.

Note that in Jewish tradition, the idea of appealing to God's grace is not without expending personal effort. The gematria of vaetchanan is 515 -- the same as the word for prayer (i.e., tefillah, תְּפִלָּה) - which suggests that while grace is "free," it is something precious that must be sought after with the whole heart.  Despite his repeated appeals, however, God finally said to Moses: רַב־לָך, "enough from you" (Deut. 3:26) and reaffirmed His decree that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the land. That privilege was given to Yehoshua bin Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן), i.e., "Joshua the son of Nun," who was clearly a picture of the Messiah.

Moses was forbidden into the land because symbolically the covenant made at Sinai was insufficient to fulfill the promise of God. This insufficiency, however, was not the fault of God's Torah, which is "holy, just, and good" (Rom. 7:12), but rather because of the weakness of the human condition (i.e., the law of sin and death).  "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom. 8:3-4). The New Covenant was needed to bring people to Zion, and this required a "change in the Torah" and a new priesthood (Heb. 7:12). "The former commandment was set aside because of its weakness and uselessness - for the law made nothing perfect - but a better hope is introduced, and that is how we draw near to God" (Heb. 7:18-19).
 

חַסְדֵי יְהוָה כִּי לא־תָמְנוּ כִּי לא־כָלוּ רַחֲמָיו׃
חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים רַבָּה אֱמוּנָתֶךָ׃

chas·dei · Adonai · ki · lo-ta·me·nu, · ki · lo-kha·lu · ra·cha·mav,
cha·da·shim · la·be·ka·rim · rab·bah · e·mu·na·te·kha

"The faithful love (חֶסֶד) of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies (רַחֲמִים) never come to an end;
they are new every morning (חֲדָשִׁים לַבְּקָרִים);
great is your faithfulness (אֱמוּנָה)"
(Lam. 3:22-23)



Hebrew Study Card
 




The Voice of Our Words....


 

07.27.12  (Av 9, 5772)  According to Jewish tradition, it was on Tishah B'Av (the ninth of Av) when the people wept over the report of the spies, a lapse of faith so serious that it provoked God to decree that the very generation He redeemed from Egypt would die in the exile of the desert (Num. 13-14). As Moses later recounted this tragic event, he says something peculiar: "The LORD heard the 'voice of your words' (קוֹל דְבַרִים) and was angry..." (Deut. 1:35). The grammar here is unusual, for the text could have simply said, "the LORD heard your words," but the Torah adds something else, the idea of "emotional tone," or the manner, the words were spoken... Sometimes it's not so much what you say that matters, but how you say it. Words of the heart are expressed more by tone, the "voice of the words," than by the words themselves...

When we recite Shema, we do so bekhol levavkha (בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ) - with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our might (Deut. 6:5). This is a cry from the heart that affirms God's truth. Our feelings are important and are given their voice, whether they are feelings of joy, gratitude, and so on, or feelings of doubt, despair, or fear.  As Yeshua Himself said: "Would that you were either cold or hot, but because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I will spit you out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16).

It's been said that if you don't know how to say something, say it loudly... The heart has its own voice regardless of the words we are able to articulate. For instance, if you love someone, then really love them and abhor being halfhearted.  Being hot or being cold is better then being tepid, because then you are being honest, and honesty will always evoke a genuine response from heaven...
 




Remembering the "Whole Way..."


 

[ The following is related to Tishah B'Av, the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple... The second Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred (sinat chinam), though the third will be built upon baseless love, and from its windows we will be able to gaze upon the goodness of Zion" (Psalm 128:5). ]

07.27.12  (Av 9, 5772)  A midrash says it took forty days to take Israel out of Egypt, but it took forty years to take Egypt out of Israel... Moreover, though it would have taken just two weeks to march directly to the promised land, the people were not ready and needed to wander from one dry place to another. Therefore we are told to remember the "whole way" (כָּל־הַדֶּרֶךְ) of our journey: "God led you these forty years in the desert that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart..." (Deut. 8:2).
 

לְמוֹלִיךְ עַמּוֹ בַּמִּדְבָּר
 כִּי לְעוֹלָם חַסְדּוֹ

le·mo·likh · am·mo · ba·mid·bar
ki · le·o·lam · chas·do

"To Him who led his people in the desert,
for his steadfast love endures forever"

Psalm 136:16


 
 

God works all things together for good - even tragic events such as the destruction of the Temple and the exile of His people, and therefore we are commanded to remember the "whole way" of our journey.  As Yeshua said, "Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost" (John 6:12). We "press on to the goal" but also trust that God is able to redeem even the seasons of our lives lived in the waste places. Because of Yeshua, nothing of our lives will be be entirely lost....
 




Faith and Feelings...


 

07.26.12  (Av 7, 5772)  Why are we sometimes taught that feelings are relatively unimportant to the life of faith? For instance, perhaps you have seen the widely popular "fact-faith-feeling" train illustration that has been used in many evangelistic tracts in recent years, such as the so-called "four spiritual laws"?

 

This illustration is apparently meant to teach that faith depends first of all on the fact of God's salvation, followed by the decision to believe God's truth, followed (finally) with subjective feelings that may (or may not) arise as a consequence of faith... In other words, in matters of faith we are told not to depend on our feelings, and the implicit message of the illustration is that feelings are inherently unreliable and therefore should not be trusted. "The very act of looking for an emotional experience is a denial of the concept of faith, and whatever is not of faith is sin."

Of course emotional experience by itself is an unsure test of truth, especially since there are many who have had powerful emotional experiences based on delusions, though I think it is mistake to relegate the emotional part of our lives to the background (i.e., "the caboose"). After all, we could never know the truth apart from the passion to know the truth, and that implies desire to apprehend the truth about God Himself. Indeed a better illustration might be a three-legged stool, with each leg (i.e., fact, faith, and feeling) necessary for the stool to stand securely upright.... Or perhaps an even better illustration would be that of a chair with four legs: fact, faith, deeds, and feeling, all given equal footing. After all, faith without works is dead, and often it is the practice of faith itself gives life to faith itself...

Of course the reality of God is of first importance, as suggested by the Hebrew word for truth (i.e., emet: אֱמֶת), which begins with the letter Aleph (א), representing the preeminent glory of God. No amount of faith in the world has the power to negate the truth of God, which stands forever, and therefore, any faith in things contrary to God's reality is empty and vain. Nonetheless, God made us emotional people who can express a wide range of feelings, including happiness, love, joy, anger, sadness, fear, delight, and so on. There is "emotional truth" that is part of who we are as human beings, and to deny this, or to otherwise elevate either knowledge or the will above the role of the emotions is to run the risk of becoming "off-balance," heartless, and even cruel. We see this, for example, in intellectual forms of Christianity that merely profess the truth of faith but are devoid of the heart and deeds of the Savior. We also see it in various religious expressions that elevate the role of the will, or having "faith in your faith," to obtain worldly prosperity and success.

The life of the Spirit is known inwardly by means of the "fruit of the Spirit," that is, by means of love, joy, peace, and so on (Gal. 5:22-23). Notice that the fruit of the Spirit is not expressed in intellectual terms at all.  It has been said that you can fake the gifts of the Spirit, but not the fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is a matter of the heart, or rather the expression of the new heart (lev chadashah) that God miraculously regenerates within us. This is the "spirit of adoption" within us that cries out, "Abba, Father..." When we recite Shema, we do so bekhol levavkha - with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our might. This is not a passionless declaration, a sterile creed, but a cry from the heart that affirms God's truth. Our feelings are important and should be given their voice. As Yeshua Himself said: "Would that you were either cold or hot, but because you are lukewarm - neither hot nor cold - I will spit you out of my mouth" (Rev. 3:15-16).

There is a danger of becoming heartless in our profession of faith, a mere professor who is devoid of the inner life of the Spirit of God. If we tend to think of faith as believing certain things to be true rather than expressing the truth through our hearts and lives, then we may eventually find ourselves unable to adequately express our feelings or to demonstrate empathy for others. Heartless Christianity is devoid of "com-passion," which is to say that it is devoid of the passion of the cross. Our Lord prayed with such fervor that he sweat great drops of blood - and he did so despite his perfect orthodoxy....

By stressing the head over the heart, the vocabulary of the spiritual life is greatly impoverished. Hence many find themselves uncomfortable with emotional expressions of faith, especially expressions of righteous indignation, fear, sadness, or other so-called "dark" emotions. Thank the LORD God for the Psalms, for the heart of David, for they teach us to "own" our emotions and to honestly express them before God.  Even though subjective feelings are indeed subject to fluctuation, they are given voice in the songs before the Lord. Feelings are part of the very texture of our lives. How can God ever wipe away our tears when we have refused to cry over this world?  How can God console us if we have never felt the tremor of moral outrage over the violence and cruelties of man? Therefore we read "imprecatory" Psalms and understand that God was allowing the psalmist to vent his pain, sadness, and fear before his Heavenly Father. Likewise the Song of Solomon uses the language of human love and passion as metaphors of God's desire for us.... May the LORD our God quicken us and deliver us from numbness of heart... May He help us to awaken to the passion of our souls for Him. May he "afflict" us with hunger and desire for His love and grace... And may we "stir up" our hearts affections and fan the inner flames so that the passion of our lives burns brightly.
 




Accept that you are Accepted


 

[ The following is related to Tishah B'Av, the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple...]

07.25.12  (Av 6, 5772)  "You shall love your neighbor as yourself (וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ): I am the LORD" (Lev. 19:18). There is no way you can love others until you make peace with yourself and let go of the shame of your past. You can't give away what you don't have.... Yeshua died on the cross to set you free: his sacrifice was offered to move you past self-reproach to reach a place of self-acceptance. Indeed the LORD "sets a table before you, anoints your head with oil, and fills your cup to overflowing" (Psalm 23:5). The goodness and love of God will pursue you "all the days of your life" (Psalm 23:6). Yeshua descended to the leper colony of humanity to touch and heal lepers like us...

Compassion is grounded in tolerance and sympathy. We all make mistakes; we all are weak and morally fail; and so on. We can't extend compassion to others or show genuine empathy if deny or reject who we really are. The legalist offers cold comfort to the sorrows and heartache of our lives. Consider it an axiom: Our acceptance and care of others depends on whether we accept that we are accepted. Simone Weil once said, "A hurtful act is the transference to others of the degradation which we bear in ourselves," and the same can be said regarding self-acceptance. If we have yet to accept who we really are, it is unlikely we will find the grace to accept others for who they really are, too. The struggle you have to love yourself is both the source and the measure of your compassion for others.

The sin of the spies is the most serious sin recorded in all the Torah, even more serious than the sin of the Golden Calf. This is confirmed by the testimony of the New Testament, which presents the fate of the Exodus generation as the dire warning of apostasy for those who claim to follow the Messiah (Heb. 3:7-4:2). Indeed the sin of the spies prophetically foretold of the tragic events of Tishah B'Av and the worldwide exile of the people. The sages of the Mishnah said that the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam (שִׂנְאַת חִנָּם), often translated as "baseless hatred," or the refusal to extend grace toward others. This is a direct consequence of unbelief, or abandoning hope in yourself. When we withhold grace from our lives we will regard others with suspicion and hatred (for more on this, see the article "Small in our Eyes").

Giving up hope is the worst kind of exile... Trusting in God means regarding God's view of you as more real than your own. It means allowing yourself to be elevated to honor so that you can be in a genuine love relationship with your Heavenly Father. "From now on, therefore, we regard no one (including ourselves) according to the flesh..." (2 Cor. 5:16). This is the underlying message of Tishah B'Av, after all - never to give up hope, never to yield to utter despair, but to press on by faith.
 




One Day at a Time...


 

07.24.12  (Av 5, 5772)  "Don't be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow has its own troubles. Live one day at a time" (Matt. 6:34). It makes no sense to worry about the future if the LORD is the Good Shepherd who tenderly watches over your way (Psalm 23:1). Every day we are given daily bread, but remember that manna could not be stored up without becoming rotten (Exod. 16:20).
 

יְהוָה רעִי לא אֶחְסָר
בִּנְאוֹת דֶּשֶׁא יַרְבִּיצֵנִי
עַל־מֵי מְנֻחוֹת יְנַהֲלֵנִי
נַפְשִׁי יְשׁוֹבֵב
יַנְחֵנִי בְמַעְגְּלֵי־צֶדֶק לְמַעַן שְׁמוֹ

Adonai · ro·i · lo · ech·sar
bi·not · de·she · yar·bi·tzei·ni
al · mei · me·nu·chot · ye·na·cha·lei·ni
naf·shi  · ye·sho·vev
yan·chei·ni · ve·ma·a·ge·lei · tze·dek · le·ma·an · she·mo

"The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
 He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake."
(Psalm 23:1-3)



Hebrew Study Card
 


The walk of faith is one of "holy suspense," trusting that God is on the other side of the next moment, "preparing a place for you" (John 14:3). In the present, then, we live in unknowing dependence, walking by faith, not by sight. For "hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he sees?" (Rom. 8:24). This is the existential posture of faith - walking in darkness while completely trusting in God's daily care. Our task at any given moment is always the same - to look to God and to accept His will. This is where time and eternity meet within us, where God's kingdom is revealed in our hearts.

"Who among you fears the LORD and hears (שָׁמַע) the voice of his Servant? Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on his God... I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them" (Isa. 50;10; 42:16). 
 




Deliverance from Shame...


 

07.24.12  (Av 5, 5772)  "Love covers a multitude of sins...."  Therefore do not be overly concerned with your defects or your sinful condition, but instead focus on loving our Savior Yeshua, for as we express our love for Him we experience much forgiveness (Luke 7:47). This is a matter of focus, or direction of the heart and its affections. Regard your sins and defects only in light of the cross of Messiah, and never despair over yourself apart from seeing God's outstretched arms for you... When you understand that your sin was accepted into the stricken heart of Yeshua on your behalf, you see it rightly - and the wonder and glory of God's love for us is magnified.
 

    True repentance has a distinct and constant reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. If you repent of sin without looking to Christ, away with your repentance! If you are so lamenting your sin as to forget the Savior, you have need to begin all this work over again. Whenever we repent of sin we must have one eye upon sin and another upon the Cross. Or, better still, let us have both eyes upon Christ, seeing our sin punished in Him and by no means let us look at sin except as we look at Jesus.

    If I hate sin because of the punishment, I have not repented of sin – I merely regret that God is just. But if I can see sin as an offense against Jesus Christ and loathe myself because I have wounded Him, then I have a true brokenness of heart... Only under the Cross can you repent. Repentance elsewhere is remorse which clings to the sin and only dreads the punishment. Let us then seek, under God, to have a hatred of sin caused by a sight of Christ's love. -  C.H. Spurgeon
     


We must always remember that the LORD came to deliver us so that we could experience inner peace and true freedom. The cross is therefore the means to the greater end of being in a relationship with God as his beloved children... It was for love that the Savior died. Never allow shame to trump the love of God or in any way impugn the miracle of God's salvation given in Yeshua our LORD. "Only fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart. For see what great things he has done for you" (1 Sam. 12:24).
 




A Tishah B'Av Parable...


 

[ The following is related to Tishah B'Av, the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple...]

07.23.12  (Av 4, 5772)  The theme of the fragility of life is part of the sober message of Tishah B'Av. After all, the great symbol of God's manifest presence on the earth, the Holy Temple, went up in smoke, and the very place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" was utterly destroyed. As the people were taken captive and led into exile, the great vision of Zion appeared to be forever lost (Psalm 137:1-4).

The LORD had forewarned that exile, persecution and progressively worse punishments would befall the people if they would break faith with Him (Lev. 26:14-46). But how could all this have happened? Notice that the "rebuke" portion of the tochachah begins with v'im lo tishme'u li (וְאִם־לא תִשְׁמְעוּ לִי), "if you do not listen to me" (Lev. 26:14), which recalls the Shema and the duty to love the Lord bekhol levavkha, "with all your heart." The sages point out that the refrain "if you walk contrary to me" (וַהֲלַכְתֶּם עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי) - which occurs several times during the rebuke - really means "if you walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with me." The commentator Rashi notes that the verb karah (קָרָה) means "to befall" or "to happen" and therefore suggests a sense of randomness (the related word mikreh [מִקְרֶה] means "coincidence"). If the people regarded the events of life as "random," then God would reciprocate by bringing senseless trouble into their lives. For this reason a careless attitude about the things of God is the first step toward apostasy...

It's been said that the opposite of love isn't hate, but rather indifference, and that explains why punishments came when the people "left their first love." If you walk carelessly with God, then you may be afflicted with "troubles of love" (i.e., yissurei ahavah: יִסּוּרֵי אַהֲבָה), that is, with various difficulties, intended to help you "come to your senses," to help you wake up, and to cause you return to the LORD for healing... This is a severe mercy of God.

A parable attempts to explain the heart behind Tishah B'Av and the tragic destruction of the Temple: Once a great artist desire to paint his greatest masterpiece, and journeyed with his companion to the top of a high mountain to find the perfect view.  After several days, the painting was complete, though the artist began to view his work at different angles to see what improvements might be made. He started walking backward, admiring his work. He continued to pace backward, focusing only on his painting, when he approached the edge of a cliff. When his friend realized the danger, he called out for him to stop, but the artist took no heed to his words. At the last moment, when he was about to plunge to his certain death, however, his friend picked up a knife, ran to the picture, and began slashing it to pieces, destroying the masterpiece before the artist's eyes. "What are you doing!" the artist cried out, having finally come to his senses. "Look behind you and you'll see why I did it" replied the friend. Similarly with God. He tried to warn the people to turn back to Him lest they perish, but they refused to heed His words, so finally He allowed the Temple to be destroyed so that the people themselves could come to their senses and many would escape with their lives....

The daily sacrifice at the Temple was a defect-free lamb that was offered both in the evening and in the morning - a continual sacrifice by fire to God... Ultimately the Temple itself was a means to the greater end of revealing Yeshua as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.... And just as the Sacred Name (יהוה) transcends temporal things - even things as wonderful as the Holy Temple itself - so the Holy Temple was meant to point to Messiah - and to the innermost chamber of our heart that receives Him (1 Cor. 6:19).

The idea of tochachah is not simply something for ethnic Israel, of course, since the New Testament likewise warns us that God will punish those who likewise walk carelessly (i.e., keri: קְרִי) with Him. Have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as God's children? "My son, do not regard lightly (ὀλιγώρει) the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary by his reproof (תּוֹכֵחָה). For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and reproves (יוֹכִיחַ) every child whom he receives" (Heb. 12:5-6; Prov. 3:11-12). The Lord charged the assembly at Ephesus that they had let go of their first love. Yeshua therefore urged them: "Remember from what high state you have fallen and repent! Do the deeds (ἔργα) you did at the first; if not, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place – unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). "God is not mocked (μυκτηρίζω - lit., "to turn up the nose at"), and what a man sows, he also reaps" (Gal. 6:7; Psalm 39:11). There are abiding consequences for the choices we make in our lives. "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Messiah and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 5:6-7).

Note: It is written, "Pain (or grief) handled in God's way produces a turning from sin to God (תְּשׁוּבָה) which leads to salvation (יְשׁוּעָה), and there is nothing to regret in that! But pain handled in the world's way produces only death" (2 Cor. 7:10). A common definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The world's "logic" for dealing with inner pain is to do things that will suppress it, thereby guaranteeing more pain. The only way out is through... During Tishah B'Av we weep over our sins that have brought us exile. The sages note that the word "weeping," i.e., בְּכִי, has the same numeric value as the word for "heart," i.e., לב. We weep from the heart, then, because the heart itself is what needs to be healed...
 




The Measure of our Days...


 

[ The following is related to Tishah B'Av, which begins Saturday, July 28th this year... ]

07.23.12  (Av 4, 5772)  In the Book of Isaiah we read: "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever" (Isa. 40:8), which sets up a great contrast between olam ha-zeh and olam haba – between this present world and the heavenly realm. Unlike the grass of the field that dries up or flowers that soon fade, the word of God stands forever. And despite the frailty of man and the inevitability of physical death, God's truth endures, which is a foundation upon which we can rest.

But how are metaphors that our lives are "like dried up grass" or a "withered flower" intended to comfort us? Do they not, on the contrary, lead us to regard our lives as vain and perhaps meaningless? Yes indeed. Our lives are empty and vain apart from God and His truth. If we find ourselves wincing over such images, it is perhaps time to reexamine the state of our faith: To the extent that we regard this world as our "home" we will find the transience of life to be tragic... For those who are seeking a heavenly habitation, the "City of God" and the fulfillment of the promise of Zion, the fleeting nature of this evil world is ultimately a form of consolation... 
 

הוֹדִיעֵנִי יְהוָה קִצִּי
וּמִדַּת יָמַי מַה־הִיא
אֵדְעָה מֶה־חָדֵל אָנִי

ho·di·e·ni  · Adonai ·  kitz·tzi,
u·mid·dat ·  ya·mai ·  mah ·  hi,
e·de· ah ·  meh ·  cha·del ·  a·ni

"O LORD, make me to know my end
and what is the measure of my days;
let me know how quickly my life will pass"
(Psalm 39:4)



Hebrew Study Card
 

Note that the Hebrew word chadel (חָדֵל) means "lacking" in the sense of being contingent, non-necessary, fleeting, impermanent, and so on. The KJV renders this word as "frail," since the word implies that compared to eternity, our lives are but a vapor or a shadow that quickly passes away. Therefore King David continues, "Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you (וְחֶלְדִּי כְאַיִן נֶגְדֶּךָ). Surely all mankind stands as a mere vanity (הֶבֶל)! Selah" (Psalm 39:5).

The theme of the transience of life is part of the message of Tishah B'Av. The Holy Temple, despite being the pride and joy of the Jewish people during the time of Solomon, went up in smoke, and the place (i.e., ha-makom: הַמָּקוֹם) where the LORD chose to "put His Name" vanished as if it had never been... Understand, then, that the expression of your highest ideals, your most celebrated achievements, likewise can be turned to smoke in an instant. This, then, is the sober message of Tishah B'Av, a "holiday" that teaches that all things will be "tossed into the oven" (Matt. 6:30), though the truth of God endures forever.

On the Jewish calendar, Tishah B'Av is "sandwiched" between the two times Moses received the tablets of the covenant, first during Shavuot and later, after a period of repentance, during Yom Kippur. This means that just two months after celebrating the Sinai revelation, we mourn for the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of our long exile; and two months later still, we celebrate national atonement and the restoration of the covenant during Yom Kippur.  All this is prophetic, of course, since Shavuot recalls the ascension of our LORD and the giving of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit); Tishah B'Av foretells of Israel's long exile and the "age of grace" extended to the Gentiles; and Yom Kippur foretells the coming atonement of the Jewish people at the end of the age, when Israel accepts Yeshua as their great High Priest of the New Covenant (Jer. 30:24).


 

Tishah B'Av reminds us that this world is not our home, and that we are "strangers" and exiles here. The heart of faith is always in collision with this world. Yes, it is an affliction to wait for the LORD, a sort of "homesickness" of heart... The apostle Paul says our loneliness and alienation prepare for us an "eternal weight of glory" beyond all comparison, because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. "For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). Just as the "two-souled" man is unstable in all his ways, so the process of being "educated for eternity" means learning to focus our heart's passion and hope on the glory of heaven. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

Ultimately, the loss of "the place where God put His Name" was a deliberate affliction of His love for his people  The Sacred Name of God [יהוה] is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating that the LORD is always present, despite momentary appearances. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life. Indeed the first occurrence of the Name in Torah regards the inspiration of nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life" in Adam (Gen. 2:4). The LORD is always present for you, breathing out life and hope...

Understand that every breath and every heartbeat is an irreplaceable gift given to you from God is sobering and helps focus the soul's affections. This is one of the "rock bottom" issues of life: There is a God, and you are not Him; and one day you will die and give account for the lease you were given on life... May it please God to help us "redeem the time," for the days are evil (Eph. 5:16; Col. 4:6). Amen.
 




Parashat Devarim - דברים


 

[ The first portion from the Book of Deuteronomy is always read during Shabbat Chazon, the Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av... ]

07.22.12  (Av 3, 5772)  The Hebrew word devarim ("words") can refer either to the Book of Deuteronomy (as a whole) or to the first traditional Torah reading from that book. In both cases, however, the name comes from the phrase אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים (eleh ha-devarim, "these are the words..."), found in the opening verse (Deut. 1:1). In our English Bibles, the Book of Devarim is called Deuteronomy ("second law"), a term coined from a Greek word (δευτερονομιον) used to translate the Hebrew phrase מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה, mishneh ha-Torah, i.e., "a copy" or "repetition" of the Torah (found in Deut. 17:18). In the Jewish Bible, the Book of Devarim is sometimes simply called the "book of the law" (סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה). In traditional codex ("book") form, it has 34 chapters that are divided into 11 weekly Torah readings.

Parashat Devarim is read every year during the Three Weeks of Sorrow on the Shabbat immediately before Tishah B'Av. In Jewish tradition, this Sabbath is called Shabbat Chazon (שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן), "the Sabbath of Vision," since the Haftarah that is read (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) comes from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the imminent destruction of the Temple. In Jewish tradition, teshuvah (repentance) and confession are the themes of this Shabbat.


 

At the beginning of the Torah portion, Moses gives words of musar (rebuke or correction) regarding the Sin of the Spies. It was this sin of unbelief, you may recall, that led to the LORD's decree that the generation that left Egypt would not enter into the Promised Land.  The New Testament calls this episode the "provocation" or "rebellion" (παραπικρασμος), which the "unpardonable sin" of the Torah (Heb. 3:15-4:1) - far worse even than the Sin of the Golden Calf. According to the Talmud, because of Israel's unbelief the LORD decreed that this date (the 9th of Av) would be one of perpetual mourning, foretelling the time when the people would grieve over the Temple that was destroyed in their midst.

In the midrash Pesikta Rabbati (פסיקתא רבתי) it is noted that Moses began his last book with the phrase eleh ha-devarim ("these are the words") because the Torah is compared to a bee (דְּבוֹרָה) whose honey is sweet but whose sting is poisonous (the word devarim (דְּבָרִים) looks like the word for bees (דְבוֹרִים)). The words of Torah give joy and sweetness to those who heed it (Psalm 19:10), but they are deadly poison to those who do not. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God (Heb. 10:31), and as Yeshua warned his followers, "from him that has not, even that he has shall be taken away from him" (Luke 19:26). (For more on this, see "These are the Bees.")

The message of Devarim is not without comfort, however, since it also includes Moses' recollection of the victorious battles with the Amorites... Because of this, the sages recommended envisioning the future Temple that will be built by the Messiah during this time of year. Indeed according to Jewish tradition, after the Messiah comes to restore Israel, the tragic holiday of Tishah B'Av will become one of the happiest days of the year... As it is written: "Thus says the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month (Fast of Tammuz) and the fast of the fifth (i.e., Tishah B'Av) and the fast of the seventh (Yom Kippur) and the fast of the tenth (Asarah B'Tevet) shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. Therefore וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ - love truth and peace" (Zech 8:19).
 




Shabbat Chazon - שַׁבַּת חַזוֹן


 

07.22.12  (Av 3, 5772)  The Sabbath that immediately precedes the fast of Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Chazon (the "Sabbath of vision") since the Haftarah (i.e., Isa. 1:1-25) is from the vision of the prophet Isaiah regarding the coming destruction of the Temple.

    "Hear, O heavens and give ear, O earth,
    For the LORD has spoken;
    Though I brought up and raised My children,
    They have rebelled against me." (Isa. 1:2)
     

When it was first recorded, Isaiah's vision of the destruction to come was still future, and the Jews still had a chance to repent before the great tragedy befell them. However, since they refused to do teshuvah (turn back to God), calamity overtook them. Today the Haftarah is traditionally chanted to the same haunting melody as Megilat Eichah, the great lamentation of the prophet Jeremiah who was an eyewitness to the destruction and fall of Judah and Jerusalem.

During the last nine days of the Three Weeks of Sorrow it is common to confess the sins in our lives that likewise contribute to the lack of God's Presence in our midst. Hashivenu Adonai, elecha vena-shuvah; chadesh yamenu kekedem: "Turn us back to You, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old" (Lam. 5:21).

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

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

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



Hebrew Study Card
 




Nine Days of Mourning...


 

[ The sorrowful holiday of Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, July 28 (at sundown) and runs 25 hours, that is, until an hour after sundown on Sunday, July 29th... ]

07.22.12  (Av 3, 5772)  We are now in the mourning phase of the "Three Weeks of Sorrow." During the final nine days of these three weeks - from Rosh Chodesh Av (i.e., Av 1) until Tishah B'Av (i.e., Av 9) - observant Jews will begin preparing for the tragic Fast of Av. Typically marriages are not held during this time, and many Jews deliberately refrain from ostensibly pleasurable activities, such as listening to music, dancing, taking vacations, and sometimes even shaving. In fact, most Orthodox Jews will refrain from any activity that might require the recitation of the Shehecheyanu blessing.


 

Among observant Jews, Tishah B'Av is regarded as the saddest day of the Jewish year (even sadder than Yom Kippur) since it was on this tragic date that the LORD decreed that the original generation rescued from Egypt would be denied entrance into the Promised Land because of the Sin of the Spies. This event was considered prophetic of other tragedies of Jewish history (based on the principle: מַעֲשֵׂה אֲבוֹת סִימָן לַבָּנִים / ma'aseh avot siman labanim: "The deeds of the fathers are signs for the children"), and indeed on precisely this date both of the Temples were destroyed and the Jewish people suffered exile. The purpose of the nine days of mourning is to instill a sense of teshuvah (repentance) in preparation for the 25 hour fast of on the Ninth of Av.

 




The Fear of the LORD


 

07.20.12  (Av 1, 5772)  The word ra'ah (רָאָה), "seeing," is related to the word yirah (יִרְאָה), "fear," suggesting that when we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. Every bush will be aflame with the Presence of God and the ground we walk upon shall suddenly be perceived as holy (Exod. 3:2-5). Nothing will seem small, trivial, or insignificant. In this sense, "fear and trembling" (φόβοv καὶ τρόμοv) before the LORD is a description of the inner awareness of the sanctity of life itself (Phil. 2:12-13).
 

קדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת
 מְלא כָל־הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ

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

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



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The Hebrew word for sin means "missing the mark," though that essentially means missing the revelation of God's glory because lesser fears consume the heart and obscure the vision of the truth... When we really see life as it is, we will be filled with wonder and awe over the glory of it all. "Fearing" (יִרְאָה) and "seeing" (רָאָה) will be linked and unified (for more on this, please see this page).

Shabbat Shalom and chodesh tov, chaverim... May our eyes and hearts be open to receive the revelation of God's glory in all things, especially the wonder and glory of His personal love for us. Amen, let it be so, LORD.


Note: This week's Torah portion (Mattot-Masei) concludes the Book of Numbers. At the end of the each book of the Torah, we traditionally recite three special words: Chazak, chazak, ve'nitchazek, meaning "be strong, be strong, and we will get stronger." You can download the "Table Talk" for each of these portions here:




Truth and Reality


 

07.19.12  (Tammuz 29, 5772)  The Hebrew word for "falsehood" (or "lie") is sheker (שֶׁקֶר), which can also be read as she-kar (שֶׁקַר), meaning that which (שׁ) makes you cold (קַר). Listening to deceitful words can make you coldhearted, unfeeling, and even numb inside. It is the truth of God that warms the heart and helps us discern the nature of reality itself.
 

מִפִּקּוּדֶיךָ אֶתְבּוֹנָן
 עַל־כֵּן שָׂנֵאתִי כָּל־ארַח שָׁקֶר

mi·pik·ku·de·kha · et·bo·nan
 al · ken · sa·nei·ti · kol · o·rach · sha·ker

"From your precepts I gain discernment,
 therefore I hate every deceptive path."
(Psalm 119:104)


 
 

It is through divine principles (i.e., pikudim: פִּקּוּדִים) revealed in the Torah (תּוֹרָה) that we are able to gain binah (בִּינָה), a word usually translated "understanding" but refers to the ability to distinguish between (i.e., bein: בֵּין) moral right and wrong. The more we love and esteem the truth, the more we will hate deception, falsehood, and so on.

The letter Aleph (א) is the "King of the Alphabet" that stands for the ineffable glory of God. Therefore the LORD is called the "God of truth" (אֵל אֱמֶת). In Hebrew, the word for truth, emet (אֱמֶת), contains the first, middle, and the last letter of the alphabet, indicating that truth encompasses all things and endures from the beginning (א) to the end (ת):


 

But notice that if we remove the letter Aleph from the word emet (אֱמֶת), we are left with the word "dead" (i.e., met: מֵת), the opposite of life (i.e., chayim: חַיִּים). The letter Aleph represents oneness and preeminent glory of God. Therefore, if we attempt to ignore or remove God from our understanding of truth, we end up with death. And since Yeshua told us, "I am the way (הַדֶּרֶךְ), the truth (הָאֱמֶת), and the life (הַחַיִּים); no one comes to Father apart from me" (John 14:6), those who deny His reality are in a state of spiritual death.

The LORD Yeshua our Messiah is called the Aleph and the Tav (הָאָלֶף וְהַתָּו), "the first and the last" (הָרִאשׁוֹן וְהָאַחֲרוֹן). These are clearly divine titles that exclusively belong to YHVH (Isa. 41:4, 44:6, 48:12; Rev. 1:1,17-18; 22:13). Indeed, Pilate's famous question, "What is truth?" is a category mistake, since truth is not about "what" but about "Who." That is, truth is not something objective and static, a thing to be known and studied from a distance. No. Truth is up-close, personal, and very much alive. Understood in this way, truth is a way of living, a mode of existence, and inherently relational. Encountering the truth means encountering God, and therefore it means facing self-examination.

Other monotheistic religions tend to regard God as a monistic entity, a "Divine Mind" (νοῦς) that thinks its own thoughts in perfection, or a Singularity that ultimately contemplates itself. Christianity regards ultimate reality as intensely personal, empathic, communal, and One in the sense that love makes all things one, unity in plurality... Only this view of the Divine accounts for the fact that we live in a "uni-verse." Peel away the proverbial layer of the onion (i.e., the surface levels of perception and experience) and you will discover that ultimate reality revealed as a Person -- and not just any Person, but the suffering Savior, the King of King of all kings who is so infinitely great that He infinitely condescends in compassion and empathy for the lost, the outcast, the sinful, and so on. God is so great that He can traverse every possible world, every realm of existence, and even takes the place of the condemned sinner executed for his crimes... In other words, only Jesus saves.

Yeshua is our "Serpent Slayer," the One who overcame all the power of death and hell for our deliverance. Nonetheless, we must choose to believe the truth to be saved. The power of the devil is only in the lie, which is his agency of producing death... If the evil one can convince you to accept a lie, he's got you under his spell. Therefore truth is so vital for us, since the truth is what sets us free from the devil and his devices. God's children love the truth and rejoice in the truth, since the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth that is called alongside to give them strength. May it please the LORD our God to help us each of us to be people who love the truth and who abhor the lie.
 




Menachem Av -
Finding the Father's Comfort



 

[ Today marks Rosh Chodesh Av, the "new moon [month]" of Av, which begins the nine days of affliction leading up to doleful holiday of Tishah B'Av... ]

07.19.12  (Tammuz 29, 5772)  In synagogue services the Haftarot (i.e., readings from the Nevi'im, or prophets) are usually connected with weekly Torah portion, but beginning with the Three Weeks of Sorrow until after the Fall High Holidays, these readings change.  First are three haftarot of punishment (leading up to Tishah B'Av), then seven of comfort (for the seven weeks leading up to Rosh Hashanah), and finally one of repentance or teshuvah (read on Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath before Yom Kippur).

The last two portions of the Book of Numbers (Mattot and Masei) are always read during the "Three Weeks of Sorrow." The sages say these readings were selected at this time to ultimately comfort us as we look forward to the "apportioning of the land" -- i.e., the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises to us.  Indeed, the month of Av -- despite the sorrow of the loss of the Temple -- is sometimes called Menachem Av - the "Comfort of the Father" (אָב). One day the lamentations of our present state of exile will come to an end.

Menachem Av may also mean the "comfort of Aleph-Bet" (אב). The Prophet Jeremiah, who witnessed the destruction of the Temple, later wrote the scroll of Lamentations to commemorate this tragic time. The form of Lamentations is an acrostic based on the letters of the Hebrew Aleph Bet (like Psalm 25, 34, 37, 119, Prov. 31, etc.).  The scroll has five sections (perekim). The verses of the first two chapters and the last two chapters all are written in alphabetical order (א,ב,ג). The middle chapter, however, writes its verses using a triple Aleph Bet ordering, i.e., "Aleph, Aleph, Aleph," "Bet, Bet, Bet," "Gimel, Gimel, Gimel," and so on. As you can see, the very order of the Hebrew Alphabet is part of the revelation of the LORD God of Israel Himself...


 

The low point of the Three Weeks of Sorrow is expressed during the 25-hour fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Scroll of Lamentations (אֵיכָה) is chanted during the evening service at synagogue. This is usually followed by a series of liturgical lamentations called Kinnot (קִינוֹת) which are also recited alphabetically (Bava Batra 14b). As I've said before, Tishah B'Av is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. This year the fast begins Saturday, July 28 at sundown and runs through Sunday, the 29th after sundown.

But the month of Av is all sadness without consolation. The Sabbath immediately following Tishah B'Av is called Shabbat Nachamu, the "Sabbath of Comfort," based on the Haftarah reading (Isa. 40:1-27) that begins: נַחֲמוּ נַחֲמוּ עַמִּי - Nachamu, Nachamu ami - "be comforted, be comforted, my people..." The sages say that the word nachamu is repeated to offer consolation for each of the Temples that were destroyed. It is because of this connection with comfort, then, the month of Av acquired its name "Menachem Av."

Since the Book of Deuteronomy is mishneh Torah - a "retelling of Torah," it can be said that the Torah -- from a narrative point of view -- ends with the reading of these final portions from Numbers, and by extension, with the yearning for Zion. And so it is to this day.  We await the return of Yeshua our Messiah while we live in exile here on earth. And even though we have the Comforter present to help us during this time, our hope will be made fully manifest in the days to come: first in the Millennial Kingdom (after Yeshua's Second Coming), and later still in olam habah (the world to come) as the eternal community of those redeemed by the Lamb of God (Rev. 21:22-23). So for those of us who hold faith in Yeshua as Messiah, our mourning for the Temple is really mourning for the Presence of our Beloved Savior.  May He come quickly, and in our days...
 




God's Name...


 

07.19.12  (Tammuz 29, 5772)  God's Name is YHVH (יְהוָה), which means "He is Present."  The Name is formed from the words hayah ("He was"), hoveh ("He is"), and yihyeh ("He will be"): הָיָה הוֶה וְיִהְיֶה, indicating God's omnipresence. Note that all the letters of the Name are "vowel letters," which mean they evoke breath and life.  This is the Name revealed to Moses thousands of years before the advent of other religions (Exod. 3:14), and indeed it is the Name associated with the nishmat chayim (נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים), the "breath of life," imparted to Adam in the orchard at Eden (Gen. 2:4). It is therefore the original Name of God "breathed out" to mankind. The Name Yeshua (יֵשׁוּעַ) means "YHVH saves." There is no other Savior beside Him, there is no other Name, there is no other LORD. "For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." Only Yeshua the Messiah can deliver you from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10).
 




True Prosperity...


 

07.19.12  (Tammuz 29, 5772)  "When you are full ... beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand has done this...'" (Deut. 8:11-17). People sometimes ask God for "prosperity," but it is precisely in times of prosperity that we find ourselves tempted to forget what we really need... Better to sorely depend on God's daily bread than to live a comfortably numb life that is oblivious of its great need!

Like all the great truths of the Spirit, true prosperity is found though your neediness, your brokenness, and your troubles before heaven, for these lead you the gift of earnestness, passion, and genuine seeking the LORD and His blessing. We descend in order to ascend. The only true treasure is the treasure we have in heaven.
 




Faith and Works...


 

07.18.12  (Tammuz 28, 5772)  Regarding the mystifying relationship between "faith" and "works" Kierkegaard wrote: "God cannot stand good works in the sense of earning merit. Yet good works are indeed required. They shall be and yet shall not be. They are necessary and yet one ought humbly to ignore their significance or at least forget that they are supposed to be of any significance. Good works are like a child giving his parents a present, purchased, however, with what the child has received from his parents. All the pretentiousness which otherwise is associated with giving a present disappears when the child understands that he has received from his parents the gift which he gives to them."

God does not love you based on your obedience, but his love for you will lead you to obedience... It is only after accepting that you are accepted despite yourself -- despite your inherent inability to please God, despite your incurably sick heart, despite your disobedience, sin, and so on -- it is only then that earnest, Spirit-enabled obedience may spontaneously arise within your heart. In that sense "obedience" is like falling in love with someone. It is your love that moves you to act and to express your heart, and were you prevented from doing so, you would undoubtedly grieve over your loss... Therefore the "law of the Spirit of Life in Messiah" is first of all empowered by God's grace and love. We walk by faith, hope, and love - these three.

If you still find yourself operating from a sense of God's conditional acceptance, you will undoubtedly need to repeat the same sins over and over until your heart is finally convinced of its incurably wretched state. You must first be utterly sick of yourself to believe in the miracle of God's deliverance. Only after this does the good news of the gospel find its opportunity to speak...
 




Fearing only God...


 

07.18.12  (Tammuz 28, 5772)  We should fear only God -- never the devil who has been decisively defeated and entirely vanquished by Yeshua our Messiah at the cross (Col. 2:15), much less should we fear mere men. Yeshua is LORD over all, and that means that He rules the devil, too. Listen, instead of being afraid of the devil, the devil should be in dread of you, O child of the Most High LORD (Luke 10:19). Indeed, because of God's love and sovereign authority, we utterly triumph (ὑπερνικάω, "hyper-conquer") over every kind of adversity (Rom. 8:37-39). Therefore regarding the fears of this age the Spirit of God speaks: "Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread" (Isa. 8:12-13).

Fear only God... "This is the one to whom I will look," says the LORD, "to him who is humble and stricken in spirit and who trembles at my word" (Isa. 66:2). Note that the word "trembles" (חָרֵד) is used to describe how Mount Sinai shook before the glory of the Divine Presence (Exod. 19:18). "By the fear of the LORD (i.e., yirat Adonai: יִרְאַת יְהוָה) one departs from evil" (Prov. 16:6). If our eyes are open to ultimate reality, we would tremble in awe and respect before the LORD who is our King and our Judge... Every word and deed our our lives is under examination and will one day be fully reckoned before Him (Matt. 12:36-37). The LORD is surely good, but His goodness is regarded as terrifying, especially to those who do not understand it or want it... It is written that "the fear of the LORD is to hate evil" (Prov. 8:13); and this implies that if you do not hate evil, you do not truly fear the LORD. There are some "either/or" moments in life. We must hate our own evil inclination, the yetzer hara, and fight against its impulses; we must utterly abhor our own tendency to compromise or wink at our secret sins. There is a coming day when we shall all stand in judgment for our lives, when all that is hidden within us shall be manifest, when all the pretense and make-believe will vanish. Then the LORD will give to every man according to what he has done, whether it be good or evil (Matt. 16:27; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12).
 

וְאֶל־זֶה אַבִּיט
 אֶל־עָנִי וּנְכֵה־רוּחַ
 וְחָרֵד עַל־דְּבָרִי

ve·el · zeh · ab·bit
el · a·ni · un·kheih · ru·ach
ve·cha·red · al · de·va·ri

"But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word."
(Isa. 66:2)


 
 

As Kierkegaard warned, immortality is not a life indefinitely prolonged, but the eternal separation between the just and the unjust. Immortality is not a continuation that follows as a matter of course, but a separation that follows as a consequence of the past. Therefore continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil. 2:12-13). The LORD is "dangerous," esh okhlah (אֵשׁ אכְלָה), a Consuming Fire -- but He is truly good.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: "Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear (1 John 4:18). But so do several other things - ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear."  Amen - we must press on and refuse to settle for cheap counterfeits. The love of God is the end and goal of all things, but it is gained through the terrible cost and suffering of Yeshua upon the cross. God doesn't wink at sin or pretend that it isn't there, chaverim; on the contrary, he regards it so seriously that He allowed His Son to suffer, to bleed out, and to die to pay for its eternal offense. "For you were bought with a great price: therefore "present your bodies as a living sacrifice (קָרְבָּן חַי), holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (1 Cor. 6:20; Rom. 12:1).
 




The End of Balaam...


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah, parashat Mattot and Masei. Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

07.18.12  (Tammuz 28, 5772)  In our Torah portion this week, the evil sorcerer Balaam finally met his end by being killed by the sword on the battlefield (Num. 31:8). Part of the message of his rancid life was that God sovereignly overturns the plans of the wicked for his own good purposes. Take comfort that while wicked Balaam secretly tried to curse the Israelites, the LORD took hold of his tongue, forced him to bless the people, and utterly confounded his evil intent. Praise the Name of the LORD, the principle still applies to this day: Though the princes of this world may conspire and scheme to curse us, the LORD will likewise overrule them and bring their devices to nothing.
 

כּל פָּעַל יְהוָה לַמַּעֲנֵהו
 וְגַם־רָשָׁע לְיוֹם רָעָה

kol · pa·al · Adonai · la·ma·a·nei·hu
ve·gam · ra·sha · le·yom · ra·ah

"The LORD has made everything to answer to Him,
 even the wicked for the day of trouble."
(Proverbs 16:4)


 
 

The Scriptures declare no weapon formed against us shall prosper (Isa. 54:17), and that the curse of the wicked is entirely powerless to bring us harm (Prov. 26:2). Ein od milvado: God is the only true power, and there is no enchantment or divination that will prevail against Israel (Num. 23:23). Satan is an impostor and a foiled usurper. As Yeshua told his followers, "Behold I give to you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you" (Luke 10:19). The lesson of Balaam, like the lesson of Haman given in the Book of Esther, is that those who curse God's people or attempt to foil His plans will destroy themselves....
 




Words and the Image of God


 

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

07.17.12  (Tammuz 27, 5772)  Among other topics, our Torah portion this week mentions vows (i.e., nedarim: נְדָרִים) and oaths (i.e., shevuot: שְׁבוּעוֹת) made to the LORD (Num. 30:2-3). The sages distinguish between these by saying that a vow (נֶדֶר) represents a promise to do something (or to refrain from doing something), whereas an oath (שְׁבוּעָה) represents a sworn testimony that something is true (or false).  Among very Orthodox Jews it is customary to say "bli neder" (בְּלִי נֶדֶר) after making any sort of verbal commitment to avoid the risk of making a vow. Bli neder means, "I'll do my best to keep my word to you on this, though understand that I am not making a vow..." Just before Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidrei service is intended to absolve legal liability for failing to keep personal vows. The Aramaic phrase kol nidrei (כָּל נִדְרֵי) means "all vows."

The words we speak - whether good or bad - call for a response in the realm of spirit. This is hinted at by the Hebrew word for "thing" (i.e., devar: דָּבָר), which also means "word." Listen to the words of your heart and understand that they are devarim, "things" that are defining the course of your life right now. Our thoughts and words "exhale" the breath of God that was given to each of us. In a very real sense they are "prayers" we are constantly offering.

Note: For more on this please see the article "The Sanctity of our Words."
 




Freedom from Ourselves...

Chagall Jerusalem Window Detail
 

07.17.12  (Tammuz 27, 5772)  Suffering that comes from the failure of inner desire to attain perfection is a lower stage of suffering, since it is still based on the idea of personal merit and therefore conditional love. Nevertheless, such suffering prepares us for the truth of the cross, since the revelation of our own incurable state leads us to true surrender. At the point of surrender we are delivered of the need to either justify or to condemn who we really are. Accepting our frailties, our failures, and our own inner poverty is a first step to finding lasting peace, since genuine teshuvah, that is, turning to God in the truth, leads us to healing and abiding comfort. The message of the cross is that God knows everything about you - but loves you anyway. We must surrender to Him - even our wasted lives - and then He begins the great miracle of creating within us new life.

When King David cried out to the Lord, "Create in me a clean heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10), 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). Kind David understood that no amount of reformation 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...

"O G-d and G-d of our fathers, to You alone belong the greatness, and the glory, and the majesty, and the kingdom forever and ever, for from thy Word alone the universe leapt into being. O You who said "Let there be light" (יְהִי אוֹר), shine the light of your radiance and Presence upon us this hour... Just say the word, O LORD, and we shall be healed." Amen.
 

יִשְׁלַח דְּבָרוֹ וְיִרְפָּאֵם
 וִימַלֵּט מִשְּׁחִיתוֹתָם

yish·lach · de·va·ro · ve·yir·pa·em
vi·mal·let · mish·chi·to·tam

"He sent out his Word and healed them,
 and delivered them from their destruction"
(Psalm 107:20)
 

 




Nothing is Trivial...


 

07.16.12  (Tammuz 26, 5772)  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. Indeed, your entire life is on loan from heaven itself...
 

יִהְיוּ לְרָצוֹן אִמְרֵי־פִי
וְהֶגְיוֹן לִבִּי לְפָנֶיךָ יְהוָה צוּרִי וְגאֲלִי

yi·he·yu · le·ra·tzon · im·rei · fi
ve·heg·yon · lib·bi · le·fa·ne·kha · Adonai · tzu·ri · ve·go·a·li

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to You, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."
(Psalm 19:14)
 


May it please God to help us use our words for the purpose of strengthening and upbuilding (οἰκοδομὴν) one another (Eph. 4:29). May our words always be gracious and "seasoned with salt" (Col. 4:6). Amen. As it is written: "Whoever keeps His word, in him truly the love of God is perfected" (1 John 2:5).
 




The Light of Torah


 

07.16.12  (Tammuz 26, 5772)  Yeshua is the Living Torah (תּוֹרַת חַיִּים) and its spiritual Light (Prov. 6:23), for through Him we are able to see (John 8:12). The numeric value of the word "lights" (i.e., אורות) is 613, the traditional number of commandments enumerated in the written Torah. Yeshua is the inner light and meaning of all that the written Torah says; indeed, He is the goal (i.e., τέλος, "purpose" or "reason") of all that the Torah teaches and the means of attaining righteousness for all who trust in Him (Rom. 10:4).

Obedience to God is its own reward, since we are given more light as we obey: "If you know these things, happy are you if you do them" (John 13:17). Interestingly, the Hebrew word for "darkness" (i.e., choshekh: חשֶׁךְ) uses the same letters to spell both the verb "to cringe" (i.e., kachash: כָּחַשׁ) and the verb "to forget" (i.e., shakhach: שָׁכַח). Indeed Yeshua warned us, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt. 7:21-23).

This is why we say, "Blessed are You, LORD our God... who sanctifies us with His commandments..." The giving of the commandments is a gift that enables us to walk in the righteousness of life (1 John 2:29). We don't "have to" do the commandments of God, but what a happiness it is to do so!
 

כִּי נֵר מִצְוָה וְתוֹרָה אוֹר
וְדֶרֶךְ חַיִּים תּוֹכְחוֹת מוּסָר

ki  ner  mitz·vah,  ve'to·rah  ohr,
ve·de·rekh  cha·yim  to·che·khot  mu·sar

"For the commandment is a lamp, and the Torah is light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life" (Prov. 6:23)



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It is clear from other Scriptures that we are not saved by means of law-keeping, of course, though on the other hand that does not excuse us from doing acts of righteousness. God did not "waste His breath" revealing the principles of righteousness to the Jewish people, and therefore we are to "study to show ourselves approved unto God" (2 Tim. 2:15). The "law of the Spirit of life in Yeshua" (תּוֹרַת רוּחַ הַחַיִּים בְּיֵשׁוּעַ) empowers to serve God according to a new principle of 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 the Torah of Yeshua leads to further revelation, just as disobedience to it leads to further darkness (Matt. 13:12). Yeshua is only the "Author of Eternal Salvation" for those who heed and obey Him (Heb. 5:9). "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit" (Gal. 5:25).

For the follower of Yeshua, much of this process is "unconscious," by which I mean that it happens as a result of God's grace (χάρις, a word related to χαρά, "joy") over time, and thereby we become God's witnesses... As we learn to see the beauty of God's Torah, we will spontaneously and joyfully seek to do those things that please our LORD and Master. As the Apostle John wrote: "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (lit. "heavy," βαρύς) (1 John 5:3).
 




Reading with Spirit...


 

07.16.12  (Tammuz 26, 5772)  The question is asked why the Torah was written without vowels, punctuation marks, and so on. The lack of vowels implies that we must bring breath (i.e., ruach, spirit) to our reading of the words; the lack of punctuation implies that we must be humble and rely on others to help us read with understanding. In other words, we must bring our heart to the reading and be open-minded to receive revelation.

 

We need the power of the Holy Spirit to read correctly, and the Holy Spirit reveals the Living Word and glory of Yeshua: "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).
 




Praying Amidst Suffering


 

[ Note: The following is for the one who needs it, for the one who has ears to hear it... ]

07.16.12  (Tammuz 26, 5772)  I am hurting, LORD; I feel alone... This world seems so senseless, so brutal, and so evil at times, that I feel sad, overwhelmed, and literally sick inside... I feel utterly unable to help this world, Lord, other than to look to You and to ask You for mercy... Help me to accept what I cannot change or understand, and to completely trust in You despite my sadness, confusion, and inner pain. Remind me that though I cannot change the world, I have the power to choose to keep my trust in You. May I never be ashamed; may I never grow bitter; may my sorrow lead me from strength to strength. And may this time of testing lead me to wisdom, to compassion, and finally back to You. Amen.

Note: From the fearful heart come evil words and thoughts that lead to evil deeds (Matt. 15:19). It is therefore of first importance that we banish sinful and fearful thinking from our lives. Test yourselves. Do the words you speak build up or tear down? You can always come to the light. Take every thought captive before the Messiah (2 Cor. 10:5).
 




Heart of the Torah


 

07.16.12  (Tammuz 26, 5772)  The Hebrew word לב (i.e., lev, heart) is made up of the first and last letters of the written Torah scroll (i.e., Genesis begins with בּ and Deuteronomy ends with ל), though we can only make this connection after we reach the end of the scroll, that is, after we read back and review what we have learned... If we only read forward and forget to go back, we would end up with the word בּל (i.e., bal, not, negation, denial).

The Baal Turim notes that these two letters, בּ and ל, are the only two in the Hebrew alphabet that can be combined with the letters of the Name of the LORD (יהוה) to form meaningful words (e.g. בּי, לי and so on), whereas none of the other letters can do this. He concludes that the heart is the point through which we connect with the LORD.

It is written that the words of Torah "return the soul" (Psalm 19:8) because the Hebrew words and letters themselves contain spiritual power and life (Heb. 4:12; 1 Pet. 1:23). Indeed some of the sages note that the first few words of Scriptures point to the Hebrew alphabet: בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלהִים אֵת, "In the beginning God created et (אֵת)," that is, א and ת, or the Hebrew alphabet itself... In this connection note the first letter of the Torah (i.e., בּ in "bereshit") and the last letter of the New Testament (i.e., ן in "amen") combine to form the word בּן (i.e., ben, son), alluding to the all-encompassing wisdom, power, and glory of God the Son, the very revelation of YHVH (יהוה) to mankind.
 




Parashiyot Mattot - Masei


 

[ This week we have a "double portion" of Torah, parashat Mattot and Masei. Please read the Torah portions to "find your place" here. ]

07.15.12  (Tammuz 25, 5772)  Last week's Torah portion (Pinchas) ended with the central sacrifice required at the Tabernacle, namely, the daily sacrifice of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד). In addition to this daily offering, additional sacrifices for Shabbat, the new moon, and the other festivals of the Jewish year were also specified...

This week's first Torah reading (Mattot) continues with the LORD giving laws regarding the making of vows (nedarim). After these laws were defined, the Israelites were commanded to wage war against the Midianites for attempting to seduce the people to sin at the incident of Baal Peor. During the ensuing battle, the wicked sorcerer Balaam was killed, as well as five tribal kings of the land of Midian. The portion ends with the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh settling east of the Jordan River, in the territories formerly occupied by the Amorite kings Sichon and Og.

The second Torah portion for this week (Masei) provides the boundaries of the land of Canaan that were to be initially occupied by the Israelites. Note that these borders are not the same as those described earlier to Abraham (Gen. 15:18-21), since that area will be given to Israel after the Messiah returns to restore Zion during the Millennial Kingdom (see Ezekiel 47:15-48:35). During that time, the Jerusalem will be the center of the earth and renamed Adonai Shammah (יְהוָה שָׁמָּה), "the LORD is there."


 

While the earlier promise that Israel would occupy 'from the Nile to the Euphrates' awaits its fulfillment, in this Torah portion the description of the promised land is restricted to "the land of Canaan according to its borders" (Num. 34:2-13), that is, to the local region occupied by the seven Canaanite nations living there at the time of the conquest under Joshua.

Parashat Masei is traditionally read near the new moon of the month of Av, in anticipation of the nine days of mourning (for the lost Temple) that precede Tishah B'Av -- the saddest day of the Jewish calendar (Tishah B'Av begins Saturday, July 28 at sundown this year).  The Mishnah states, "As [the month of] Av enters, we diminish joy," and the Gemara states, "All who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit the celebration of her rebirth" (Ta'anit 30a). Mourning for the loss of the Temple is appropriate until the Messiah comes and restores it. Masei is read at this time to signal hope that one day Jerusalem will be rebuilt and the promises made to Israel will be completely fulfilled.

Since the Book of Deuteronomy is mishneh Torah - a "retelling of Torah," it may be said that the Torah of Moses ends with these final portions, and by extension, with ongoing yearning for Zion. That is why we always read these portions during the Three Weeks of Sorrow, as we remember our present state of exile. And so it continues to this day as we await the return of our Messiah Yeshua to establish the Kingdom of God here on earth.

When someone dies, there is a grieving process you can go through that leads to closure. In Jewish tradition, this process involves the stages of shivah, sheloshim, and avelut - a full year of grieving over the loss of a loved one. If, however, it's uncertain that someone has in fact died, there is no end to mourning. We see this Jacob's life after his son Joseph suddenly disappeared: Jacob wasn't certain of his son's death, and therefore he mourned for years and years. He continued to mourn because he still held hope that his son lived. For this very reason do we both mourn and yet hold hope during the Three Weeks of Sorrow and Tishah B'Av.  We mourn over the loss of what could have been, yet we hold hope in the restoration of Jerusalem, the "City of the Great King" (Psalm 48:2, Matt. 5:35) by the hand of Yeshua our Messiah. May that day come soon, and in our time. Amen.
 




More than a Feeling...


 

07.13.12  (Tammuz 23, 5772)  Love is more of a decision than it is a feeling... It is based more on a commitment, or an act of will, than on personal sentiments. Many people are feckless and half-hearted today because they passively allow their personal preferences to determine their sense of commitment, rather than the other way around. Such love invariably grows cold and fades away. Of course human feelings are important, but by themselves they are insufficient to express real love. Indeed a Hebrew word for love or affection is chibah (חִבָּה) which comes from the root word chovah (חוֹבָה), meaning an "obligation" or "duty." Likewise the Hebrew word for "friend," chaver (חָבֵר), shares the same root (i.e., chavar: חָבַר), which means to "join together" or "to unite." Connected with the idea of affection or friendship, then, is the idea of binding loyalty to another (חִיֵּב). We see this connotation in the word choveret (חוֹבֶרֶת), meaning the "clasp" used to hold up the curtains at the Tabernacle, and also in the word machberet (מַחְבֶרֶת), the word for "binder" or "clamp" (in modern Hebrew machberet means a "notebook"). 

To simplify these linguistic connections, it may be said that true love is based on a sense of care, obligation, and loyalty (i.e., chibev: חִבֵּב) more than it is based on subjective feelings, and this implies that such feelings (by themselves) should never be the basis for expressing love. Carnal love is expressed as eros, or desire, but divine love is expressed as agape (ἀγάπη). Even tax collectors know how to express selfish love, but God's love is expressed through a decision to care for others according to the truth. Feelings of love are a byproduct of the decision to love, and they may arise as you act in love toward another person, though the duty to love abides even if you are devoid of such feelings. This explains, then, how the Torah can command us to love others, since caring for others is ultimately a decision. God commands what is possible: "ought implies can." We can love others for whom we may have no personal desire through obedience to God's commandment to love.

In this connection, note that the Hebrew word for "neighbor," re'ah (רֵעַ), is related to the word for "shepherd," ro'eh (רוֹעֵה), which suggests that loving your neighbor means looking after them and caring for them as a shepherd does for his sheep. Loving others, then, means demonstrating concern for their well-being and welfare, and conversely, demonstrating care for their well-being and welfare expresses love.

Note: Besides the word chibah (חִבָּה), the word for divine love is ahavah (אַהֲבָה), from the verb ahav (אַהַב) that suggests א, "I will," + הַב, "give," that is the presence of benevolence. The gematria of the word ahavah is 13, which is exactly 1/2 of the value of the Name of God (יהוה), which further implies that when we give of ourselves to another, the Divine Presence is with us. The word ahavah also can be read as "I will give the Spirit," from א, "I will," + הַב, "give," + ה, "spirit." The Spirit of God's love broods over us all.
 




Beloved Shepherds...


 

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

07.13.12  (Tammuz 23, 5772)  The Hebrew word for "beloved" is yedid (יְדִיד), which comes from the word dod (דּוֹד), as used in the verse ani le'dodi ve'dodi li (אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי), "I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me" (Song 6:3). The name "David" (דָוִד) likewise comes from this root. It is interesting to see that the word yedid is formed by combining or joining the Hebrew word for "hand" (i.e., yad: יָד) together (i.e., יָד+יָד), which pictures two friends walking together while holding hands...

When Moses realized that his son Gershom would not be his successor, he asked God for a shepherd to lead the people, and the LORD told him ve'samakhta et yadkha alav - "put your hand on Joshua" (Num. 27:18). Moses, however, not only placed one hand on Joshua, but both hands (Num. 27:23), which suggests that he was wholehearted for the things of God, and to symbolically regard Joshua as yedid (יְדִיד), that is, "hand-in-hand" with Moses' heart for the welfare people...

Shabbat Shalom Chaverim! Stay strong in hope... Do not listen to voices of fear, but hear (shema) the LORD calling out your name to abide in His love and care! Yeshua is our Good Shepherd who always lays down his life for his sheep...

Note: You can download the Shabbat Table Talk for Pinchas here:

 




Keeping your focus...


 

07.13.12  (Tammuz 23, 5772)  Where it is written, "cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Pet. 5:7), the word translated "anxiety" (μέριμνα) comes from a Greek verb (μερίζω) that means to be fragmented or divided into parts and pieces. Being anxious is therefore the uneasy state of being unfocused and divided within oneself... King David understood the need for a unifying principle for his life: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). He understood that walking in the truth required "uniting his heart," or "repairing the breach" within his inner affections so that he could experience reverence and awe before the Divine Presence (Psalm 86:11). King David knew that "right desire is the deepest form of prayer."
 

שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
 כִּי מִימִינִי בַּל־אֶמּוֹט

shiv·vi·ti · Adonai · le·neg·di · ta·mid
ki · mi·mi·ni · bal · e·mot

"I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken"
(Psalm 16:8)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Hebrew Study Card

 

The Scriptures warn that a "double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (James 1:8). The word translated "double-minded" is dipsuchos (δίψυχος), a word formed from δίς, "twice" and ψυχή, "soul." The word describes the spiritual condition of having "two souls" that both want different things at once. Being double-minded therefore describes a state of inner ambivalence, of having two separate minds holding contradictory thoughts. (In a sense, being double-minded is an affliction for the person of faith, since the unregenerated person lacks even the capability for collision within the heart.)

To repair this breach, to unify his heart and its affections, David determined to "set" the LORD before him. Note that the verb "set" here is piel, that is, intensive... We must intently focus our mind and heart to regard ourselves as in the Presence of God; we must sense His eye upon us and "know before Whom we stand." The sages say that when David wrote these words, he was referring to the scroll of Torah which he kept tied to his arm. David literally "set" the Word of the LORD upon his right hand to help him keep focused (shel yad).

Many people live in regret over the past or in dread of the future. The Hebrew name of God, the Tetragrammaton (יהוה), means: "He is Present." We can only find God now, today, at this hour. Today if you hear His voice... Yeshua said, "The kingdom of heaven is within you" (מַלְכוּת הָאֱלהִים בְּקִרְבְּכֶם), that is, is to be found within the heart of faith (Luke 17:21).
 

    "If you want to know about Heaven and what Heaven is, you do not need to cast your thoughts many thousands of miles off, for that place, that heaven thousands of miles away, is not your Heaven. The true Heaven is not a created place but an uncreated place, and it is not found in a particular place but everywhere, even in the very place where you are standing and going. For when your Spirit within yourself is able to penetrate inwardly through and beyond your own flesh and life, and is able to catch hold upon the innermost moving of God, then you are clearly in Heaven."

    - Jacob Boehme (1575-1624)
     


Purity of the heart is to will one thing... When we are anxious, we become inwardly fragmented or divided, and thereby lose our sense of identity and purpose in this world. God invites us to come boldly before Him to find help (Heb. 4:16). He is a "very present help in trouble" (Psalm 46:1). We cast our burdens upon the LORD so that He can sustain us (Psalm 55:22), and that we may have a "right spirit" (רוּחַ נָכוֹן) renewed within us (Psalm 51:12). We can bring our brokenness to God - including those distractions that tear us away from Him and that make us inwardly "two-souled" - to find healing for our hearts.  When we do so, we will discover the Source of Power that makes us "unshakable and always able to abound in every good work" (1 Cor. 15:58).
 




Paradoxical Surrender


 

07.12.12  (Tammuz 22, 5772)  The LORD is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves, and indeed, paradoxically, we can only find ourselves when we relinquish control and yield ourselves to Him... "Those who lose their life will find it" means that we let go of our natural instincts to protect ourselves, to demand our rights, and so on, and trust entirely in God's powerful provision for our real needs.

"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12:24). There is no other way than the cross; nothing "of the flesh" can pass over that line. Thank God that we do not crucify ourselves but already have been crucified, and by subsisting in that truth by faith, we are given resurrection power and life. We deny ourselves by being taken up by something far more glorious...

Our salvation - from beginning to end - comes entirely from God, not from ourselves. The LORD is Aleph and Tav, the First and the Last, and there is no other Savior; Yeshua is both the Source and the End of everlasting healing and life. Just as we are justified by faith, so we are sanctified, and nothing starts from us. I'm so glad it's not the strength of my grip that keeps me holding on to God, but the strength of His...

"Love not the world, neither the things in the world." People who willingly refuse God are clones of one another, slaves, puppets, and not real individuals. It would be laughable were it not so tragic. Look at the way the world apes its heroes, or how young people fawn over the latest fad or idol. Evil is always banal and boring; there is no real life in it but mere imitation, copying, and phoniness. That's why the world escalates the "shock value" of its evil, since otherwise it would suspect the truth that it is already dead....

To be a genuine child of God, ah -- now there's a real individual... God never makes clones of people but develops them so that His radiance reveals their uniqueness. Oneness with God doesn't imply an undifferentiated homogeneity, but rather incomparable distinction, profound singularity, unmatched creative expression, and real power.

"Those who keep their life will lose it." If you don't willingly surrender to the LORD, you will remain a slave to the mindless matrix. You might "gain the world" but you will lose your soul - that is, all that might make you a real individual.
 




Give up your sickness...


 

07.12.12  (Tammuz 22, 5772)  If we refuse to surrender to God, we will be at war within ourselves... To be inwardly healed we have to want it; and that means being willing to give up everything - including our sickness. For many people, this is too much, and therefore they cling to what makes them sick as a child might cling to a pacifier. This is because to the natural man, the cure is regarded as worse than the sickness itself. As Kierkegaard astutely noted, "When a man is sick or indisposed, the first thing he does is to send for a physician, and medication is what he wants; spiritually, however, it is just the opposite - when a man has sinned, the last thing he wants is the physician and medicine."
 

רְפָאֵנִי יְהוָה וְאֵרָפֵא
הוֹשִׁיעֵנִי וְאִוָּשֵׁעָה כִּי תְהִלָּתִי אָתָּה

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

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

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card
 

Please note that the healing mentioned in this passage is primarily spiritual (יְשׁוּעָה) rather than physical, since physical illness is a natural consequence of living in a fallen world. The Apostle wrote that while the "outer man is wasting away, the inner man is renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). There is a divinely appointed "light and momentary affliction" that we all must carry in this life, and it is callous to suggest that every believer should live miraculously immune from any physical illness or suffering whatsoever. "By His stripes we are healed" does not necessarily mean that we are guaranteed physical healing in this life, though it does mean that we are given true and everlasting healing from the plague of death, that is, we are given spiritual healing that far outweighs concern for the present moment and its temporary afflictions. Of course there are miracles of healing that come through prayer (Psalm 6:2; James 5:15; 1 Cor. 12:9), though even then the focus must first be directed to the spirit and then to the flesh...

A person disposed to faith will use the good eye to see the good - even in occasions of misfortune, whereas a person disposed to despair will use the evil eye to see the bad - even in occasions of good. And even in cases where the facts are entirely the same, for one there is hope, but for another there is fear... Therefore, "a person's whole view of life is actually a confession of the state of his inner being." As Yeshua said, "according to your faith be it done unto you," which underscores the importance of believing in the good, taking hold of hope, and trusting in the ongoing love and care of the Lord, despite affliction and trouble in this world. True healing means coming out of the nightmare of fear...

As I mentioned the other day, people sometimes seek healing for what needs to be slain. You don't need a cure -- you need let go and allow yourself to die.... The carnal life may indeed scandalized, but the point of life is not how to find healing, strength, sustenance, happiness, and so on, but rather how to give up and die. Flesh and blood can never inherit the kingdom of God.

Again, God's way of healing is entirely different than man's way. Man tries to suppress the flesh, to cover it up, to justify its failings, or to enlist its power in the battle against sin, but God's way is to remove the flesh from the equation. The goal is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather weaker and weaker, until the flesh is crucified and only the sufficiency of the Messiah remains.  Then we can truly say, " I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but the 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). The word "Hebrew" (עִבְרִי) means one who has "crossed over" (עָבַר) to the other side, as our father Abraham did (Gen. 14:13). It is on the other side of the cross that we experience the very power that created the universe "out of nothing" (i.e., yesh me'ayin: יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן) and that raised Yeshua the Messiah from the dead.
 




Phinehas and Isaac...


 

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

07.12.12  (Tammuz 22, 5772)  The name "Phinehas" (i.e., Pinchas: פִּינְחָס) shares the same numeric value (gematria) as the name "Isaac" (i.e., Yitzchak: יִצְחָק), which suggests that just as Isaac was willing to be sacrificed in obedience to God (i.e., during the Akedah), so was Phinehas willing to die for his zeal. Note also that Phinehas' passion turned away the wrath of God and established a covenant of an "eternal priesthood" (כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a phrase that shares the gematria as the word be'acharit (בְּאַחֲרִית), a term that means at the "end of days" (Gen. 49:1; 1 John 2:18). In other words, Hebrew gematria reveals that the priesthood of Yeshua is the "end of days" priesthood for humanity, and there is no other.
 




The Hunger of Heart...


 

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

07.12.12  (Tammuz 22, 5772)  As I've discussed elsewhere on the site, the great revelation of the Torah at Sinai focused on the giving of the altar to Israel. However -- as our Torah portion this week makes clear-- the central sacrifice upon this altar was the daily sacrifice (i.e., korban tamid: קָרְבַּן תָּמִיד) of a defect-free male lamb with unleavened bread and wine. The LORD calls this "My offering, My bread..." (see Num. 28:1-8). In other words, the service and ministry of the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) constantly foreshadowed the coming Lamb of God who would be offered upon the altar "made without hands" to secure our eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12).

The sacrifice of the lamb represents "God's food," a pleasing aroma, for it most satisfied the hunger of God's heart (Eph. 5:2). Indeed, the obedience of Yeshua to the death upon the cross represents God's hunger for atonement, or "at-one-ment," since it restored what was lost to Him through sin, namely, fellowship with human beings. God could never be satisified until He was able to let truth and love meet (Psalm 85:10).

Sometimes we say that we "hunger for God," but it is vital to remember that it is God who first hungers for us. God desires our love and fellowship. He comes to seek fruit among the trees - but does He find any? He walks in the cool of the day, calling out to us, but are we attuned to hear His voice? Do we accept the invitation to be in His Presence?  When God "knocks on the door of your heart" to commune with you, what "food" will you be serving? (Rev. 3:20). Every day we are given an opportunity to "feed God" through expressing faith, hope, and love. Ultimately it is our obedience to the truth is what "feeds" Him: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams" (1 Sam. 15:22).

We "feed God" by offering heartfelt prayer, by walking in faith, by yearning for Him, by studying Scripture, by participating in corporate worship, by giving tzedakah, by performing acts of kindness (gemilut chasadim) for others, and so on (Heb. 13:15-16). Expressing our love for God is the deepest meaning of teshuvah, which is an "answer" or response to His great love for us (1 John 4:19). Just as God feeds and sustains us through His love, so we "feed Him" by our yearning, our prayers, our praise, and our worship...

God is love, by which we mean that what is ultimately good, fulfilling, and satisfying is Him. But love is meant to be shared. This is suggested by the word for love itself (i.e., ahavah: אהבה), the gematria of which is thirteen (1+5+2+5=13), but when shared it is multiplied: 13 x 2 = 26, the same value for the Sacred Name (יהוה), i.e., (10+5+6+5=26). The Name of the LORD means "He is present," that is, His love constantly imbues, informs, sustains, carries, directs, and rules over the entire universe. God is Presence - He is Life itself. In this connection we see that the Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), which is written in the plural to imply that life cannot be lived alone but must be shared. Notice that within the word itself are embedded two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is an abbreviation for YHVH). God is therefore called Elohim Chayim (אֱלהִים חַיִּים), "the Living God," since we only come to life through our union with Him. Yeshua alone is the means of receiving the divine life: "Whoever has the Son has the life (הַחַיִּים); but whoever does not have the Son of God does not have the life" (1 John 5:12).

Love is the very first thing, the principal reason for all of existence. We believe that ultimate reality is personal, redemptive, and inherently loving... This is alluded to in the very first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the letter Aleph (א), which is constructed from two Yods (that represent "hands") joined by a diagonal Vav (that represents man). One Yod (י) reaches upward while the other reaches downward, and both extend from the "fallen" Vav (ו), picturing a "wounded Man" or Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). In the Hebrew numbering system (i.e., gematria), Yod = 10 and Vav = 6, so adding up the three parts of Aleph yields 26, again, the very same value as the Name of the LORD: YHVH (יהוה). All of this linked together, chaverim. The very first letter of the alphabet, then, pictures the loving LORD who mediates heaven and earth so that we can experience and know His great love...
 

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)



 

May each of us help satisfy the "hunger of God" by loving Him in the truth. Amen.
 




Tears in His Bottle...


 

07.11.12  (Tammuz 21, 5772)  I mentioned the other day that the pieces of the smashed tablets were put into the Ark of the Covenant along with the whole tablets that Moses carved later. The preservation of the broken pieces reminds us that God uses our brokenness and the fragments of our lives for holy His purposes...

The Puritans prayed for the "gift of tears," but how can God wipe away every tear from your eyes in the next world if you have not wept in this one? The picture is one of profound intimacy and comfort, when in the world to come the LORD will personally console you for your sorrows... Your tears are stored in a bottle and recounted in God's book. Not one pain of your life will be overlooked by heaven.
 

נדִי סָפַרְתָּה אָתָּה
 שִׂימָה דִמְעָתִי בְנאדֶךָ
 הֲלא בְּסִפְרָתֶךָ

no·di · sa·far·tah · at·tah
si·mah · dim·a·ti · ve·no·de·kha
ha·lo · be·sif·ra·te·kha

"You keep track of my misery;
 put my tears in your bottle!
 are they not recorded in your book?"
(Psalm 56:8)



 

The LORD "numbers" or "recounts" the heartache and wandering of your life; He keeps an account or a record of your trouble in His "scroll of remembrance" (Mal. 3:16). God does not overlook the anguish of your heart but carefully numbers each of your tears, storing them "in His flask," which may allude to the ancient custom of putting tears shed for the death of someone into a small container (i.e., "tear bottles"). The Talmud says that anyone who sheds tears for a man of integrity, the Holy One, blessed be He, counts them and places them in His treasure vault. God is not silent when we cry (Psalm 39:13), and therefore the Puritans beseeched God for "the gift of tears," that is, for a heart full of godly and holy sorrow. "Even when all the Gates of Heaven are locked, the Gate of Tears is never shut." Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:5).
 




The "I-am-with-you" Name...


 

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

07.10.12  (Tammuz 20, 5772)  After accepting that he would die in exile because of his sin at Kadesh Barnea, Moses appealed to God and prayed: "Let the LORD, the God of the breath of all flesh (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), appoint a man over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, that the congregation of the LORD may not be as sheep that have no shepherd." So the LORD said to Moses, 'Take Joshua the son of Nun (יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן, lit. "son of life"), a man in whom is the Spirit (רוּח), and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight'" (Num. 27:16-19). Later, after the death of Moses, Joshua bin Nun was directly commissioned by God Himself and reassured of his high calling:
 

לא־יִתְיַצֵּב אִישׁ לְפָנֶיךָ כּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיךָ
 כַּאֲשֶׁר הָיִיתִי עִם־משֶׁה אֶהְיֶה עִמָּךְ
 לא אַרְפְּךָ וְלא אֶעֶזְבֶךָּ

lo · yit·ya·tzev · ish · le·fa·ne·kha · kol · ye·mei · chai·ye·kha
ka·a·sher · ha·yi·ti · im · Moshe · eh·yeh · i·makh
lo · ar·pe·kha · ve·lo · e·ez·ve·kha

"No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.
 Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.
 I will not leave you or forsake you."
(Joshua 1:5)


 


Though these words were spoken to Joshua, prophetically they refer to Yeshua the Messiah, the greater son of Joseph (i.e., Mashiach ben Yosef) who would arise to lead Israel into the land and vanquish the enemies of God.  Likewise, Yeshua also commissioned his followers and promised that He would never leave nor forsake them, so this verse extends to all those who trust in Him and take hold of the promises of God given through Him...
 

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."
(Isaiah 41:10)

Chagall - Peace Window (detail)

Download Study Card
 
 

In this connection, note that the meaning of God's Name (YHVH) was revealed to Moses as simply ehyeh (אֶהְיֶה), "I AM," or "I WILL BE" (Exod. 3:14), though it is especially wonderful to understand that His Name is also revealed as ehyeh imakh (אהְיֶה עִמָּךְ), "I WILL BE WITH YOU" (Josh. 1:5,9; Isa. 41:10,13; John 10:28; etc.). Just as the LORD is called Elohei ha-ruchot lekhol basar (אֱלהֵי הָרוּחת לְכָל־בָּשָׂר), "the God of the breath of all flesh" (Num. 16:22), so He is the Source of your breath, the One who exhales to you nishmat chayim, the "breath of life" that enables you to live (Job 12:10). Indeed the Name YHVH (יהוה) first appears in the Torah in regarding imparting the breath of life to Adam (Gen. 2:7). Note further that each of the letters of the Name YHVH represent vowel sounds (i.e., breath), suggesting that God's Spirit is as close as your very next breath. Like the wind that cannot be seen, so is the spirit the essential part of your identity. Yeshua breathed on his followers and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit" (John 20:22).

The Talmud states that the word Nun (נוּן) means "fish," a symbol of activity and life. Joshua, the chosen one who succeeded Moses and led the people into the Promised Land, was the "Son of Life" - a picture of Yeshua our Messiah, the "spirit-filled good Shepherd" who would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). The LORD is indeed the "God of the breath of all flesh." 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...
 




Everlasting Peace...


 

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

07.10.12  (Tammuz 20, 5772)  In the Torah summary for parashat Pinchas, I noted that the broken Vav that appears in Numbers 25:12 is a textual oddity that alludes to the brokenness of the Messiah for our ultimate deliverance.


 

The Hebrew letter Vav (ו) that appears in the word "shalom" (שׁלים) in Numbers 25:12 is "broken," picturing the One who would be broken for the sake of a covenant that brought perpetual peace to Israel. Note further that the word shalom could also be read as shalem, meaning "complete," indicating that this "covenant of peace" (בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם) is one of completion, finality, and perfection.

Yeshua is the true Peacemaker who is called "the Prince of Peace" (שַׂר־שָׁלוֹם, Isa. 9:6). He is the bechor (firstborn, πρωτοτοκος) of all creation; the radiance (zohar) of God's glory, and the exact representation ("stamp," "imprint" or "die") of his God's essence and Person (χαρακτηρ της υποστασεως του Θεου - "the character of God's substance" (Heb. 1:3)).  All things were created by him and for him, and in him all things "stick together" (Col. 1:16-17). Indeed, in "all things" Yeshua has the preeminence. To all those who submit by faith to the sacrifice of God's Son for their sins, the LORD offers a new covenant of peace, an Eternal Healing of the rift between God and man.

Note: For more on this subject, see "The Gospel of Pinchas."
 




Humility and Surrender...


 

07.09.12  (Tammuz 19, 5772)  What does "putting off the old self" (Eph. 4:22) mean if not walking in humility by confessing our need for deliverance from ourselves? We trust in God, but the life of the flesh ends with the cross. How can prayer be genuine if it focuses on the self-life rather than on newness of life? Surrender to God is a miracle, since apart from God's direct intervention, no one would ever be willing to turn to Him for life...

King David wrote, "It is good that I was afflicted (עֻנֵּיתִי), that I might learn your decrees" (Psalm 119:71). It is a great blessing to be reduced to state of weakness, of reckoning our own inner poverty, since the ego would otherwise refuse to submit to God's will. As long as any self-confidence remains, the pressure must remain. However, when God in His mercy delivers the "death blow," He strikes at the root by revealing the powerlessness of the idol to which we still cling. The sages sometimes read Psalm 118:21 as, "I thank you that you have pained me (עֲנִיתָנִי) and have become my salvation (יְשׁוּעָה)."  This "mortification" of the flesh is the only way we can let go of the selfishness that makes us sick.
 

טוֹב־לִי כִי־עֻנֵּיתִי לְמַעַן אֶלְמַד חֻקֶּיךָ

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

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


 


People sometimes seek healing for what needs to be slain.  You don't need a cure, you need let go and allow yourself to die.... But how do we let go of our need to be in control apart from seeing ourselves in the truth? The truth shall set you free, but the truth requires that you confess your own inner poverty and brokenness (John 8:32-36). Once you see your ego for what it is - incurably weak, sinful, selfish, and so on - then you will become willing to leave its old devices in the grave (Rom. 6:6).

Dying to the self is painful, but attempting to alleviate the suffering by offering comfort to the flesh simply prolongs the agony. Being "poor in spirit" doesn't mean begging for one more taste from the "fleshpots of Egypt."  The "release" from slavery to the flesh comes by the severe mercy of the LORD, as He works the miracle within us to yield to His truth. This is the "law of the Spirit of life" and comfort we are given by putting our trust in Yeshua.

The carnal life may indeed scandalized, but the point of life is not how to find healing, strength, sustenance, happiness, and so on, but rather how to give up and die. Flesh and blood can never inherit the kingdom of God. As Yeshua repeatedly taught, "Take up your cross and follow me." For "whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (Matt. 10:39; 16:35; John 12:25). The crucified life is ultimately the way of joyful self-forgetfulness. We are set free from the self because our hearts are focused on the surpassing love, wonder and greatness of the LORD.

You can't give away what you don't have... Life in the Spirit means trusting that God does in you what you cannot do for yourself.  We can only take hold of what God has done for us by "letting go" of our own devices (Phil. 2:13). When we let go and trust, we will be carried by the "law of the Spirit of life." The way up is down, and vice-versa. The way is not trying but trusting; not struggling but resting; not clinging to life, but letting it go. We trust God for the miraculous life we have in Yeshua; we don't try to "make it happen." Trusting God means that we believe that He will take care of all that we really need...

God's way of deliverance is entirely different than man's way. Man tries to suppress the flesh, to cover it up, to justify its failings, or to enlist its power in the battle against sin, but God's way is to remove the flesh from the equation. The goal is not to make us stronger and stronger, but rather weaker and weaker, until the flesh is crucified and only the sufficiency of the Messiah remains.  Then we can truly say, "I have been crucified with Messiah. It is no longer I who live, but the 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). The word "Hebrew" (עִבְרִי) means one who has "crossed over" (עָבַר) to the other side, as our father Abraham did (Gen. 14:13). It is on the other side of the cross that we experience the very power that created the universe "out of nothing" (i.e., yesh me'ayin: יֵשׁ מֵאַיִן) and that raised Yeshua the Messiah from the dead.
 




Do you love me?


 

07.09.12  (Tammuz 19, 5772)  An old Chassidic story: "Tell me friend Ivan, do you love me?" The other replied, "I love you deeply..." The first rejoined, "Do you know, friend, what gives me pain?" "How can I know that?" demanded the other. The first then said, "If you don't know what gives me pain, how can you say that you truly love me?" Similarly, we read in the New Testament: ‎"Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). If we really love the LORD, do we then know His heart's burden?
 




Not One Pain is Wasted


 

[ The following comment is related to the Three Weeks of Sorrow, which runs from July 8th through July 28th this year... ]

07.09.12  (Tammuz 19, 5772)  According to Jewish tradition (Berachot 8b; Menachot 99b), the pieces of the smashed tablets were put in the Ark of the Covenant along with the whole tablets Moses carved later.  The sages derive this from the grammar of the Torah, "Make for yourself two tablets of stone like the first ones, and come up to me on the mountain and make an ark of wood. And I will write on the tablets the things that were on the first tablets that you broke - ve'samtem ba'aron (וְשַׂמְתָּם בָּאָרוֹן) - "and you will place them in the ark" (Deut. 10:1-2). The sages say that the plural pronoun here (i.e., "them") refers not just to the new tablets, but also the first tablets that were broken. The preservation of the broken pieces reminds us that God uses our brokenness and the fragments of our lives for holy His purposes. The whole and the broken, side by side, were placed in the Ark of the Covenant. Not one of your pains is wasted...
 




Parashat Pinchas - פינחס


 

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

07.08.12  (Tammuz 18, 5772)  Last week's Torah portion (Balak) concerned the evil King Balak and the wicked prophet Balaam, but this week's portion is about the heroic zeal of Pinchas (Phinehas), the late-born grandson of Aaron the priest, to whom the LORD awarded a brit kehunat olam (בְּרִית כְּהֻנַּת עוֹלָם), a "covenant of a perpetual priesthood." As I hope you will see, Pinchas is pictures the Messiah Yeshua, and the covenant of priesthood given to him is a picture of the greater priesthood after the order of Malki-Tzedek.

Jewish tradition says that when Aaron and his sons were commissioned as the exclusive priests of Israel (Exod. 40:12-15), the office applied only to themselves and their future descendants. Since Aaron's grandson Pinchas had already been born at the time the promise was given, however, he did not automatically receive this honor, especially since his father Eleazar (the son of Aaron) was married to an "outsider" -- namely, the daughter of Yitro (also called Putiel, Exod. 6:25). This explains Rashi's statement that the other tribes mocked Pinchas. How dare he - this son of an "outsider" - dare to kill a nassi (prince) of Israel (i.e., Zimri), especially since Pinchas' mother was regarded as an idol worshipper! The LORD honored Pinchas' zeal, however, and overruled the tribalism of the Israelites, and he was therefore elevated to be a priest with special honor before the LORD.

God looks at the heart, chaverim, and is able to make those who have zeal for Him true priests of the LORD! You don't have to be born Jewish to impress the LORD God of Israel, since He's "no respecter of persons" (Rom. 2:11). Not only can He create spiritual children of Abraham from the stones of the ground (Matt. 3:9; Luke 3:8), but He can turn someone considered a non-Jew (by the sages, anyway) into a highly honored priest of Israel (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Indeed, many descendants of Pinchas later became the most faithful of the High Priests of Israel during the First Temple period.

Note that according to one midrash, when Zimri and Cozbi (the Midianite princess) were cavorting, they actually ran inside the Tabernacle compound itself, directly past Moses and the people who were weeping at its entrance (Num. 25:6)! Pinchas then took a spear from the Tabernacle guards and followed after them. When he caught up with them within the Tent of Meeting itself, he pierced them through (Num. 25:7-8). After this, thousands of men from the tribe of Simeon ran in after him, seeking to kill him. Pinchas was in such a state of terror that "his soul left him" and the souls of Nadav and Abihu (Aaron's deceased sons) entered his body -- and by this means he became a Kohen.

Parashat Pinchas (like parashat Emor in Leviticus) also includes mention of all of the (sacrifices of the) mo'edim (holidays) given to Israel (Num. 28). These include the daily (tamid), weekly (Shabbat), monthly (Rosh Chodesh) sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices assigned to the special holidays: Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hoshannah (Terumah), Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Shemini Atzeret.  Remembering the joys of the Temple and the special celebrations of the Jewish people are thought to add a contrast to the otherwise somber time of reflection during the Three Weeks of Sorrow.
 




Love Builds Up...


 

07.06.12  (Tammuz 16, 5772)  It is one thing to know about God, and quite another to know Him directly... Mere knowledge apart from heartfelt passion makes you a professor, not a lover of God. There is a natural ambition, a soulish desire, to know about spiritual things, to unlock "secrets" or to gain esoteric insights. Some people seek to be associated with a guru, a charismatic leader, or a "big name" ministry. We must be on guard. The flesh is willing to trifle with spiritual things so long as there is a payoff, that is, some sort of "ego stroke" or carnal satisfaction. What are your motives for learning, after all?

"He must increase, but I must decrease" (John 3:30). Our aim should not be personal greatness, but humility. Love personal obscurity; rejoice that you are unnoticed by the world and that you are "poor in spirit." Be happy that you are a stranger and sojourner in this world. How blessed are you when God alone is your chief concern!

It is written, "knowledge" (γνῶσις) puffs up, but love (ἀγάπη) builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know" (1 Cor. 8:1-2). It is not enough to learn more and more, to gratify selfish curiosity, to become "puffed up" with pride into a state of theological obesity... The remedy is to earnestly practice our faith; we must live out past the "end of the verse" by walking in surrender to God's will. "The world is built in chesed (חֶסֶד)," that is, though the works of love (Psalm 89:2).

Knowledge "puffs up." The Greek word (i.e.,  φυσιόω, from φύσις, meaning "nature") means to inflate, to swell, to undergo the natural process of growth. You don't imagine that loving God, dethroning the self, and serving others comes by means of mere knowledge? We can't receive God's gifts from man, or by means of carnal knowledge alone. Yes, knowledge has its place, but it is ultimately a "vanishing point" meant to usher us before what is most important (1 Cor. 13:8). Knowledge is a means to a greater end, namely, to love and to worship of God. Therefore renounce all pride and seek to please the Lord with all your heart.

I raise this subject as a matter of self-examination, chaverim (2 Cor. 13:5)... I need to test my motives to ensure that I am following God's will. We are moved by great wonders disclosed in Scripture and reflection - and these things surely are good - however, they are not meant to be an end in themselves, lest we become mere professors who teach about God "at a distance," or in words "about" the Lord, rather than words that come from the heart, that are based on our great need to draw near to God's Presence and to practice His Presence in the daily moments of our lives. The central question is "does Yeshua reign within you?" Spiritual truth challenges us every step of the way, and there is always the danger of being hypocritical, etc. May it please the LORD to help each of us gain wisdom, knowledge, revelation, etc. so that we might love Him and others more faithfully.  Amen.
 




Teshuvah and Inner Peace


 

07.06.12  (Tammuz 16, 5772)  The great priestly blessing concludes: "The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace" (Num. 6:26). Peace, or shalom (שָׁלוֹם), is the greatest and most necessary blessing, because apart from it, no other blessing matters. What good is financial prosperity, for example, if your home is filled with strife and fear? Indeed what would it profit you to gain the whole world but to forfeit your own soul? Therefore, "Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it":
 

סוּר מֵרָע וַעֲשֵׂה־טוֹב
 בַּקֵּשׁ שָׁלוֹם וְרָדְפֵהוּ

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

"Turn away from evil and do good;
 seek peace and pursue it."
(Psalm 34:14)



Hebrew Study Card
 

We are to seek peace and "pursue it" as a hunter pursues his prey... Follow hard after peace, practice it in your daily life, even if it should seem to flee from before you. Many people are cut down by indulging in a contentious or critical spirit, and strife is almost always related to pride and the working of the lower, carnal nature (1 Cor. 3:3). "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions" (James 4:1-3). Note that these words were addressed to followers of the Messiah! We are to "depart from evil," which implies that evil is close at hand, indeed, as close as our hearts and our perverse wills (yetzer ha'ra). We are to "do good," which refers to the operation of the law of the Spirit of Life in Messiah, since it is by means of His power within us that we are enabled to fulfill the inner meaning of the Torah in our daily lives.

Bakesh shalom: "Seek peace... " But how do we seek such peace in a world ripe for judgment, in the midst of a sin-sick and depraved culture? How are we to be "peacemakers" in this fallen and anger-filled world? The only thing truly necessary is teshuvah - the turning of the direction of your will back to the LORD God. Set your attention, your focus, on things above; seek the will of your Heavenly Father; call upon His Name and trust in His care for your life. The source of true peace is found in surrender to God's will.

If you find yourself lacking in the desire to completely surrender to God, confess the truth of your ambivalence and pray, "Lord, please give me the willingness to do Thy will." Ask Him to fill your heart with wonder over His radiance, glory, love, and truth. God wants you to authentically experience love, joy, peace, patience, and so on, and we are confident that if we ask anything in agreement with His will, he will heed our request (1 John 5:14).

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

Even if today should find you beset by vexation and trouble, commit yourself confidently and without reservation to the care of the Lord our God. It is in the dark hour, in the moment of testing, that your focus (kavanah) is most needed.... You can find inner peace if you let go of your own desire and enthrone the Lord within your heart: "Thy Kingdom come; thy will be done, in me as it is in heaven." Let's pray with all our hearts...
 




Divine Reciprocity...


 

07.06.12  (Tammuz 16, 5772)  Since we are made in the image and likeness of God, the LORD has entrusted us with the great privilege of revealing his character to one another. This is an awesome responsibility, since God responds "measure for measure" regarding the practice of love in our lives. Indeed, this is part of what the very "image of God" must mean - the ability to love and be loved (1 John 4:12). God relates to us as we relate to others, and how we relate to others furthermore reveals how we are relating to God:
 

עִם־חָסִיד תִּתְחַסָּד
 עִם־גְּבַר תָּמִים תִּתַּמָּם
 עִם־נָבָר תִּתְבָּרָר
 וְעִם־עִקֵּשׁ תִּתְפַּתָּל

im · cha·sid · tit·chas·sad
im · ge·var · ta·mim · tit·ta·mam
im · na·var · tit·ba·rar
ve·im · i·kesh · tit·pa·tal

"With the merciful you show yourself as merciful;
 with the blameless man you show yourself as blameless;
 with the pure you show yourself as pure;
 but with the crooked you show yourself torturous"
(Psalm 18:25-26)



 

This is yet another passage about "spiritual mirroring" in our lives. God reveals to us as we are to others; He mirrors our heart back to us. In Proverbs it is written: "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." "According to your faith be it done unto you." Note that each term in this passage (chasid, tamim, etc.) is matched (or answered) with the hitpael (intensive reflexive) verb form. For example, with the chasid (i.e., the merciful, the kindhearted) God shows Himself as compassionate and sympathetic (Matt. 5:7); with the tamim (blameless, mature), He shows Himself as perfect and right; with the pure in heart, He reveals Himself as spotless and holy (Matt. 5:8) –- but with the twisted (or perverse), He reveals Himself as contrary and even stubborn (the verb means to twist, spin, or even to wrestle in opposition).

The divine reciprocity is always "like-for-like." God reveals Himself with the same character and in the same "mode" that we show to others; God relates to us as we relate to others: middah keneged middah (Luke 6:38). In this way, the LORD "amplifies" by redoubling or reduplicating our relationships, which thereby mirrors the nature our character to ourselves. This is perhaps why we sometimes "replay" the same mistakes in our lives. God keeps us wandering in the desert to help us confront who we are inside, who we really are, which then may awaken within us the desire for teshuvah... The LORD "renders to men according to their deeds" – not in a vindictive way, of course, but to help us understand the nature of our actions and to help us turn back to Him. Are you in need of mercy? Then be merciful to others... Do you want to experience more of God's love? Then show love to others... Are you in need of forgiveness? Then forgive others and regard them with honor and esteem. As you do unto others, so will be done unto you.

We see then how important it is to think good and positive thoughts (Phil. 4:8) and to always try to use the "good eye" to see the best in others (Matt. 6:22). King David understood the principle of reciprocity when he said, "let what I prayed for others return to my own bosom" (תְּפִלָּתִי עַל־חֵיקִי תָשׁוּב), and since our thoughts are prayers, we need to be especially careful to think the best, to extend kaf zechut (the hand of merit) to everyone we meet... You are quick to make excuses for your own misdeeds; so make excuses also for your neighbor. God will take care of the outcomes, we need only focus on Him and obey.


Postscript: The idea that God "mirrors" our hearts back to us isn't the principle of "karma" as much as it is the means of sanctification... Sanctification then is a spiral upwards, if you will, and hardships and testing may be the means of refining the heart to bear suffering, to become more patient, to become more compassionate, etc. Such refining enables our hearts to better mirror the glory of the LORD to others.
 




Seeing Your Need to Forgive


 

07.05.12  (Tammuz 15, 5772)  "Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4). Before offering personal prayer to the LORD, it helps to make the declaration: "Master of the universe, I hereby forgive anyone who might have hurt me this day, either physically or emotionally, whether accidentally on intentionally, inadvertently or deliberately, by speech or by deed, whether against my honor or anything else that is mine.  May no one be punished because of me. Help me to overlook the faults of others and to always use the good eye, regarding them as You do... And I ask You to forgive me, too, for my many wrongdoings and failings. May it be Your will, Lord my God and God of my fathers, that I sin no more nor repeat my sins, neither shall I again anger You nor do what is displeasing in Your eyes. The sins I have committed, please erase in Your abounding mercies for the sake of Your Son, Yeshua the Messiah, my Savior and LORD.  Amen."

"Forgive us... as we forgive...", which means that our forgiveness of others (including ourselves) is the measure of our own state of forgiveness, "for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you" (Luke 6:38). This is the great "like-for-like" principle of the spiritual life: As you give, so you will be given; as you withhold, so you will be withheld (Psalm 18:25-27). If we cling to resentment, anger, bitterness, or a desire for revenge, we appeal to principles of justice that alienate us from reconciliation with others. But if we intend to have God be the Judge of others, we thereby appeal to Him to be our own Judge as well. If we merely hear this truth but fail to practice it, we are like someone who looks at their face in a mirror but soon forgets "what manner of man he was," that is, by overlooking the truth about his inward condition (James 1:22-24). Just as someone who looks in a mirror but forgets the impression, so the someone who merely hears the Word soon forgets its point... "Hear the end of the verse," that is, listen to know how we must practice our faith. And just as grace is inaccessible for someone who refuses to be honest with himself, so is forgiveness. If a person refuses to confess the truth about his condition, salvation itself is impossible, since God literally cannot save the soul that denies its need for Him. We must accept others as we accept ourselves - as broken people who are redeemed and loved by God Himself. There are no exceptions to this "life-for-like" principle of the Spirit.

"Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us" (Luke 11:4). Note the phrase, "every one who is indebted" (παντὶ ὀφείλοντι ἡμῖν). The Lord likens our sin to a debt owed to Him... Some things never ought to have been done, but when they are done, they are "stolen" from God, by abusing His sustaining energy and resources. When we sin, God enables us to do so at His expense, so to speak, though this is a "debt" owed to Him as the Master of the Universe and LORD of Glory. May our LORD help each of us to let go and be free of those things that ensnare us through offence... 

"May it be Thy will, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, to remove all barriers between us, and to endow us with the vision to see the good in all people - including ourselves - and to graciously overlook their defects. Amen."
 




See Yourself in His Light...


 

07.05.12  (Tammuz 15, 5772)  The most intimate connection with the LORD is described as panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), being "face to face" with Him. Moses spoke with the LORD "face to face," though that glory was destined to fade (2 Cor. 3:7,13). The true face of God was revealed in Yeshua, our LORD, and His glory will never end.  "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the Glory of the Lord as reflected in a mirror (κατοπτρίζω), are being transformed (μεταμορφόω) into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the LORD who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' (יְהִי אוֹר) has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the Glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6).

We "are being transformed (μεταμορφόω) into the same image..." Note that this may allude to ancient mirrors that were made of highly burnished metal that intensely reflected the light. If a strong light were cast on them, the rays would be reflected on the face of the one who looked on the mirror, strongly illuminating the countenance... The glory of the LORD that shines is therefore reflected upon us, "from one degree of glory to another," transforming our countenance to likewise be lit up with God's glory. Note, however, that the "mirror" here is not the law, but rather the gospel that declares and reveals the Glory of the LORD. The more we behold the brilliant and glorious light of Yeshua, the more we reflect back His glory. We go "from strength to strength" (מֵחַיִל אֶל־חָיִל) - Psalm 84:7.
 

כִּי־עִמְּךָ מְקוֹר חַיִּים
בְּאוֹרְךָ נִרְאֶה־אוֹר

ki · im·me·kha · me·kor · cha·yim
 be·or·kha · nir·eh · ohr

"For with You is the fountain of life;
 in Your light do we see Light"
(Psalm 36:9)



Hebrew Study Card
 

In other words, you now are able to behold your face in the reflected glory of the LORD; you see yourself "in His Light..." The light of his glory is the light that allows you to truly see yourself, as someone beloved and cherished by God... You are no longer who you once were; you are being changed to more and more resemble His image and likeness....
 




The Faces of Life...


 

07.05.12  (Tammuz 15, 5772)  The Hebrew word for "life" is chayim (חַיִּים), which is written in the plural to imply that life cannot be lived alone... Embedded within the word itself are two consecutive Yods (יי), representing unity in plurality (Yod-Yod is also a Name of God). Therefore the LORD is called Elohim Chayim (אֱלהִים חַיִּים), "the Living God," and we only come to life through our union with Him.

Similarly, the Hebrew word for "face" is panim (פָּנִים) is plural, suggesting that there is no single "face" or appearance that can fully define or express the essence of a person.  Just as your soul (נְשָׁמָה) is a unity that contains a multiplicity of changes yet remains a distinct identity, so there is an "inward face" that abides the outer expressions. Indeed, the Hebrew word for "inside" is penim (פְּנִים), which is spelled the same as the word for "face."

The word "face" comes from panah (פָּנָה), a verb meaning "to turn." The Hebrew preposition "before" is lifnei (לִפְנֵי), from the same root, which literally means "turning toward" or facing something. This suggests that we have to consider different angles or perspectives and be careful not to jump to conclusions or to make superficial judgments about others. We have to turn in empathy toward others. The Torah says we are to judge be'tzedek (בְּצֶדֶק), that is, with righteousness, by using a "good eye," by giving the benefit of the doubt to others, and by exercising kindness (Lev. 19:15). As Yeshua said, "Do not judge by appearances, but judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24).

"Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye, but you don't notice the log in your own?" (Matt. 7:4). The Baal Shem Tov is reported to have said, "It is not good to be alone, for one cannot know one's own defects. Other people are mirrors, in which you can discover your own flaws by observing the acts you dislike in them. In fact, it is only because you share them yourself in some degree that you are able to see another person's flaws." May it be Thy will, Lord and God of our fathers, to remove all barriers between us, and endow us with the vision to see the good in all people, and overlook their defects. Amen.

The Tzevoler Rebbe had a large and handsome mirror in his reception room. Once a visitor came and thought, is then the rebbe so vain of his looks? The rebbe understood the man's thought and then said that the mirror was a gift given to his father after he once made the remark that it would be well if those who came to visit him could observe the countenance with which they came to visit (Chassidic tale).

In the great "three-in-one blessing" known as birkat kohanim (Num. 6:24-26), the LORD is asked to shine the light of His face upon us (פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ), and to lift up His face to behold us in love... The two "faces" here represent the loving countenance of the Divine Presence and our own face turned toward His loving gaze. Therefore the most intimate connection with the LORD is described as being panim el panim (פָּנִים אֶל־פָּנִים), being "face to face" with God. The LORD is the One who sees the "face beneath the face" in our hearts, and that face ultimately is that of Yeshua Himself: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18). "For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Yeshua the Messiah" (2 Cor. 4:6). Let us therefore come boldly (i.e., without pretense) before the Throne of Grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need" (Heb. 4:16).
 




Looking for the Heavenly City


 

07.05.12  (Tammuz 15, 5772)  "If then you have been raised with the Messiah, seek the things that are above (τὰ ἄνω ζητεῖτε), where the Messiah is seated at the right hand of God (לִימִין אֱלהִים). Focus your thoughts on the things above, not on things here on earth. For you have died  (ἀπεθάνετε) and your life has been hidden (i.e., κρύπτω, "concealed," "disguised") with Messiah in God. Then when the Messiah, who is your life, appears, you too will appear with him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4).

The aorist verb "you have died" (ἀπεθάνετε) indicates "you have died once for all," that is, this is a condition granted by the power and agency of God on your behalf. You don't "try to die" to the flesh; you accept what God has done by killing its power over you through Yeshua... You are dead to this world; you are dead to sin's power; you are no longer enslaved to the deception of the worldly matrix, etc.  Now you are made alive to an entirely greater and more powerful order and dimension of reality, namely, the spiritual reality that is not disclosed to the vanity of this age.  Therefore we are to consciously focus our thoughts (φρονέω) on the hidden reality of God rather than on the temporal world that is passing away: "For we are looking not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient (i.e., "just for a season," καιρός), but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).

If you are a true follower of Messiah, your real "citizenship" (πολίτευμα) is in heaven, and "from it" we await (i.e., ἀπεκδέχομαι, from ἀπό [of separation] +ἐκδέχομαι, taking from the hand; i.e., receive) our Savior (Phil. 3:20). Note that the prepositional phrase, "from it" implies that we are presently "away from home," in a state of separation, and therefore we eagerly await the coming of our LORD and our glorious union with Him.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Yeshua our Messiah (Phil. 3:14). Stay strong in hope, chaverim...
 




Getting Right with God


 

07.04.12  (Tammuz 14, 5772)  How do we "get right" with God? How do we find His approval? The Hebrew word teshuvah (תְּשׁוּבָה) is often translated as "repentance," though it's more accurately understood as turning back (shuv) to God. In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah, or a question. God's love for you is the question, and your teshuvah - your turning of the heart toward Him (or your refusal to do that) - is the answer.
 

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

dir·shu · Adonai · be·him·ma·tzo, · ke·ra·u·hu · bih·yo·to · ka·rov
ya·a·zov · ra·sha · dar·ko, · ve·ish · a·ven · mach·she·vo·tav
ve·ya·sho · el · Adonai · vi·ra·cha·me·hu
ve·el · E·lo·he·nu · ki · yar·beh · lis·lo·ach

"Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way, and the perverse man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly forgive."
(Isa. 55:6-7)



Hebrew Study Card
  

Please take a moment to let these words penetrate your heart... 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: "Seek the LORD (i.e., dirshu Adonai: דִּרְשׁוּ יְהוָה) while he may be found; call upon him while he is near (i.e., karov: קָרוֹב). Let the wicked man (i.e., rasha: רָשָׁע) forsake his way, 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 to receive His compassion, His love, and His forgiveness...

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

The invitation of divine grace is offensive to forms of worldly religion based on personal merit and the supposed ability of human beings to flatter blessings from Heaven... Nearly all "karma-based" religions of the world are scandalized and offended by God's unconditional love for the unworthy and helpless sinner. For them, God's love is conditional, based as it is on the observance of certain religious rituals, adhering to certain rules, and playing the approved "language game" (creeds, confessions, etc.). Legalism always attempts to find the "key" to open the door into the Presence of God through various forms of self effort ("don't touch this," "don't eat that," etc. Col. 2:20-23). It's underlying hope is that if I do such and such (or abstain from such and so), God will be propitiated and I will be accepted. It is therefore a mode of relating to God based on His conditional acceptance and approval....

But it is faith that provides the key that opens the door to true freedom. Faith is the miracle that makes blind eyes see (John 9:38-39). When we truly "live in the Presence of the LORD" by faith, we are set free from the trap of legalism. We receive the love of God; we accept that we are accepted; and then we walk in God's zealous care for our souls. We do not relate to God as our Judge but as our Heavenly Father, our Abba, our loving Savior:
 

    "For my thoughts (מַחְשְׁבוֹתַי) are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways (דְּרָכָי), declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word (דָּבָר) be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands" (Isa. 55:8-12).
     

The religious leaders of Yeshua's day were offended because he "welcomed sinners" and enjoyed eating meals with them (Luke 15:2). From the perspective of the "holier-than-thou" Pharisees, befriending a sinner was downright scandalous. Such is the hidden sickness lurking within man's theological systems. May we likewise be regarded as offensive to those self-righteous people who care more for their own need to be clean than for the need of others to be touched and shown genuine love...

The sages advise: "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... Today is the day of salvation; today is the day of grace when you are able to draw near to God. Do not harden your heart... Remember that this day is coming to an end, and another day will soon dawn when the Savior will appear as the great Judge of mankind. The Lamb of God will soon appear as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, ready to crush all those who defy the LORD and spurn His offer of grace. As Spurgeon once wrote, "if from that hand that was pierced you will not take the perfect salvation, which He is prepared to give to all who confess their guilt, you will have to receive from that selfsame hand the blows of that iron rod, which shall break in pieces as a potter's vessel." Turn to the LORD today and be saved.
 




Lord, Heal our land...


 

07.04.12  (Tammuz 14, 5772)  We are called to be intercessors for our nation on behalf of Messiah: "If My people over whom is My Name (עַמִּי אֲשֶׁר נִקְרָא־שְׁמִי עֲלֵיהֶם) shall humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land" (2 Chron. 7:14). If God's Name is "over you," that means He owns you, that your "title and registration" belong to Him, so to speak, and that you essentially exist to be in service of His love.

Aaron was chosen to be a priest because he "loved peace and pursued peace" (Avot 1:2). Likewise, followers of Yeshua are called a "kingdom of priests" (Exod. 19:6; Rev. 1:6), which means we stand between life and death and embody the yearning of God that others find peace through the Messiah. Yeshua said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God. Revival of the nation is the only real meaning of healing...
 




Two Haunting Questions...


 

07.04.12  (Tammuz 14, 5772)  One of the greatest of sins is to forget who you really are – a prince or princess of God. Forgetting who you are leads to forgetting who the Lord is, just as forgetting who the Lord is leads to forgetting who you are.... Therefore the Lord constantly tells us to remember and not to forget the call of his heart, the message of his love.

There are two great, haunting questions God always is asking us. The first is "who do you say that I am?" and the second is "do you love me?" Being in a love relationship with God is the goal of life, the "end of the law," and the reason we were created. As it is written, "Look at the end of the verse," that is, look in order to see through the verse to its point... But we cannot truly love God apart from understanding his passion for us. The LORD is the Jealous God, a Consuming Fire, who desires all of our heart upon the altar (Luke 9:23).

"How long will you go limping between two different opinions?" The divided heart is sick. A double-minded man is "two-souled" (δίψυχος) and unstable in all its ways (James 1:8). King David understood the great need for focus, for passion, for surrender: "One thing I ask of the Lord; that is what I will seek" (Psalm 27:4). Therefore he said, "I have set the LORD always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (Psalm 16:8). "In all your ways know Him," that is, in all that you put your hand to do look for the Divine Presence and guidance (1 Cor. 10:31)

Note: For more on this meditation, see "Shiviti Adonai."
 




Wishful Thinking...


 

07.04.12  (Tammuz 14, 5772)  Merely believing something is so doesn't make it true. That's called wishful thinking and is clearly a form of self-deception.  As William James rightly observed, many people believe they are really thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices...  Many people succumb to such wishful thinking, both religious people and otherwise. Take our public schools, for example. Those educators who decree what should be taught in the public schools are full of wishful thinking. For instance, in concession to a pluralistic culture, they teach (i.e., indoctrinate) young children to believe (i.e., passively accept) that there are no transcendental moral absolutes, that people are not created in the image of God, that the universe came into existence by means of an impersonal power called "Evolution," that a god (if He exists) must love everyone, since all religions are equally worthy, that sexual orientation is just a "lifestyle option," that abortion is the "right" of a woman to chose, and so on. Each one of these principles is based not on fact, of course, but rather on interpretation, on metaphysical speculations, and so on. It has been alleged that those who believe in the God of the Bible are guilty of "wishful thinking," attempting to find comfort in the midst of misery, though surely this applies to the humanist who wishes to assuage their conscience by denying that real moral cause and effect exist in the universe.

I mention public school curricula as an example, but fallacious appeals to authority abound in political speeches, in advertising campaigns, in mass media news reports, in various appeals to vanity (i.e., pop culture, peer pressure, scientism), in church dogmas, in political ideologies, in group-think, in flag-waving patriotism that excuses wars and crimes against humanity (i.e., torture, drone bombings, etc.), among rabid sports fans, and so on. The truth of God is never for the crowd, but for each individual who is willing to be honest with themselves and who are willing to personally walk out the truth they believe in their lives.

We are faced with a collision then, between the claims of the Scriptures and the politically correct ideology of this world. The Scriptures teach that people are created in the image and likeness of God, with direct (intuitive) awareness of moral truth, and therefore human beings are inherently spiritual beings, full of God-given dignity and worth, and therefore people are free moral agents that are entirely accountable to God for the choices they make in their lives. According to Yeshua, however, many people will tragically forfeit eternal life itself for the sake of their own vision of reality (Matt. 7:14). To be delivered from self-deception, you must know the truth, not merely parrot some belief or creed. You must wake up, question your assumptions, and being willing to undergo refining fire in your own inner life.

Postscript: I don't mean to be needlessly divisive regarding this issue, but some things are worth the fight.... As long as the public schools teach metaphysics and spurious religious ideologies, they are touching the soul of the child, and that is rightfully the domain of the parent, not the state. Public indoctrination that claims to know that all religions are equally "true" (or equally false) inconsistently assume that they have transcendental truth on the question - the very truth they claim is unknowable by religion. Moreover, children are often incapable of discerning the nuanced humanistic assumptions at work in many public school textbooks, and parents may be unaware that these assumptions inform the entire system. The ideology that justifies politicians offering up their "noble lies," or the military practice of literally torturing people, or the state's tactic of abusing people's civil liberties for the sake of supposed national security, are all based on same faulty reasoning. Some things are "either/or" and forever will be. The philosophy of pragmatism is the devil's logic, the logic of the world. It must be repudiated.
 




Testing and Comfort...


 

07.03.12  (Tammuz 13, 5772)  Despite the difficult conditions of life that tested him, King David became filled with exultation (overwhelming delight) and happiness because he genuinely believed and accepted that God was with him in his tribulations. Therefore he wrote, "I will rejoice and be glad in your love, because You have seen my oppression; You have known the troubles of my soul, and You have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place." Here is the Hebrew from Psalm 31:
 

אָגִילָה וְאֶשְׂמְחָה בְּחַסְדֶּךָ
 אֲשֶׁר רָאִיתָ אֶת־עָנְיִי
 יָדַעְתָּ בְּצָרוֹת נַפְשִׁי
 וְלא הִסְגַּרְתַּנִי בְּיַד־אוֹיֵב
 הֶעֱמַדְתָּ בַמֶּרְחָב רַגְלָי

gi·lah · ve·es·me·chah · be·chas·de·kha
a·sher · ra·i·ta · et · o·ni
ya·da·a·ta · be·tza·rot · naf·shi
ve·lo · his·gar·ta·ni · be·yad · o·yev
he·e·ma·de·ta · va·mar·chav · rag·lai

"I will rejoice and be glad in your love,
because You have seen my oppression;
you have known the troubles of my soul,
and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place"
(Psalm 31:7-8)



 

David found comfort that "God sees and knows" the affairs of his life (Exod. 2:25), a phrase (וַיֵּדַעוַיַּרְא) that implies intimate awareness of all that is happening. "Seeing" refers to the outer realm of affliction or duress, whereas "knowing" refers to the inner realm of the heart. The word "affliction" (עֳנִי) refers to inner poverty, oppression, or being "poor in spirit" (Matt. 5:3). The word means "pressurized," from the verb anah (עָנָה), which induces a state of lowliness of humility (i.e., anavah: עֲנָוָה). The "troubles of soul" (צָרוֹת נַפְשִׁי) primarily refer to spiritual, inward, and existential struggles over sin.

The early sages said that the word "affliction" (עֳנִי) implies that though God sees the poverty of my Torah learning and the lack of my good deeds, He also knows the troubles of my soul, that is, my sins, as it says, the L-rd "who knows every man the "plague of his heart" (1 Kings 8:38), and yet despite all this, God still extends His unmerited kindness and love to me. This is clearly a picture of God's gracious love for the soul.

David thanks God for his deliverance and blesses the LORD for testing him. The troubles of soul are cured through the "therapy of affliction." When the LORD bestows His chesed upon you, He saves you from the hand of your enemies and you will "exult and be glad." Note that the word "exult" (אָגִילָה) means to rejoice or dance around in a circle (גִּילָה), though R' Hirsh says it is related to the word tzemichah (צְמִיחָה), meaning "growth" or blossoming (related to the idea of the tzemach tzaddik, or the "righteous branch"). The idea seems to be that we grow in beauty as we rejoice in our Lord and His salvation. First we experience exultation from the realization of our deliverance by God Himself, and later this settles into an abiding sense of comfort and happiness.

The "troubles of my soul" (צָרוֹת נַפְשִׁי) caused by my own sin, my wayward affections, etc. are cured by the "therapy of affliction," that is, by the providential design of God to work troubles for good in our lives.... A student once asked his rebbe: "Do we get punished for our sins in this world?" His succinct response was, "Only if we are made fortunate..." The worst possible fate is for God to be indifferent to someone! Can anything be more tragic than to be forgotten or to go unnoticed by God?  It is far better that He afflict you with yissurim shel ahavah - the "troubles of love!" Indeed, thank God for your problems, your difficulties, your heartache... God's love is behind your troubles, chaverim, bearing you up and carrying you through to a place of deliverance. The "troubles of love" help us to rely more and more on the Lord as our only true Deliverer.  Amen!
 




To the Jew First...


 

07.03.12  (Tammuz 13, 5772)  Often it is not what is said that matters, but what is left unsaid... There is an unspoken assumption in the "theological culture" of many churches that Israel and the Jewish people are relatively unimportant for Christians today. There is little passion for the vision of Zion, and meager heeding the words of the prophets who repeatedly promised Israel consolation and a future and a hope. This is the proverbial "white elephant" in the room of institutionalized Christian churches. As I've said before, what you believe about ethnic Israel and Zion will affect ALL other areas of your theology.

Just the other day I met a pastor of a church in my area who believes that the "true Israel" are churchgoers (presumably like himself), and that ancient Israel belongs to the dustbin of history... According to him, Israel represents a sort of "object lesson" of what it means to be "cast off" and "forsaken" by the LORD! When I gently reminded him that God Himself chose to reveal Himself to the world as a Jewish man who spoke Hebrew and who read the Torah in synagogues, he was unmoved and even began to regard me with "theological suspicion." Oy vey. How can Christian pastors and teachers dogmatically assume that the Torah is no longer applicable to Christians when they don't even study Torah or bother to learn the meaning of the Hebrew texts? Indeed, how can they truly apprehend the language of the New Testament when they clearly suppress and disregard its God-given context? What are we to make of such cocksure ignorance, such institutionalized prejudice? As William James rightly observed, most people believe they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices...

"To the Jew first..." and this especially means that the message of the Messiah's love is for the Jewish people. Christians who ignore their spiritual debt to the Jewish people and write them off as "unreachable" because of "God's sovereign purposes" are like Pontius Pilate who vainly washed his hands of the guilt he richly warranted... So-called pastors or teachers who deny God's unconditional promises given to ethnic Israel need to rethink whether they are serving the LORD God of Israel - or mere men (Gal. 1:10).

It is a scandal for "ministers of the gospel" to ignore the pattern given by the Apostle Paul himself, who regularly went to the Jewish synagogues to first proclaim the message of salvation, using only the Hebrew Bible to demonstrate how Yeshua is the Messiah and LORD who fulfills the true meaning of the Torah. Today Yeshua speaks to many Christian pastors something He said earlier to the Samaritan woman, "You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22). (This unnamed woman was an early advocate of replacement theology, as the Samaritans themselves were transplants of the Jewish people brought in after the Northern Kingdom went into exile.)

Yeshua (Jesus) is the King of the Jews who loves the Jewish people... The gospel message was first proclaimed to them, and indeed, the plan of salvation will go full circle and return to them. As the Messiah said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first."

To pastors who talk "church" and who preach to crowds every week, I say: It is heartless to make a "philosophy" of why Israel is still in exile. Learn your Torah and be a light to the Jewish people... Equip the saints to know the full meaning of the salvation of the LORD revealed in Scripture, not just the parts you find palatable. And please, take the time to study Biblical Hebrew. How can you possibly hope to interpret the New Testament apart from properly understanding the "Old Testament"? The Hebrew of the Torah is the basis and the context for the entire New Covenant. Studying Koine Greek is insufficient since the Greek words of the Septuagint are translations from the original Hebrew. "Remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you" (Rom. 11:18).

Recall that the term "New Covenant" (בְּרִית חֲדָשָׁה) is explicitly mentioned just once in the Hebrew Scriptures (though it is alluded to in many other places, of course), but in that very place we find an unconditional declaration of God's eternal love for the Jewish people:
 

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

According to the great prophet Jeremiah, if you saw the sun shine today or the stars in the night sky, you can be assured that God's promise to preserve the "offspring of Israel" is in effect. Indeed, in the world to come, the heavenly Jerusalem will have the names of the twelve tribes of Israel prominently engraved upon its gates (Rev. 21:12).

Let me again remind you that while it is possible for the Torah to be true and the New Testament to be false, it is impossible for the New Testament to be true and the Torah to be false... In other words, the New Testament logically assumes the truth of the Torah and therefore studying Hebrew (and the Jewish roots of your faith) is primary to studying New Testament Greek. Reading in context is an axiom for correct interpretation.

It's been wisely said that we must "unlearn" a lot during the days of our sojourn in this world, and that is especially true for those theologians who still assume that they know something about the Scriptures.... "If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he needs to know" (1 Cor. 8:2). The message of the gospel is a scandal, and it is especially scandalous to the "religious" mind, the pastor, the teacher, the "leader" of a church, and so on. There is no "shortcut" to this process: "Everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11). May it please the good Lord to save us from ourselves -- and to deliver us from those "followers" who think they are doing God a favor... Amen.


Postscript: In light of my comments above, someone wrote me to protest that learning Hebrew is unnecessary to comprehend the Word of Truth, since the power of the Holy Spirit (alone) is sufficient for us.... My response to this person was to point out that were it not for certain servants of Lord who meticulously prepared and transmitted the Scriptures, and others who carefully translated their meaning into other languages, we would not even be able to talk about the Holy Spirit, or the Word, or the Truth, since these ideas were revealed to the Hebrew prophets that were later translated by those called by God to transmit the truth. We need Spirit and Truth, and indeed the Holy Spirit is called the Spirit of Truth for a reason -- because the truth matters....
 




The Three Weeks of Sorrow...


 

[ The "Three Weeks of Sorrow" marks the period of time from the breach of the walls of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar to the destruction of the Temple on Tishah B'Av... On the secular calendar, the dates run from July 8th through July 28th this year... ]

07.02.12  (Tammuz 12, 5772)  Historically, the summer has been a time of struggle and woe for the Jewish people. Indeed, amid the warmth and sunshine of the season, observant Jews withdraw to a place of sad remembrance, recalling the breach of the walls of Jerusalem, the fall of the Temple, and the tragic exile of the Jewish people. The middle of the month of Tammuz, in particular, just after the summer solstice, is considered to be an especially ominous time, since it is associated with various calamities that have befallen the Jews over the centuries.

In Jewish tradition, Moses shattered the tablets on the seventeenth day of the month of Tammuz, after he came down from Sinai and found the people worshiping the Golden Calf. This tragedy was seen as prophetic, since it was on this same date that the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the invading armies of Nebuchadnezzar (see 2 Kings 25:2-7), an event which led to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the people three weeks later, that is, on the ninth of Av.  Today, the seventeenth of Tammuz is commemorated as a fast day (i.e., the "Fast of Tammuz") that marks the beginning of the three week period of mourning for the lost vision of Zion...

The Torah reading for the seventeenth of Tammuz is the same as other Jewish fast days (i.e., Exod. 32:11-14; 34:1-10) where Moses appeals to God's mercy after the sin of the Golden Calf, and how the covenant was renewed. (Note that if the 17th happens to be a Sabbath (as is the case this year), the fast is postponed to the following Sunday.) During the fast day itself, the morning service includes penitential prayers (i.e., selichot) centering on appeals for God's Compassion as revealed in the Name YHVH (Exod. 34:6-7). This is followed by prayers and recollections of Jewish suffering through the centuries:

    "We have come to You, O Sovereign Molder of spirits. Because of our many iniquities, our groans have been intensified. The decrees have become severe, and many are the outcries, for on the seventeen day of Tammuz, the Tablets were smashed. We we exiled from the House You chose for us..."
     

Since the three week period from the 17th day of Tammuz through the 9th day of Av represents the season when the Temple was destroyed and the people were exiled from the promised land, it is called yemei bein ha-metzarim (יְמֵי בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים), "the days in the midst of distress," a phrase taken directly from the Book of Lamentations: "Judah has gone into exile, her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distresses" (בֵּין הַמְּצָרִים). For the ultra-Orthodox, the "Three Weeks of Sorrow" also represent a time of grieving for the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust, since had the exile from the land never occurred, the Holocaust likewise would not have occurred...

 

Jewish tradition marks these three weeks as a period of national mourning, and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven. Spiritually, the season is marked by a renewed called for teshuvah (repentance), and the weekly readings from the prophets all warn the people about imminent judgment from heaven. Because this is such a somber time for the Jewish people, it is customary not to schedule weddings or other joyous events during this time of year. Indeed, among the very Orthodox, the last nine days of the three weeks are the most rigorous and solemn. Beginning on the first day of the month of Av, traditional mourning customs are practiced in anticipation of the great fast day of Tishah B'Av, when the Book of Lamentations (Megillat Eichah) is plaintively recited during the evening service.

The tears of the prophet Jeremiah represent God's compassionate love for the Jewish people; the Book of Lamentations is really God's cry... God cares about the suffering of His people: b'khol tzaratam lo tzar (בְּכָל־צָרָתָם לוֹ צָר) - "In all their affliction he was afflicted" (Isa. 63:9). Even after all the horrors that befell the people of Judah due to God's disciplinary judgment, the LORD still encouraged them to seek Him again. "The faithful love of the LORD (חַסְדֵי יהוה) never ceases, and his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23). Our response to the faithful love of the LORD is teshuvah (i.e., תְּשׁוּבָה, "turning [shuv] to God"). In Modern Hebrew teshuvah means an "answer" to a shelah (שְׁאֵלָה), or a question.  God's love for us is the question, and our teshuvah – our turning of the heart toward Him – is the answer.  We return to the LORD when we truly acknowledge that He is our Father and our King:
 

הֲשִׁיבֵנוּ יְהוָה אֵלֶיךָ וְנָשׁוּבָה
חַדֵּשׁ יָמֵינוּ כְּקֶדֶם

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

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


Hebrew Study Card
 


Dates for the Three Weeks of Sorrow

The Three Weeks of Sorrow (culminating in Tishah B'Av) undoubtedly marks the saddest and most solemn time of Jewish year, with great emphasis placed on the need for repentance and heartfelt cries for the salvation of the Jewish people.  It is a time for us to remember Israel all the more in our prayers and ask for God's revelation of the Messiah....

 

Here are key dates (beginning at sundown) pertaining to the Three Weeks of Sorrow:
 




Parashat Balak - פרשת בלק


 

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

07.01.12  (Tammuz 11, 5772)  This week's Torah portion (Balak) is named after an evil Moabite king (בָּלָק) who sought to curse the Jews by enlisting the assistance of an Midianite "seer" named Balaam (בִּלְעָם). King Balak's plan was to use occult powers and magic against the Israelites before they reached the Promised Land.  Similar to the delicious irony that befell the villain Haman (in the Book of Esther), King Balak's scheme was upended, and the curse he sought to put on the Jewish people was repeatedly pronounced as a blessing by the prophet Balaam instead.  An exasperated Balak finally dismissed the prophet from his service, but before departing from the dejected king, Balaam ironically prophesied the destruction of the Moabites and the victory of God's people....

But who was this mysterious prophet named Balaam?  According to Jewish tradition, Jacob's wicked uncle Laban had a son named Beor (בְּעוֹר), who became the father of Balaam.  In other words, the "cursing prophet" Balaam was none other than the grandson of Laban:

 

Note that the name "Beor" first appears in connection with a king of Edom (Gen. 36:32), which suggests that Balaam might have once been a king of the Edomites (i.e., the descendants of Esau). Further note the phonetic similarity to Peor. If Beor and Peor are the same, then Balaam was actually a prophet of Baal Peor, a local Semitic god.

Balaam was regarded as a great seer, magician and an adept in the occult. He had an "evil eye" and drew the spirit of demons to anything he gazed upon (Avot 5:22).  His notoriety made him famous, and powerful people asked him to invoke curses on their enemies. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 106a) states that Balaam became so famous as a magician that he later became a chief advisor to Pharaoh. It was Balaam who advised the new Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites and to afflict them with brutal taskmasters (Exod. 1:8-11). For more information about the identity of Balaam, see the entry entitled, "The Curses of Balaam."
 





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